The Lost City of Z (2016)

I respect the ambition of this movie, but I couldn’t get into it. I just couldn’t bring myself to care about any of the characters and the stories. I wanted to care. I wanted to like this story. I couldn’t. I am curious what might have brought some viewers to care about something in here. How did they do it?

I certainly didn’t care for the cheap feminist and cheap third-world mythology in the script.

From about 15 minutes in, I couldn’t wait for this movie to finish. Much of the dialogue was unintelligible, but the script was so bad that this was probably a good thing.

I am printing lots of amateur reviews on this movie because I wondered most of the time I was watching if I was missing something. But no.

From IMDB.com:

* It’s a really good example of how a terrible script can completely destroy a movie. There are too many things which make no sense to list, but the key issues are:

For a film that seems so keen to virtue-signal about white ignorance and racism, it does nothing to explain to us Fawcett’s theories about the people of Z. Who were they? How did their civilisation operate? Why did they disappear? Surely these explorers would have built up far more of a picture from the surrounding tribes, artefacts, and previous finds. There is a tiny smattering of these things, but in 2h21ms nowhere near enough to build up a mythology. Therefore it’s difficult to see why this obsesses Fawcett. You literally get more detail from the quests in the Indiana Jones movies.

Instead it focuses relentlessly on the most tedious and dangerous aspects of the trips, their suffering, or switches back to London with almost every old man of course a stiff- upper-lip racist and sexist cliché. Imagine a more insidious General Melchett from Blackadder Goes Forth and you won’t be far off.

There is an extremely cringey attempt to insert a modern feminist perspective. At one stage, Nina wants to go on the expedition. Her reasoning? She found an important document relating to it. This apparently makes her equal to Fawcett’s many years of soldiering and survival skills. It’s clumsy and anachronistic. The trip could very well kill them both and so would leave their children orphaned. Surely a more logical argument would be whether he has to go at all. He is, after all, a father, and has responsibilities at home.

The First World War section adds absolutely nothing and captures none of the horror of the battlefield. It’s all just tally-ho chaps, almost Hallmark channel-like. Just awful.

Sienna Miller, Robert Pattinson and especially Charlie Hunnam wring what they can from such a sparsely-written script and should be commended for that, which is why this isn’t a 1.

Don’t be fooled by the title – it’s not about a lost city or even a lost man. It’s a lazy and pretentious destruction of what could have been a thrilling find.

* Based on the true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett, who made several expeditions to the lost city of Z, believed to be the remains of El Dorado in the Brazilian jungle. The movie follows three of these expeditions and first picks up his life with a long introduction from his military career onwards. The movie becomes only interesting with the start of his first map making expedition on the border of Bolivia and Brazil in 1906. Based on documentary and field research (pottery finds), Fawcett became ever more convinced that a complex civilization had existed there. The movie then touches upon a second expedition initiated by the Royal Geographical Society that lead to controversy about his role in that expedition. The first World War comes in between before he makes his last expedition in 1925 with his son.

The script is based on the fascinating book by David Grann, who visited the region in 2005 and came back with interesting findings about Fawcett’s expedition. By now, Fawcett has turned into an icon of exploring ancient civilizations, making its way into popular culture, Indiana Jones and The Lost World come to mind.

The movie and script is however too obvious for the story at hand. It is painting by numbers, going from phase A to B in Fawcett’s life without any intelligent storytelling, ending up with a movie that I first thought was made for TV or online. Compare this to the classic Herzog movies Aguirre or Fitzcarraldo, and it is clear what went wrong here: Being about exploration, the movie itself shies away from exploring cinematic possibilities and just plays it safe. Wouldn’t it for example not be far more interesting to just focus on that final expedition and make the multiple accounts into a movie? Why Pitt’s Plan B saw anything in this is beyond me, as the company has by now a reputation of risk-taking (and often being awarded for that).

* This film lost all credibility when the expedition party were shown crossing the Atlantic on what looked like a 1950s cross channel steamer. Also clips were shown of an English Great Western Railway Castle class locomotive built in the 1930s with a train of 1960s carriages which was supposed to be the train on which they were travelling through Bolivia. British built locomotives were sold to Bolivia but not this type and anyway it was 30 years too modern. Although there do not appear to be any heritage railways using steam locos operating in Bolivia it would have been easy to arrange a shot of the steam locomotive hauled trains in Ecuador or even an Amerian steam tourist line such as the Cumbres and Toltec which uses convincing looking locos. Mistakes like this are lazy and contribute to a shoddy production. And by the way Stoke Canon is not by the sea or even on the Exe estuary.

* I found the experience of watching this film to be akin to that of listening to a person living with dementia telling you about their life, with an adoring relative interjecting only to say “Oh he was lovely!” every now and then.

