Best Picture winners are tricky; some are out of this world excellent, many leave you wondering what was the academy thinking, and even on several occasions can be just plain weird.
Stumbling onto the Best Picture winners from around the time of my birth has led to lots of these feelings. The Best Picture winner of 1987 (aka the year I came into this world), is definitely the latter. Inspiring, truly fascinating story, gorgeous looking, and then totally, and unexpectedly strange.
On the surface, The Last Emperor, is simply that; a movie tracing the life of the final emperor in China. If you know nothing about the history of China (cough, me) then it could be taken at face value, however if you know a little thing or two about history, some of the weird sections might not be taken so badly.
In 1908 China was becoming a republic, and the once treasured ruler of China, the almighty emperor, was becoming irrevelent. As the film begins, the young child is chosen as the next emperor, and he is then left to simply be a figurehead of the old world. Thousands of servants still fetch to his every whim in the Forbidden City, but outside the walls his control means nothing in China's world affairs.
These early scenes with the emperor as a child and teenager are filled with stunning shots that pop with color and show off extreme opulence, which is totally a check mark for those keeping track for levels of epic-ness (a typical best picture requirement).
As the story progresses the movie hits another high note, but this time it comes to the most interesting part of the story. Once the emperor is suddenly pushed out of the Forbidden City for good, he is cast out into the real world, which at first continues to support is elegant lifestyle, but even that crumbles.
It is striking to start a movie in an ancient looking world, stuck behind the walls in the Forbidden city, and then find the emperor donned in a tuxedo singing at a party next to his wives who are transformed from wearing bright silk robes, into fringe flapper dresses. This goes even farther, as the emperor is later found looking just like hundreds of other men, stuck in a cell wearing dirty prison garb; a person's life can truly take so many directions.
To me these were the most interesting details of the film, and that only accounts for less than half of the running time. The movie is told in inter-cutting sections of the beginning and end of the emperors life, which works well, but mostly it is wrapped up in politics, much of which is never fully developed, and leaves unanswered questions for those who know little about this time in Chinese history.
As mentioned before, long sections seem unnecessary and quickly become weird, almost unsettling. Mostly those scenes involving the emperors wives, one (played by Josie Packard) becomes addicted to opium, leading to one of the most unexplained and strange endings for a character in a movie.
From a historic perspective The Last Emperor plays out a fascinating story that seems perfect for a movie. Though, even with some highlights, it just doesn't feel like it flows into the elegant story that is expected.
Those wanting to be transported into another time and culture, this is definitely for you, however, the rest can simply skip it.
Next Up: Tom Cruise before he went Cruiseazy and Dustin Hoffman bringing his typical awesomeness in Rain Man.