How did Bob Rafelson, the director of small-scale American studies such as Five Easy Pieces and The King of Marvin Gardens, find himself helming an old-fashioned adventure story such as Mountains of the Moon? Whatever the ... more »reasons, Rafelson invested this 1990 epic with passion and professionalism. The hero is one of the greatest British explorers of the 19th century, Sir Richard Burton (played by Patrick Bergin), a fascinating figure and a man out of time: a modern in the Victorian era. Mountains of the Moon is primarily concerned with Burton's trek into East Africa to discover the source of the Nile, accompanied by fellow adventurer John Hanning Speke (Iain Glen). Rafelson is at least as interested in the tricky psychological jockeying between the two men, as he is in the grueling conventions of the adventure movie, but he delivers well on both counts. The brawny Bergin is sensational in a role that should have made him a star, but didn't (though he had a shot, menacing Julia Roberts in Sleeping with the Enemy); the film disappeared quickly. Perhaps audiences were put off by the lack of marquee names and confused by the title, which refers to a piece of African landscape. Providing solid support are Fiona Shaw (another should-have-been star), Richard E. Grant, and Delroy Lindo, as an African warrior. A very satisfying excursion into the National Geographic pith-helmet genre. --Robert Horton« less
"Mountains of the Moon is possibly the most criminally overlooked movie of all time. For all the horrid yet prize-winning films about morose Europeans falling in love with colonial Africa, this absolute diamond about the search for the source of the Nile has gone inexplicably unappreciated.The Cinematography of this film is breathtaking (being one of the handful of people who saw it in the theaters, I should know). The filmmakers have not only captured the wonders of the African landscape, their job of depicting Victorian England is something even the folks at Merchant/Ivory must envy.Beauty aside, Patrick Bergin and Fiona Shaw turn in two of the greatest acting performances of the Twentieth Century. I first fell in love with Shaw in this movie...not even playing Petunia Dursley has strained my affection. Mountains of the Moon is, at its core, a meditation on the meaning of friendship. Where does friendship end and love begin? Betrayal in one (even if only a suspected betrayal) can be just as fatal as in the other.With one final nod to Delroy Lindo in a smaller, but crucial, role before I go, I give Mountains of the Moon my absolute highest recommendation. This is one of the best movies ever. Get it today."
Why can't Hollywood make films like this?!
Robert J. Crawford | Balmette Talloires, France | 11/09/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is one of those truly excellent films that you remember and want to see again and again. And each time you see it, you see more deeply rather than more limitations. It is the semi-fictionalised story of Richard Burton's attempt to find the souces of the Nile in the 19C, across huge stretches of uncharted Africa. While he appears larger than life, Burton really was an awe-inspiring character - a true pioneer who appears so modern for his time, respecting non-European cultures and learning their languages. It was he who first translated the 1001 and one Nights; if not for him, we might not have known the story of Alladin and hundreds of others. The characters are subtle and multi-faceted in this film. And the adventure was very real. You encounter hostle tribes with unique cultures, religions, and architecture, whose politics were deadly dangerous. (Burton split his palette when a spear entered his cheek during a night raid.) You see the machinations of scientist-explorers of the Victorian era, including a hilarious scene where Livingston and Burton compare scars. And then there is Burton's relationship with his partner Speake, who may have also been his lover. It is so fascinating that you wil want to learn more in the several fine biographies of Burton that exist. One of the best films I ever saw."
How dare a white man say he discovered Africa?
