Title: Chariots of Fire
Release Date: 25 September, 1981
Oscar Ceremony: 29 March, 1982
Director: Hugh Hudson
Starring: Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, Nicholas Farrell, Ian Holm
Nominees: Atlantic City, On Golden Pond, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Reds
“I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” – Eric Liddell
Considering how this movie and its theme song have been treated in today’s pop culture, I was expecting some sort of epic cheeseball of a film. I didn’t think it would be amazing, but I at least thought it would be fun to watch. Truth is, it was actually pretty, but boring… or should I say, pretty boring.
Chariots of Fire is based on the true story of two British university students competing as runners in the 1924 Olympics. One of them is Eric Riddell, a devout Christian born to Scottish missionaries in China who runs “for God,” and the other is Harold Abrahams, an upper-class Jewish man desperate to overcome prejudice. I think it’s meant to be a tale of perseverance and empowerment, but if you ask me these two guys really had nothing better to do with their lives. Why they decided to take up running is beyond me.
Just like the previous movie I reviewed, Chariots of Fire suffers from an intense case of “rich people problems.” It’s kind of like Rocky for snobs. There’s a scene where one of the runners practices running over hurdles at his country estate, trying not to knock over the glasses of champagne resting on them. We’ve reached peak poshness. The whole movie was so bland that the producers felt the need to add swear words here and there just to avoid receiving a G rating out of fear of associating it with a kids’ movie. Trust me, I don’t think the lack of swear words was their biggest problem.
There is also zero build-up or anticipation; the iconic shot of runners accompanied by the famous theme by Vangelis actually appears within the first few minutes of the film, and the song plays three times in the first 36 minutes. I thought it would be part of an epic climactic moment in the movie, but it turned out to be no big deal. Also, yes, the music is iconic, but it doesn’t really fit with the time period and whatever else is going on. You can hear the synthesizers right away, and to me that’s really an 80s thing. It’s totally out of place for an aristocratic Britain circa 1924. Synthesizers haven’t really aged well either.
Okay, you caught me. That’s not an actual shot from the movie. That’s Rowan Atkinson (aka Mr. Bean) during the 2012 London Olympics Opening Ceremony, paying tribute to Chariots of Fire. I actually thought it looked more interesting than the other screen captures I could find on Google. It’s too bad because if there’s one thing this movie did well, it’s the cinematography. There were a lot of beautiful shots, that is if you could stay awake long enough to catch them. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find many to share with you.
The movie is just a bit over two hours, but I’m fairly sure the length could have almost been cut in half if the filmmakers calmed their obsession with slow-motion. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for those monumental shots that seem to stop time, but when you overdo it it kind of loses its effect. Moreover, most of these British men aren’t exactly studs, so I don’t need more time to focus on their faces, especially not with their cheeks flobbing in the wind.
Speaking of the British men, the characters in the film are extremely one-dimensional. We never truly learn anything about what makes them human, except when it comes to their relationship with religion. It really seems like that’s their only driving force, but we never get a sense of why. It’s difficult to relate to them because of that, and it really doesn’t make them likeable either. I’m not sure whether there’s a larger metaphor at play here, but even if there is I’m too lazy to analyze it. Overall, I’d say that Chariots of Fire seems to have served its purpose with audiences all over the world, but for me there’s still something missing.