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Rapa-Nui

Year: 1994
Production Co: Tig Productions
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Producer: Kevin Costner
Writer: Kevin Reynolds/Tim Rose Price
Cast: Jason Scott Lee, Esai Morales, Sandrine Holt, Cliff Curtis

Before the influence of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a common Hollywood fix for problem of foreign languages was to simply have everyone speak in accented English, and watching this film I was struck by how much more credibility it would have had it been in the native Easter Islanders tongue with subtitles (assuming anyone still knows it).

The film makes a good attempt at melding a historical epic with a small, character-driven story but there's a disconnect between the two, maybe because of the language issue, but one scene feels kind of soap opera-ish where another feels like serious anthropology. Where they co-exist, like when Lee's character witnesses and tries to stop the cutting down of the last tree on the island, they do so slightly uncomfortably.

But there were some really interesting anthropological touches that highlighted the gulf between the islanders' beliefs and modern knowledge, like when the big chief and his advisers climb on top of an iceberg and float away. While their religious teaching have spoken of a large white boat that will deliver them to paradise, us as the audience can only shake our heads in wonder as they float away joyously, with no idea they'll just drown miles away and never be heard from again.

We meet the small nation when the elite class is repressing the worker class into constructing the iconic statues, devastating their landscape in order to do so and fomenting class dissent that you just know will explode.

In the middle of it all is a Romeo and Juliet story of a young man (Lee) with leadership aspirations who has a forbidden love from another tribal group and a love rival from the worker class who's also his best friend.

His right to marry her and the passing on of the Island's leadership will be decided in an epic climbing and swimming race to a nearby island beset by danger. With the race done, a power vacuum thanks to the chief's departure, the spiritual cohesion of the group lost to infighting and the ecology doomed, things go south fast and we're given a too-short glimpse of the fate many believe befell the Easter Island people &ndash anarchy, war and cannibalism.

It's worthy of the title 'history film' and of the tag 'entertainment', just not always together at the same time, and Kevin Reynolds mostly squandered the creative currency he'd built up from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. It was the start of a long decline of another promising career in Jason Scott Lee as well, and the last I saw of him was silly comic relief in ping pong comedy Balls of Fury.

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