It is, in essence, a series of episodes vaguely summarising various events of Fawcett’s life. Occasionally but briefly in intricate detail, but predominantly with a general lack of substance. To return to my analogy, I imagined myself at one point saying “That’s incredible! Tell me how you felt at that moment, did you realise right then the magnitude of your discovery? Tell me about the gruelling journey home, was it fraught with peril?” Only for the storyteller to continue.. “So I arrived back in London…”.

No! Please give me more details. I’ve dedicated over two hours of my life to hear your story, but I’ve come away with roughly the same amount of information as I could’ve gleaned from the back of a primary-school student’s pencil case. You know, like the ones that just have a time-line with monarchs’ names or some such alongside, but are lacking in any further description.

On the plus side, it was quite nicely shot at points although it did feel as if this, coupled with the apparent fact that this film was shown in selected, more ‘prestigious’ and therefore expensive theatres/screens were little more than candid narcissism and was tantamount to the director pleasuring himself in my face for the price of my £16 ticket. Additionally, and somewhat bizarrely, the first 20% of the film had a near-constant and somewhat mediocre musical score, immediately followed by a scene wherein some mediocre opera playing within earshot of the characters could be easily mistaken for a continuation of said score. This was intrusive and unnecessary, and although it didn’t continue throughout the duration of the film, this did not excuse its inclusion in the first place.

Due to the lack of detail or any attempt at interconnection between what I shall continue to refer to as ‘the episodes’ with a deliberate lack of capitalisation as I don’t consider them worthy of a title, alongside abrupt changes in setting, the experience could also be likened to that of being held hostage in a stranger’s living room as they mindlessly alternate channels between a Channel5 period drama and a recap of a Blue Peter trip to the Amazon told from the perspective of a donkey wearing blinkers, such is the lack of momentum and detail. Dialogue is painfully slow and, were this not the case, the running time could’ve been significantly shortened or better still been put to good use in filling in at least some of the notably absent detail. I am an advocate of a move away from the 90minute format of most films but this does nothing to support that argument.

There is also a borderline-distasteful adoration of Fawcett’s alleged delivery of faux-profound proclamations worthy of being printed on the back of a market-stall iPhone case. I am left unsure of whether this was artistic licence or if Fawcett really was that much of a nob. Similarly, little reference is made of his questionable attitude toward the role and capability of women or his insistence upon prioritising the recognition of his peers and reclaiming of the status of his family name over the emotional well-being of his dependents.

Ultimately, his blind faith led only by local legend and a randomly placed Russian fortune teller, and failure to commit to his children led Fawcett either to his death and that of his son or, according to this film, to his decision to remain in the utopia he may have discovered, thus abandoning his wife and remaining children and leaving them only with a faint hope that he survived. The former is likely more plausible, though the latter would come as no surprise.

In summary The Lost City of Z is a vacuous, self-indulgent and ultimately forgettable portrayal of what may have been a great man, but likely was the exploration equivalent of a modern-day philosophy student embarking upon a degree in order to suspend the responsibilities of adult life.

Recommended as an alternative to viewing your Auntie’s slide show of sunburn-heavy holiday snaps from her latest trip to Alicante or similar Sun holiday destination.

* Trying to film an unsuccessful man’s unsuccessful search for a city that did not exist is sure to cause problems. Early Spanish explorers from the 16th century onwards told of wide avenues, canals, palisades, cities of tens of thousands. Trouble was, when organised searches entered the land, everything was gone, and had disappeared into the jungle. So was it all hokum? Well no. There was never a city as Fawcett imagined, a Machu Picchu, made of stone. It was all earthworks, which after just two generations had been abandoned and returned to jungle. The Indians living there were all but wiped out by diseases brought by the first Spanish. They were not aware that their ancestors had built this remarkable system which only started to show up in the latest satellite imagery and was confirmed by on the ground digs in the past 20 years or so. Indian soil management techniques had reached a high level to transform human waste and leaves into rich compost enabling long term stay in villages. Fawcett was part adventurer, Indiana Jones, part David Attenborough, and part war hero, who was always skint. Rather than being a systematic geographer, he embarked on a poorly financed gung-ho expedition and vanished in 1925, being killed by Indians, without ever realising he had probably walked across part of the “city”.Just how big this complex was, what language they used, how it was commissioned, we will never know, nothing was ever written down. Did it all link the Amazon from north to south and from east to west? Perhaps it did. What drove Fawcett ? Certainly the lure of gold; he was skint after all. And he was sure there was a city. But is it the “sure” of the gambler, who is sure he has the winning lottery ticket?

