Kevin Reynolds, who directed Kevin Costner's revisionist ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES, used Costner's backing to reinvent the lost culture of Easter Island, which the natives called Rapa Nui, or "Navel of the World." This resulting adventure tale is lavishly mounted, visually
impressive, and so extravagantly ludicrous that its campy excesses almost seem intentional.
Jason Scott Lee plays Noro, an ecologically enlightened member of the Long Ears, Easter Island's elite tribe. The center of tribal life is an annual ritual race to retrieve the first egg from the offshore hatchery of sacred birds; the chief (Eru Potaka-Dewes) commands Noro to represent his clan
and keep their 20-year winning streak alive. Noro wants to marry Ramana (Sandrine Holt), one of the Short Ears, the slave-like underclass who carve and erect the giant stone heads for which the island is famous. These are built under the iron fist of the shaman Tapu (George Henare), who deals
harshly with worker unrest, punishes poachers with decapitation, and distrusts Noro because he opposes the deforestation resulting from hauling the stone statues on rollers made of tree trunks. Nevertheless, he rules that Noro can marry Ramana if he wins the race, but only if she--a dark skinned
Short Ear--spends six months in the Cave of the White Virgins to lighten up.
Make (Esai Morales), Noro's boyhood friend and a Short Ear, also wants Ramana. He becomes shop steward and leads a strike, demanding higher wages and the opportunity to compete in the race. The chief agrees but stipulates that Make will forfeit his head if he loses. Like a Polynesian Rocky, Make
works the quarries by day and trains at night. Noro trains under Ramana's father, a banished former champion (Zac Wallace). When an obviously pregnant Ramana is brought forth on race day, Noro demands the chief's resignation if he wins. After a brutal competition, Noro triumphs, but only because
Make drops his egg at the last moment. Judgment is delayed, however, by the sudden appearance of an iceberg, which the chief naturally assumes is the legendary white canoe of the gods.
Tapu returns to claim Make's head; but Make leads the Short Ears in a violent revolution, killing Tapu and tearing down the statues. He lets Noro and Ramana live, and they sail away in her dad's canoe. The closing titles inform us that Pitcairn Island, some 1,100 miles eastward, was settled by
people from Rapa Nui, implying that either Noro's family or the iceberg somehow made it there.
For the record, in assessing RAPA NUI's treatment of archeological anthropology, the two words that leap to mind are "fast" and "loose." The defoliation theory, for example, is ludicrous (tree rollers were an Egyptian concept; the Polynesians used pebbles and seaweed). The labored sequences of
statue construction--they transport the statues standing upright, in defiance of common sense and the laws of physics--show casual disregard for Thor Heyerdahl's well-documented reconstructions. In time-honored Hollywood fashion, the screenplay blithely dissolves the complexities of an ancient
society into a simplistic class conflict, with an egregious Romeo and Juliet plot tacked on to create some dramatic tension.
Which it fails to do, mainly because the female love interest is stuffed in a cave for half the film. In general, the script is so risible as to provoke spasmodic laughter. Not only do people insist on regaling each other with personal histories that must already be familiar to everyone (there
are only about 50 people in town), they do so in a modern idiom that is so hopelessly out of place that it can't help but come off as high camp. The plywood characters are straight from a Technicolor Bible epic, but they're dressed for a National Geographic photo spread.
The film hints at the racial discord that actually divided the islanders, only to gloss over it in favor of the climactic egg toss. The filmmakers boasted that the cast largely consisted of Pacific Rim actors, but most of them are Maori (as opposed to Polynesian), and the leads are Asian- (Lee),
Hispanic- (Morales), and Native American (Holt); the characters' motivating concerns--especially the trendy environmentalism--are altogether anachronistic. The real dramas, such as how the Polynesians got there in the first place, or the devastation of the people under Dutch colonialism from a
(still sculpting) population of 4,000 to less than 200 in just over a century, remain untold.
On the bright side, Stephen Windon's photography, bathed in sunset oranges, is lovely, and Stewart Copeland's new-agey score is charming. And it's a treat for devotees of glutes and pecs. (Nudity, violence, adult situations.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1994
- Rating: R
- Review: Kevin Reynolds, who directed Kevin Costner's revisionist ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES, used Costner's backing to reinvent the lost culture of Easter Island, which the natives called Rapa Nui, or "Navel of the World." This resulting adventure tale is lavis… (more)