Film Reviews:

The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey

(Vincent Ward, New Zealand, 1988)

Medieval Scotland: a young psychic boy has visions which he believes will help him save his village from the plague. After returning from a reconnaissance trip, Connor, the boy's older brother, brings the news that the plague has reached the next village and that they must act to avoid it. The villagers turn to the young boy for guidance and his dreams tell him to lead a tunneling expedition in search of help. This he does - and emerges in a 20th century city.

Vincent (Map of the Human Heart, What Dreams May Come) Ward's first feature is a unique adventure story. A low-budget New Zealand production shot in grainy black and white for the Medieval scenes and colour for the modern. There are countless glorious images and an excellent soundtrack to back them up. A gripping atmosphere is created in the opening reels. The harsh daily life of the villagers is realistically portrayed and the superstitious air that pervades adds a ghost-like quality. The interspersing of the boy's visions injects a supernatural contrast to their mundane, hard lives - religion and death being the basis for these insights into their future. Even when the story shifts to the present, Ward manages to maintain the enigmatic feeling by showing everyday life from an unusual angle - we see what the boy witnesses from his perspective.

The only aspect of the whole film that one can find fault with is the Scottish accents that tend to waver in some characters. The 'it's all a dream' explanation for the incredible events is, for once, a good device. It is clearly suggested as such early on and therefore the viewer has no annoying 'how is this possible?' thoughts, resulting in the chance to sit back and enjoy the ride. A good mix of characters and the unorthodox setting makes this a fascinating viewing experience. Trivia note: the final frames differ between the TV and video versions of the film in the UK.

Rob Dyer

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