Monday, 16 May 2016


“We cannot stop natural disasters but we can arm ourselves with knowledge: so many lives wouldn't have to be lost if there was enough disaster preparedness.” - Petra Němcová

Sometimes you remember a film you saw when you were a child and the memory of it is so powerful and haunting that you can’t wait to find the film again in your adult years and re-watch it in order to savour those feelings you experienced the first time around. Of course, nothing is the same as it was the first time around, film watching included… We live, we experience more and more, we grow, we change, we become jaded, we see the world differently. No surprise when we re-watch that movie that we may be a little disappointed!

This was the case with the film we watched last weekend, which I had first seen as a child of 11 years. I remember then being completely overwhelmed and watching in awe, breathless with excitement and wide-eyed with amazement. The movie was the 1968 Bernard L. Kowalski disaster/adventure flick “Krakatoa: East of Java”, starring  Maximilian Schell, Diane Baker, Brian Keith, Barbara Werle, Sal Mineo, and Rossano Brazzi.

Krakatoa (Indonesian: Krakatau), is a volcanic island situated in the Sunda Strait between the islands of Java and Sumatra in the Indonesian province of Lampung. The name is also used for the surrounding island group comprising the remnants of a much larger island of three volcanic peaks which was obliterated in a cataclysmic 1883 eruption, unleashing huge tsunamis (killing more than 36,000 people) and destroying over two-thirds of the island.

The explosion is considered to be the loudest sound ever heard in modern history, with reports of it being heard up to 3,000 miles (4,800 km) from its point of origin. The shock waves from the explosion were recorded on barographs worldwide. In 1927 a new island, Anak Krakatau, or “Child of Krakatoa”, emerged from the caldera formed in 1883 and is the current location of eruptive activity. Just to set the record straight, Krakatoa is actually located west, not east, of Java, a boo-boo that has haunted the film ever since it was released, being widely mocked in the critics reviews which were mostly quite scathing for the whole of the film...

The plot of the movie centres on the recovery of a valuable cargo of rare pearls from a shipwreck close the island of Krakatoa. When the expedition sets off the location of the wreck seems not be a worry as everyone believes that the volcano on the island has been dormant for around two hundred years. The eruption of the volcano in August 1883 will of course prove them wrong. The characters are the ship’s Dutch captain (Schell), his beautiful mistress (Baker) who is fleeing from an abusive husband and looking for her young son, from whom she has been separated, a drug-addicted diver (Keith) with health problems and his girlfriend (Werle), the British inventor of a diving bell (Leyton), an Italian father-and-son (Brazzi & Mineo) team of balloonists and four female Japanese pearl fishers, hired for their diving expertise. One of these girls becomes romantically involved with the younger Italian. By this stage you’d have thought the plot was already bogged down with too many subplots, but there is another one! The captain is forced by the authorities to take on a load of prisoners to be transported to Madura, which of course will cause problems later…

Needless to say, the eruption of Krakatoa and the subsequent catastrophe is what dominates the film. In an unusual approach to making the film, the producers of the movie had the special effects scenes shot before the script had been completed. The script then was written so as to incorporate the special effects sequences! Although now quite dated in appearance, the film’s special effects were considered impressive enough by 1969 standards for it to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects (it lost to the sci-fi disaster movie,  “Marooned”!).

Well, watching the film as an adult all these years later certainly made me aware of my age. The film was not how I remembered it and scenes that in that distant time made me feel awed and amazed now raised a smile or even a laugh. The film was utterly and completely demystified and its many shortcomings were blatantly obvious. There were plot holes, bad script writing, abominable dialogue ordinary acting and too much reliance on the special effects (used excessively and repetitively) to carry the movie forward.

So what was the final verdict on this film with a pedestrian, badly paced, and poorly told story and where the special effects were so constant and overwhelming as to become numbing? Well, we actually enjoyed it. First, because it was associated with nostalgia, second because it was a movie you could watch and take the mickey out of, having a laugh here and there, and finally because it revived memories of the old Hollywood (perhaps memories of Hollywood 1950s B-grade potboilers). Maybe if you will watch this film now for the first time you will run out of patience and stop watching it half-way through. Or maybe if you reduce the size of your expectations you may enjoy it too…

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