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Based on the life story of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama of Tibet
Screenplay by Melissa Mathison
Directed by Martin Scorsese

IN SHORT: Not for most of the Crankified.

It's hard writing reviews like the one I'm about to, because it is necessary to be very specific about what's right and what's wrong with the film. With Martin Scorsese's Kundun, we are definitely talking serious film talk. That's almost a diss to Mr. Scorsese, because he is using his not inconsiderable knowledge of how to make a film to try to show a portion of the life story of a holy man to people who are likely to be uninterested.

The Dalai Lama of Tibet is known, to those who know, probably from the PR work led by actors such as Richard Gere and musicians such as Philip Glass, as a world leader in the cause of nonviolence and as a head of state in exile. His religion Buddhism is foreign to us Westerners. The music and culture is foreign. The social customs are foreign and, making it even more difficult, there is absolutely no one acting in the film that you have ever heard of. So, the more you know about anything about the history of Tibet

Whereas 7 Years in Tibet focused on scenery and the fringes of the Dalai Lama's court, Kundun lays you right in the center. From the circumstances leading to the selection of a 2 year old boy as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, through his attempts to make peace with Chairman and his eventual need to flee his land. If you're going to see Kundun, read all you can about the flick. The more you know, the better.

The more you know about the visual construction of a film, the better off you are too, as there are enough symbolic elements at work here that you have to pay complete attention to everything and every part of the screen. What you see will more than likely come back at you down the line.

Cranky can only recommend this simple exercise: Go out and get your hands on a copy of a film called Koyaanisqatsi. There's not a word of dialog in that film. Just a blizzard of visual images and a mesmerizing score by Phillip Glass, who also scores Kundun. If you make it through this one and like it, you'll have little problem getting through Kundun.

The only star name in this production is the director, Martin Scorsese. What Mr. Scorsese has put together, using native born Tibetans (some are actors, some not) is a straight A-to-B story working alongside a good deal of visual symbolism. Save the parental units, you probably won't know who the characters are, or where they really rank on the scale of importance, by anything other than sight (with Chairman Mao being the possible exception). You get a solid dose of Tibetan culture and customs, most of which you have to figure out yourself. The hardest thing to take, to these Western ears, was the absolutely annoying bleat of Tibetan horns blasting bass notes in my face. Colorful costumes and raving Oracles Cranky can take. Bleating horns, no way.

It's nice, in its way, that Scorsese assumes that his audience is intelligent enough to follow along. It's probably a fair cop, if you're just looking for things to go BOOM! you've probably figured out just from the title and poster, that Kundun ain't for you. See? Intelligence!

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Kundun, he would have paid . . .


I'm splitting the baby on this one, folks. I've got four years of film school and twenty years in the seat to fall back on. I may not be smart, but I've got enough background to figure it all out.

Click to buy films by Martin Scorsese

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