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RUNNING TIME: 99 Minutes
Babe meets Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby.
Featuring the vocal talents of James Franciscus, Juliet Mills and Hal Holbrook backed by an army of seagulls both real and cyborg in origin.
Gull hate crimes are on the rise.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull is sick of the drudgery of the everyday life of a gull. He just knows there has to be something more to the life he’s living than fighting for scraps of food coming off the back of barges or in garbage heaps where his flock roams. He feels most free and himself when attempting to fly faster than any gull has flown before. His flock warns against such experimentations, but Jonathan can’t help but try to be something more and eventually finds himself expelled from the flock he has called his own since birth. Left to his own devices, he eventually ascends to a higher plane of knowledge with the help of some wizened old gulls who teach him exactly how to strive for the excellence he’s been searching for his whole life. With these newfound tools, he looks to share the power and freedom that comes with expert flight with his former flock, but meets much resistance. Despite that, there are a handful of willing pupils who might just make Jonathan’s life quest worthwhile afterall.
And shows itself whenever we shit on passerby.
The Jonathan Livingston Seagull book is a slight tome in and of itself, so I was a little dubious of the ability to stretch out what is essentially a novella with atmospheric pictures of gulls flying into a feature length enterprise. However, many say that the slimmer works of literature leave themselves more room for the filmmaker to work with and expand on the ideas contained within, so there was a chance Jonathan Livingston Seagull could’ve been a radical departure or at least expansion of the source material. Much to my surprise, it’s an extremely faithful adaptation of the book that pads out the running time with Neil Diamond scored sequences of our protagonist Jonathan flying across beautiful landscapes. There’s a hypnotic quality to the visuals, which are consistently beautiful and often manage to capture the dizzy emotion of flying about as well as one could hope for through it’s use of helicopter shots intermingled with gull footage. One could do without the sonic boom that is Neil Diamond’s accompaniments, as you often fear we’ll fade in on a shot of Neil singing into a microphone in the clouds above as Jonathan soars through camera set-ups. The music certainly does the film no favors.
Jonathan always could count on his Linda Blair impersonation to break the ice in awkward situations.
When the film’s second half’s focus on storytelling finally exerts itself, introducing the sage-like gull voiced by Hal Holbrook, it begins to fly off the handle. While there isn’t anything wrong with the story itself, being a testament to the human desire to reach for more than what one currently is, it just comes off strangely in filmed form. This could be attributed to any number of things: the voicework isn’t particularly convincing save for James Franciscus as our titular seagull and the aforementioned sage-like Holbrook gull, but a lot of the other voices bleed into one another and at best don’t distinguish themselves from one another while at worst become poor voice work that seems too demonstrative for a contemplative work such as this. Also, it could be that this method of storytelling has overstayed its welcome by that point, and after a near-lugubrious opening forty-five minutes, settling into the meat of the story just doesn’t work in this situation, and comes across as jarring.
How much you think that bitchin’ product placement cost?
I don’t regret having sat through the picture actually. It has a nice sense of pacing (credit to director Hall Bartlett for that) and a universal appeal due to its message, but it isn’t good or anything of that nature. If you’re a fan of cinematography, you’ll be excited to see some of the vistas captured here, and if you’re interested in puppetry or live-action technology, you’ll be amazed by how realistic the robotic gliders who stood in place for the gulls in scenes where they were needed to act in a specific way to suit the story look. Otherwise, the idea of more than an hour with National Geographic footage set to Neil Diamond probably sounds like a recipe for seppuku. Nothing as terrible as all that, but nothing memorable either.
"Man, we’re really tripping whatever the bird equivalent of balls is, aren’t we Tim?"
The cover art isn’t going to be a selling point for anyone, unless you’re gullible. However, there’s plenty of more arresting imagery that could’ve been used quite frankly. The picture quality is solid (as it better damn well be if they’re releasing it on DVD bare-ass nekkid) but you only get mono for audio. So if you were looking for a super-aural experience with Neil Diamond and your favorite winged animal, you’ll have to throw in Winged Migration on mute along with Hot August Night to get off. No extras here, so unless you loved this movie or want to inspire someone to fly (metaphorically of course, don’t need CHUD being blamed when your loved ones are being identified through dental records) there isn’t anything else trying to coax that cash out of your wallet.
5.0 out of 10