* My main problem was the narrative. The story takes place over a few decades and follows the efforts of Fawcett to discover the “Lost City of Z”. He embarks on 3 “perilous” expeditions going up the Amazon but no sense of danger or suffering is at any point conveyed by the narrative.

The 3 trips are each expedited under 20 minutes of screen time. We have absolutely no idea of the time involved (apparently the expeditions lasted a few years each) nor any feeling towards the hardships the crew faces. To make matters worse, new crew members keep appearing out of nowhere and at some point even a horse!! which was nowhere to be seen on the raft in previous scenes. If this was not enough…. the raft keeps going downstream when they are supposed to go UPSTREAM, towards the source of the river…. oh well, I could have lived with these inconsistencies if I had a character to root for. Unfortunately we never feel any sympathy towards any of the protagonists. The character development is non existent and not helped by the fact the acting is very stiff at the best of time and downright awful for most of the movie. I didn’t find Charlie Hunnam convincing as a Hell’s Angel in SOA but he is seriously laughable as an English Army officer. This absence of feeling and empathy is also to be experienced towards the wife and children he leaves behind, every time he embarks on one of those trips. We simply do not care for them.

I obviously did not go into it expecting a new Fitzcarraldo or Apocalypse Now but for a movie which should have dealt with a man’s obsessive doomed quest for a Lost City, the jungle and/or the river should have been part and parcel of the movie, a character in itself, an omnipresent entity. No such thing. The whole movie could have been shot in a winter garden for all I saw… You never have the feeling you are in the mud with the protagonists. The only feeling you experience is one of utter detachment and an urge for the movie to finish as soon as possible.

Extremely disappointed. Do not believe the hype!

* After watching the trailer for the lost city of z i was excited to see the film. The cast was promising and i’m a huge fan of historical exploration films and unashamedly the Indiana jones franchise. Having recently watched Master and Commander i thought this could be of a similar calibre. Unfortunately the script was dire and the acting was so awkward and cringeworthy i thought of leaving the cinema (which i’ve never done) there were times where the film felt like a satire, the main character played by charlie hunnam was paper thin and had no believable or relateable character traits that made you care about his struggle. The plot was pieced together and i cant recall a single scene which felt gritty or believing, as you would hope an amazon rainforest set epic would be. Instead we saw a single dimensional poor acting display from almost the whole cast, with Tom Holland (protagonist son and upcoming actor of the new spider-man) breathing a slight breath of life into the film with a more believable and rounded character. The attempt at having a strong female character was a good idea but it was poorly done and not in sync with the usual characters submissive role, not seeming to care of her husband leaving her and their children in England. Overall possibly the worst film i’ve seen at the cinema, mainly because of my expectations being let down so drastically. I’d avoid this film and wait for it to be on TV or Online and watch on a rainy Sunday in August. I’d imagine if you went into this film with no expectations it could be enjoyable, but unfortunately a big disappointment from what could have been an enthralling period adventure.

* This is a film about exploration, about class structure, about being able to fit in, and about success and failure. The protagonist (Percy Fawcett) has a tainted reputation due to his father being a drunk and a gambler. Percy is a military officer who is offered an assignment to chart the Amazon and particularly the area around Bolivia where rubber production was the most lucrative industry, we learn there was a dispute over the position of the border, charting the area would avert a war between the rubber producers. He accepts the mission in an attempt to repair his family name and restore some reputation.

This film challenges the belief that Western Civilisation was the first to be established. Percy flits between jolly ‘Old Blighty’ and the Amazon several times to continue his obsessive search for this civilisation.

It’s hard to believe that he leaves his wife pregnant before leaving for every 3-4 year long expedition, she shows an incredible level of personal sacrifice. It might have been a good idea to have explored her character in more depth.

The film really irritated me because Percy was an absent parent, his eldest son had a justifiable hate / love relationship with him which seemed to miraculously improve from one scene to the next without any stimulus.

There could have been more dramatic filming of the jungle areas. Scenery around the Amazon should be easy to photograph, although we see far too little of this or the atmosphere.

This could have been a more fascinating epic. Although I really like true stories, this was extremely long and dull. A viewer at the end of my row actually fell asleep within the first 30minutes and remained that way for the majority of the rest.

Not a bad film but overlong and ultimately irritating (for me).

* I was really looking forward to this film, as how can the exploration of the Amazon be anything other than amazing? Well I was wrong, this was utterly boring, excruciatingly dull and just plain awful. I can only give it a 1 out of 5 rating. After the first 30 minutes I was looking at my watch and wondering if I should bother, as I had more important things to do, like clean the oven. How can anyone make the exploration of the Amazon so tedious? This could have been like real life Indiana Jones! There was absolutely no sense of danger at any point, just flat as a very thin pancake. The film should really be re-named The Lost City of Zzzzzzz.

