What’s your wish?
By Diana Beechener
If you could have three wishes, what would they be? Fame, fortune, Idris Elba shirtless—all are tempting, but usually stories like this come with a catch.
Narratoligist Dr. Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton: Memoria) knows the catches that come with this job intimately. A quiet academic who prides herself on her solitude, Alithea has always related best to the world through stories. Her imagination is so strong that she had an imaginary friend for decades, helping her through her solitary youth.
When a Djinn (Idris Elba: Beast) pops out of a bottle purchased at a Turkish bazaar, she’s not surprised, but she is skeptical.
Though the Djinn offers her three wishes, Alithea doesn’t want any part of it. She’s read enough stories to know a cautionary tale when she sees one. But the Djinn is persistent—he must grant the three wishes or be condemned to live in a bottle. Besides, he assures her he’s a god-fearing Djinn who would never do anything untoward.
While mulling his offer, Alithea asks him to tell her about all the times he’s found himself confined to a container. Can the Djinn’s stories convince Alithea to make a wish? What wish would you make, if given the chance?
A cacophony of sound and stunning images, Three Thousand Years of Longing works best when its Djinn is weaving his magical tales. Director George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road) is not stranger to bombastic filmmaking. And he’s fully able to unleash his imagination here, with some thrilling set pieces and bursts of beautiful color. While the visuals never disappoint, the script makes the film lag a bit. The framing device—the fairytale of Alithea and the Djinn— doesn’t have the same sense of wonder and whimsy that the rest of the film does.
At its heart, the film is interested in the magic inherent in sharing stories, and cinematographer John Seale (Mad Max: Fury Road) does his best to infuse each scene with shimmering enchanted touches. Each story the Djinn tells is set in a new locale with new sights and sounds to explore. It’s a visual feast, but one that doesn’t fully satisfy. The parts set in modern times feel long, with less pops of color and quirk to keep up the interest. The viewer would be excused for wishing to stay in the Djinn’s tales.
And Idris Elba does conjure some brilliant tales. Though Swinton is a formidable actor, this movie belongs to Elba. He’s dazzling as a modern-day Scheherazade, weaving his yarns and trying to tempt Alithea into making a wish. Both his anguish and his fascination with humanity are apparent in his stories, which are filled with hedonism and delights. It’s the perfect lure for a woman who can’t resist a good story.
As for Swinton, her Alithea is a crackling source of wit and wisdom. She gamely matches Elba point for point on mythology and storytelling. But her character falters slightly due to the script’s lack of imagination. Alithea can’t compete with the Djinn’s tall tales, and the movie doesn’t want to help her do so. She’s a conduit for the audience, but one that can’t possibly hold the film on her own.
Still, Three Thousand Years of Longing is a film that’s definitely worth seeing – and on a big screen. Miller’s vision is always something to behold, even when his storytelling doesn’t quite stick the landing. Drink in the visuals and enjoy the feast of narrative flare as the Djinn transports you through three fantasy worlds.
Like most fairytales, this one’s ending is bittersweet – and so is the ending of this review. I’ve been honored to review films for Bay Weekly for the better part of a decade. I’ve taken the job seriously, and cherished every lovely email of encouragement and angry voicemail left on the paper’s machine. But it’s time for this tale to end and for us all to move on. Thank you for reading. I’ll keep watching films and I hope you will, too.
As for my three wishes, I’ll make them simple: I wish that Idris Elba finally got a movie worth his considerable talents. I wish you’d check out filmstodifor.com if you’d like to read more reviews from me. And most of all, I wish you excellent moviegoing.
Good Fantasy * R * 108 mins.
Three Thousand Years of Longing is available in theaters.