Eye For Film >> Movies >> Krakatoa: East Of Java (1969) Film Review
Krakatoa: East Of Java
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
When it comes to volcanoes, there's no doubt that Krakatoa is the boss. Its 1883 eruption caused the loudest bang the modern world has known and is legendary for the destruction it caused. This might sound like ideal material for a film, but in practice it's trickier. There's little to build up tension before the action begins, and once it does everything proceeds at a tremendous pace. To work around this, Krakatoa: East Of Java begins with an entirely independent story and gives us one of the most developed sets of disaster movie characters in cinematic history.
Captain Hanson (Maximilian Schell) is a old sea dog making his way between the southern islands in search of a shipwreck full of pearls. His partner Laura (Diane Baker) is a refugee from an unhappy marriage, passionately in love with him but heartbroken after having been told she will never see her son again. Their relationship sizzles with chemistry. Released in the Summer of Love, this is no stiff-lipped Merchant Ivory take on times past, though there's a hint that some of the laissez faire atmosphere on board ship stems from the influence of local island cultures. One thing the islanders are not easy-going about, however, is the nearby volcano, which they treat with a degree of caution the Europeans fail to take seriously.
The debt-ridden Hanson's situation is complicated by his agreement to take on a cargo of prisoners, and by the fact that he's not the only one interested in the sunken treasure. Double-crossing drama ensues, with fights and underwater action sequences that don't just pass the time but provide thrills in their own right. Meanwhile, Krakatoa rumbles away in the background. Increasingly odd events occur that mean nothing to our protagonists, but which modern viewers will recognise (even without knowing the bigger story) as a sign that something is seriously wrong.
Smartly scripted, well paced and, for the most part, solidly acted, this is a much better film than its latter-day Sunday afternoon TV slots might suggest. What really lifts it is its cinematography. Clever use of filters, lighting and smoke create a shifting landscape that becomes truly alien and a mood far more effective than anything that could be conjured up with the standard flashes and bangs. The weirdness of it is genuinely disturbing, building a sense of fear and impending danger in the latter third, when the crew's aged boat may prove the only hope of safety for endangered islanders. A couple of twee subplots at this stage may distract somewhat from the overall tension, but rarely has the horror of mass destruction been conveyed so effecrtively with so little.
Yes, Krakatoa is actually west of Java, but only if you go the short way round. This film may not get full marks for accuracy but it's willing to go the distance to deliver one of the best volcano stories out there.Reviewed on: 15 Sep 2012