It was a truly odd film, this bloke gets asked to go Bolivia for the Royal Society to do some maps and stuff, doesn’t want to go, But they offer him a shiny medal so he goes (leaving his wife and new born son), has a rubbish time, comes back to London, goes back to the Amazon (leaving wife, and second son), comes back to London, Goes to France for WW1, comes back to London and then goes to Amazonia again… For Heaven’s sake man – just choose one! I shouted through gritted teeth.

It’s terribly directed and the cinematography is really bad (and I say this as a trained cinematographer). It’s so dark that I actually wondered if the bulb in the projector was bust, but then it would cut to a scene outside in a garden and it would (almost) be correctly exposed. Some interiors were so badly lit I actually couldn’t see who was speaking, and a huge number of shots were so out of focus I again wondered if we were watching a dud print.

There was a really important (cough) scene with two blokes on a train having a chat about something. Now one bloke has a beard and one has a moustache, so that helps tell them apart in the dark, but for some reason we are looking at them over their shoulders and not ‘at’ them, and Mr Moustache-bloke turns away from camera (probably trying this ‘acting’ thing) and I can no longer see his face just his ear. Now it’s so dark I can’t tell if he has a nice ear, if it’s too big or too small or if it sticks out, and By God this must be damn boring if I’m wondering about the relative angles of ear projection rather than what the hell is going on.

The framing is really odd, and the eye lines are all over the place, so I don’t know who is speaking to who, and often the camera operator decided to be above or below eye-lines, making my head ache as it was so badly composed.

The first three scenes of the film could all be cut, or would serve better as flash backs, as they just don’t go anywhere at all. OK a bit of back story, but we know the Major wants a medal with a single line of dialogue, not three flipping scenes as dull as a rainy Sunday.

The main character Major Blokey-pants was utterly dull and his motivation was all rather thrust down out throats, and I didn’t care for him. Only after 90 minutes or so did his wife start talking about some bloke names Percy and I thought “Who is Percy?” and I realised it was the main character, who had been referred to as Major something or other (I forget) for the entire rest of the movie.

Couple of massive plot holes: they were in the middle of nowhere running low on food on a raft made of branches saying how no white man had ever been here before and clearly in the background is a bloke on a horse in a field. I kept thinking they would pan around and explain but they never did. I also wondered if they were travelling to seek the source of the river, how they were just floating along and not constantly rowing, as a river flows away from the source to the ocean.

They have been travelling down river for a year apparently and it all goes wrong and they decide to send this bloke back on a horse. Where did this horse come from?

And they are in the middle of the river all weak and dying and the other bloke (Beard-o) says to the main bloke “and here’s a letter from you wife.” FTAF??? Where had he been keeping that then?

When we finally get to the WW1 scenes the dead bodies in the trenches are clearly shop window dummies and for a film that is this expensive that is just rubbish. These scenes add absolutely nothing to the film, we could just have had a Voice over which went “After the first world war, where I saw active service in France and that bloke I knew who was on the trip to Bolivia with me, you know, thingie, was killed, I returned to London…”

Eventually we get back to Amazonia for the third time and Major Blokey-pants has bought his son with him this time Blokey-Pants minor, and they bang on about finding this lost city of Zzzz but never does he put forward a reason why he thinks there might be a lost city or indeed, why he is so keen to find it, he just wants to find it. Who were these people? Why did their civilisation die out? what was their favourite past time? Did they like cheese? None of these questions were answered or indeed even asked.

Compare this film to the savage Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972 Herzog) the bonkers Fitzcaraldo (1982 Herzog) or even the rather depressing The Mission (1986 Joffe) and you will be sorely disappointed.

* What was probably an incredibly interesting story has been turned into an incredibly dull film. Charlie Hunnam’s Fawcett is as flat as roadkill and Robert Pattinson might as well have stayed at home in bed for all he brings to the tale. As for Angus Macfadyen; he obviously thought he was in a different movie entirely. Three times during this film Fawcett travels to the Bolivian jungle yet we barely learn anything about the place or his expeditions. The director skips hastily from one badly written scene to another with all the depth of a Stephenie Meyer novel. This film is an episodic series of set pieces, many of which should have been left in a heap on the cutting room floor; the entire WW1 sequence brings absolutely nothing to the story except filling quarter of an hour of screen time with clichéd dialogue and hackneyed visuals. With Fawcett’s final trip to the jungle you might think that the fabled Lost City of Z might finally make an appearance; you’d be wrong. The film fizzles like a damp squib and then the credits roll, and not too soon either. Snore on.

About Luke Ford

I’ve written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).

This entry was posted in Hollywood. Bookmark the permalink.