Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ryan's Daughter (1970) and the merits of CGI

Ryan's Daughter (Two-Disc Special Edition)My friend Kirk and I were discussing the merits of CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) in film. He prefers films with lots of action and a good amount of CGI whereas I prefer realism and a good story. I scoffed at Kirk for liking pretty fluff instead of a movie that had more meat in it. With the success of Avatar (2009), many of us classic film fans are retreating into our lairs and consoling ourselves with our precious old movies. All this fancy technology, seems to be taking away the merits of intelligent stories, witty dialogue and good old-fashioned plot development. The only CGI-laden film that I've really enjoyed was 300 (2006) mostly because of my interest in mythology, the graphic novel's influence on the book industry and how the film upheld the traditions of ancient storytelling (repetition, grandiose language, emphasis on immortality, pride and patriotism, etc.). But otherwise, CGI is a hard sell for me.

Over the weekend, I went to a late night showing of a documentary and the trailer for Ironman 2 (2010) was shown. And then something clicked. I finally understood. Anyone who goes to see Ironman 2 or any other film with some amounts of CGI wants a visual spectacle. They want something they can't get at home. They want their movie experience to be the equivalent of a roller coaster ride. They want to be on the edge of their seats, hearts pounding, eyes wide open; they want the thrill.

This isn't new. Ever since the advent of Television, movie studios have relied on technological advances to woo movie goers away from their living room and into the theater. CGI is one way. 3-D is another. Weird musicals with Gene Kelly yet another.

So what does this have to do with Ryan's Daughter (1970)? This David Lean epic isn't an outstanding film in terms of story. Sarah Miles stars as Rosy, local pub owner Ryan's daughter, who marries sheepish school teacher Robert Mitchum. She's Irish and has a wild extra-marital affair with a British soldier played by Christopher Jones. Miles and Mitchum are terrific in the film as are Trevor Howard and John Mills. They deliver first-rate performances. But the story is so-so and Christopher Jones is a big disappointment.

What makes this film truly amazing is it's incredible cinematography. It's pure eye-candy; a feast for the eyes. You are transported from your seat into a seaside town in Ireland circa late 1800s. The breathtaking cinematic quality of this film is lost on a TV and it begs to be watched on a big screen.

I created a Flickr slideshow of some of the best visuals from the film. I've also included my favorites below.


  1. I love the films of David Lean. River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zjivago will always be among my favorite movies of all time. Ryan's Daughter however I haven't seen at all. I have heard many things about it which have kept me away. Apparently it is a big disappointment in many ways. The flop of Ryan's Daughter apparently became something of a stigma for Lean who didn't make another movie until Ghandi in the 80's.
    Your review makes me want to give it a try.

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  3. Having just discovered this blog, I feel compelled to add my two cents. I have always been a great admirer of David Lean's work. He was one of the true geniuses of cinema. I saw RYAN'S DAUGHTER in a movie theatre when it first opened. I was awed by it. It still haunts me. I never understood the negative reviews and, over time, I was saddened by how it became a 'forgotten film'. Nothing can take the place of a well made print shown on a huge theatre screen with a good sound system. However, with today's technology for home video and audio, we can experience this film at home in a way that, at least, approaches the theatre experience. I highly recommend the best DVD version available to all who read this. Hopefully, you will watch it on a large HD monitor with a good surround sound system. You will not be disappointed.

  4. Simply one of the best films Lean ever made. Increasingly recognized now as an overlooked masterpiece. Proof, if ever proof were needed, that you don't need a big 'story' for a work of art. Lean is universally recognized as one of the best editors ever. R'sD is worth watching for this aspect of the art alone. A brilliant film, exploring timeless basic aspects of the human condition. Why did the critics rubbish it? Well, it's hardly sympathetic to bigotted Irish catholicism. Check the backgrounds of the US critics!!!


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