the wizard of uz | Studio City, CA United States | 05/06/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Is what Sir Richard Francis Burton (Patric Begin) tells his wife Isabell (Fiona Shaw ) after she rushes in to their London home exclaiming: " Newspapers! Mr. Speke again! " At which point one of the most intelligent and best written love scenes ensues---in one of the most intelligent and best written films of all time---as Isabell demands that the hitherto heroic Burton--who has given in to drink and despair, publically confront his former friend, John Speke (Ian Glen) who is damning him in the press, and fight to vindicate his good name.Irony of Ironies! In the Victorian age, Burton, for all his dashing bravery was considered less 'respectable' than Speke. Burton had been the first European to enter Mecca, disguised as an Arab (he was fluent in 23 languages), a swordsman who published manuals on the use of the saber in combat, and translated The Kama Sutra and The Arabian Nights into English. He had a reputation for wildness in an age of conformity. Speke, of the other hand, was a British officer, a member of a prominent family, and a discreet homosexual.The irony continues. This is perhaps the best foreign film that ever bombed at the American box office. Why? 1. The heterosexual ends happily, the homosexual does not. Furthermore another homosexual, Larry (Richard Grant) plays the part of 'Iago' lying and separating the two friends into bitter rivals. Worse still, unlike, say, "Kiss of the Spider Woman " Speke, does not get his sexual fantasies fulfilled. That part of his love for Burton goes unrequited.2. Africans in the 19th century are not represented as 'Noble Savages ' living in egalitarian harmony with each other. Rousseau would have been disappointed.3. Outside the aforementioned outburst "How dare a white man.say he discovered Africa! Africans discovered Africa! " There is no apology for British colonialism. In fact, it's rather unimportant to the main focus of the film.4. There were no STARS, that brought in an audience, only great actors. ( One shudders at the thought of a Hollywood remake with Tom Hanks and Tim Burton in the leads and Whoopi Goldberg delivering an impassioned speech at The Royal Geographical Society. )This film is a glorious, true life, adventure story about the discovery of the source of the Nile. Yes, it is an "epic" , wonderfully photographed. David Lean would have loved it. Especially since the plot is driven by the characters, not the outside world, exotic as the surroundings may be. There is a tone of melancholia, a bittersweetness that prevails throughout. It is a tragedy about the friendship of Speke and Burton. The first gay as a breeze, the second a raving heterosexual but both, (without any excuses to audiences trained to expect that only 'ordinary folks' are believable ) presented for what they were: Heroes. Indeed if the word 'hero' did not apply to Speke and Burton, it would have no meaning. I lost track of how many time they saved each other's lives. A brilliant, subtle and touching film."
Ripping Good Yarn and the Last of Genre
Archmaker | California | 02/14/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This wonderfully intelligent, beautifully acted, photographed and directed film of an exciting and true chapter in history bombed at the box office for no discernible reason other than it didn't have big stars and probably wasn't hyped enough.Made by one of America's best directors, Bob Rafelson, this story of Burton and Speke's quest for the source of the Nile is one of the last best of the great historical epics made pre-CGI and shot on location and ranks right up there with Lawrence, Zulu, etc.The film makes plain just what a dangerous and crazy enterprise this kind of effort was with both men nearly killed on the first outing. Speke is captured and speared in arms and thighs and Burton has a spear shoved through one side of his face and out the other. They barely manage an escape and return to England. And yet, they go back and try again!The second attempt is an arduous and ghastly journey as well, with danger, death and disease plaguing every step. The character of the two men is revealed in these travails, and the film is an exploration of the bonds of friendship and loyalty and the strains that can bind or tear them apart.This is wonderful stuff with two daring and mad white Englishman traipsing around uncharted Africa in search of a river's source for the adventure, discovery, thrill and fame of it all. They endure unimaginable hardship only to have a falling-out on their return to England.Sir Richard Burton , translator of the Arabian Nights and various erotic literature, swordsman, rake, linguist was a brilliant, unorthodox and unconventional man. He is wonderfully played by Patrick Bergin, with vitality, humor and charisma to spare. John Hanning Speke is shown as a disciplined and courageous explorer & friend, but troubled and conflicted sexually and emotionally. LLain Glen is wonderful as the tightly wrapped Speke, severely suppressing his (probable) homosexuality.The supporting cast is fine, and the photography and location filming exceptional. The complications of the relationships: Burton and his wife, Burton and Speke, Speke & his probable lover, are limned with taste and intelligence.Nineteenth century Africa would be a forbidding and hazardous place for native and non-native alike. It would take exceptional men to leave behind all they knew and venture into a completely unknown and uncharted vast continent, without communications and without a supply line and completely on your own. Lunacy if you think about it. Well, whether historically accurate in every detail or not, this film captures the essence of this mad quest and the extraordinary men who made it! Well worth your while."
Full screen vs. Wide screen
Gregory Olsen | San Ramon, CA | 03/08/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Several other reviewers had commented that this was a widescreen edition mis-labeled as a full screen DVD. They are 1/2 right. It is a letterbox edition that thinks it is full screen. I had difficulty getting a wide image on a 16x9 screen (black bars on top bottom and sides), but on a regular TV got a letterbox image. Black saturation is not great on the image. I think it was probably transfered to DVD from a letterbox videotape. It would be nice if Artisan re-did this movie as a widescreen anamorphic DVD from the original 35mm print. The movie has spectacular scenes of Africa and it is a shame that the image quality is not the highest."