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Empire of the Sun Movie Review

jim spielberg film john

1987 – Steven Spielberg –

Steven Spielberg's tale about a British boy who gets separated from his parents in Shanghai during World War II and winds up in a Japanese prison camp is an exquisitely made film.

Based on the autobiographical novel by J.G. Ballard, it contains a number of powerful dramatic scenes, interesting performances by its cast, and the kind of visual artistry for which Spielberg is known. However, the lengthy story loses its focus and ultimately is not as satisfying dramatically as it is effective visually.

Jim (Christian Bale) is a young boy fascinated by flight. In fact, his interest in airplanes and flying is so strong that he seems unaware of the war erupting around him in Shanghai. As the Japanese invade Shanghai he becomes separated from his parents, one of the film's most moving scenes. Eventually Jim returns to his home to find it taken over by the Japanese, his confusion and painful loss depicted with stirring intensity. However, the film tends to stall when Jim is sent to the prison camp.

Although Jim meets some fascinating characters there, led by the conniving Basie (John Malkovich), and he develops some interesting relationships, the story weakens at the camp. The overall tone the camp scenes strive for is the struggle of survival and the intensity of the suffering that occurs there, but Jim's struggle does not seem as much of a difficulty as the filmmakers want us to believe. His continued fascination with flight and his yearning to escape and find his family are psychologically believable elements of his character, but they do not really drive the story forward. Neither do the difficulties that the boy faces, for he overcomes them without much effort, and his dreaming seems to allay much of the pain of the struggle. Essentially, this largest section of the film drags on with little direction and clarity.

The first major Hollywood opus to be filmed in the People's Republic of China, Empire of the Sun is a showcase for the usual spellbinding Spielberg images. The narrative, however, is not quite on par.

Cast: Christian Bale (Jim), John Malkovich (Basie), Miranda Richardson (Mrs. Victor), Nigel Havers (Dr. Rawlins), Joe Pantoliano (Frank Demarest), Leslie Phillips (Maxton), Masato Ibu (Sgt. Nagata), Emily Richard (Jim's Mother), Rupert Frazer (Jim's Father), Peter Gale (Mr. Victor), Takatoro Kataoka (Kamikaze Boy Pilot), Ben Stiller (Dainty), David Neidorf (Tiptree), Ralph Seymour (Cohen), Robert Stephens (Mr. Lockwood) Screenwriter: Tom Stoppard Cinematographer: Allen Daviau Composer: John Williams Producer: Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, and Steven Spielberg for Amblin; released by Warner Bros. MPAA Rating: PG Running Time: 154 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1987: Nominations: Art Direction/Set Decoration, Cinematography (Allen Daviau), Costume Design, Film Editing, Original Score (John Williams), Sound; Golden Globe Awards, 1988: Nominations: Motion Picture—Drama, Original Score (John Williams) Box Office: $22.2M (domestic gross).

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