Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Mimsy Review: Orlando

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, December 23, 1999

Well, here I am again.

Special features

Cast Information5

Orlando” is a pretentious movie about a pretentious book that never goes anywhere but has some cool scenes in it. Probably a good movie to watch when you’re too distracted to pay attention.

RecommendationPossible Rental
DirectorSally Potter
WritersSally Potter, Virginia Woolf
Movie Rating3
Transfer Quality8
Overall Rating4
  • Enhanced Widescreen

First of all, I should warn you that I was not particularly impressed with the book either. It seemed mostly pointless. Just when things would start getting interesting, the scene shifts and you’re fifty or a hundred years into the future, possibly with breasts. These are mostly my problems with the movie as well. If you liked the book, you’ll probably also like the movie.

Orlando is an English noble in the early 1600s, charged by Queen Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen, to “never grow old, never fade”. The crown having more power then than now, he doesn’t do either. Honestly, though, there’s not much to fade from. Young Orlando hardly burns bright to begin with. Most of the time he—and she, later on—appears to be nothing more than a petty bumbler through the ages with a big house. As in the book, he has little fire in his soul (although I don’t particularly remember the bumbling aspect).

It takes him about a hundred or two hundred years to pass through adolescence, and he bumbles that also. After failing to take part in the defense of the city-state where he is stationed as an ambassador, he feels that, gosh, life would be so much easier if he were a woman. So he becomes a woman, providing for the only humorous part of the movie: the British government initiates legal proceedings to take his estate away, because (a) he was born in the 1500s and must be dead, and (b) he’s a woman, which amounts to the same thing.

Orlando in this movie is alternately confused and oblivious. He appears not to even notice his lack of aging; for that matter, English society keeps a stiff upper lip and ignores it as well, for the most part, except for a very strange marriage proposal. (And then Billy Zane shows up, playing the part of Fabio.)

In its favor, this movie contains the most disconcerting breaking of the fourth wall I’ve seen in a movie. All it takes is a glance from Tilda Swinton to send the heebie-jeebies up my spine. She plays a twitchy, self-conscious Orlando, who is often aware of the audience even if he doesn’t acknowledge us.

You would think that, in a movie that spans landscapes from rural noble estates to lavish parties on the ice, to British-influenced middle east, we would at least get to see some incredible landscapes. Nothing like that either, although the video transfer is very good and would have displayed them quite well.

All in all, I can’t find much to recommend this movie, as much as I want to. If you liked the book, I suspect you’ll also like the movie. If you disliked the book for reasons similar to mine, I suspect you’ll also dislike the movie. If you disliked the book for different reasons, it’s all a crap shoot anyway (which might be the theme of the movie, if you look hard enough). I’m glad I saw it so that I can say that I saw it, but that’s about it.

No extras to speak of. A trailer, and some cast information (labeled “production notes” in the menus). It is an anamorphic transfer, from Columbia TriStar, who as usual did a good job with the DVD.

Recommendation: Possible Rental

DirectorSally Potter
WritersSally Potter, Virginia Woolf
Based onOrlando: A Biography
ActorTilda Swinton
Spoken languagesEnglish, Spanish
SubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish
Special FeaturesCast Information, Trailer
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