The 33 (2015)

332016.90: The 33 (Amazon VOD)

It is impossible to watch this film without listening with some sadness to James Horner’s soundtrack. While it wasn’t the last score he recorded, it was I believe the last film to be released with an original Horner score. It makes the film experience bittersweet. It isn’t his greatest score by any means, and it suffers from that tendency of his to ‘self-plagiarise’ that so annoyed many fans, myself included, over the years. You can hear his music from Where The River Runs Black in this films main theme and music from Glory during the films moments of valediction and rescue, and the moments when disaster strikes is just so much standard James Horner action music from so many films. Back when he was alive, yes, this over-familiarity was very annoying. Now, its almost actually endearing and sad that its now something all of the past.There won’t be anymore new films with new Horner music, no matter how familiar it might sound.

I watched this film on Sunday afternoon. I mention that only because, for good or ill, this film is ideal Sunday matinee material. Perhaps I’m damning it with faint praise. To be sure, the story of the 2010 Copiapó mining accident in which thirty-three miners were left buried alive beneath thousands of feet of rock under Chile’s Atacama Desert is an incredible one. If someone scripted something like this purely from fiction it would be laughingly dismissed, but I’m sure everyone reading this now will remember well how the international news networks riveted viewers for weeks with the nail-biting ordeal of the trapped miners and the against-all-odds efforts of engineers to save them. For once in this blighted world of bad-news stories, somehow everything turned out right and all 33 trapped men were returned to the surface and their families. The problem for this film, is how can it possibly measure up to such an incredible, dramatic true story?

Frankly, it can’t. In a way, this film suffers from a problem shared by In The Heart of the Sea and The Finest Hours, in that it is difficult to focus the narrative drama when it deals with a large ensemble. In Castaway, everything is focused on Tom Hank’s main character, he is the focus of everything, but in these other films it is difficult not to spread things too thin. Its inevitable that many of the characters slip into the background, and that the characters of those that are examined still only seem paper-thin. Part of the drama is lost with knowing how things turn out, but that never harmed Apollo 13– but at least that film had a smaller group of characters, and lead actors like Tom Hanks and Ed Harris with commanding and charismatic performances.

But it remains an entertaining film, even though it feels very formulaic (a miner expresses safety concerns prior to going down into the mine) and easy-going (there’s a surprising lack of conflict, or condemnation of those safety practices). We don’t really get under the skin of either the miners trapped down below or the politicians and engineers with so much at stake in rescuing them. The script is just trying to be fair to everyone and avoids any controversy, ultimately failing everyone in doing so.

Certainly as an afternoon matinee film its a fine way to spend a few hours, and its very life-affirming. I’m damning it with faint praise again, but I really quite liked it. The films final moments, when we see the real 33 meeting on a beach, is something joyous and humbling to witness, knowing what they went through, that somehow they survived against the odds. Each miner looks at the camera alongside their name in text. There is something revelatory in that sequence, I’m not certain what, but there is, and just those few minutes make everything beforehand worthwhile.

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