Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Before I Die #596: The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)

This is the 596th movie I've not seen out of the 1,187 movies on the "Before You Die" list that I'm gradually working through.

Original German Title: Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed

Director: Lotte Reiniger

A brilliant and unprecedented work in cinema, even if it is one that has been somewhat forgotten in the annals of animated movies.

Using cutout figures as silhouettes, the movie depicts the wild adventures of Prince Achmed, a character from some of the tales in The 1,001 Arabian Nights, the famous collection of medieval fantasy and fairy tales from the Middle East. The handsome Prince Achmed is whisked away by the powers of an evil wizard, and he eventually must fight off various monsters and escape deadly traps. Eventually helping him are a powerful mountain witch and the famous character Aladdin, with his wish-granting, genie-housing lamp.

While the movie can take a bit of effort on the part of the viewer to maintain focus, due to its silent nature and the oft-soothing classical music score, it's an amazing feat of artistry. The cutout characters have a dazzling amount of detail and intricacy in the curves, lines, and edges worked into their figures and environments. Given that Reiniger decided to completely embrace two-dimensional storytelling (all films are 2-D by definition, but very few use strictly 2-D props), the amount of texture is amazing. Often, the eyes are busy taking in the details that Reiniger worked into the figures (she hand cut every one of them), and even more the characters and moods that she evokes through little movements of their hands, eyes, and heads. There is more than a little visual humor cleverly worked into many of the sequences.

The Prince (hidden on the right) sees the magical princess
for the first time. The detail in the cutouts, contrasted with
the simple but effective backgrounds, creates a palpable
world for these fairy tale characters and their adventures.
The story is, of course, the stuff of pure fantasy. One shouldn't go looking for emotional or psychological insights, or even development of character here. This is about people getting thrown into exotic locations and fighting evil wizards and monsters. It is rather fun for much of its short running length (it's only a tad over one hour), but the vibrancy can wear off after a little while.

A little research into this movie reveals that it is widely considered the very first feature-length animated movie. While animation and film techniques would far outstrip this movie within about two decades, it is clearly a masterpiece. I truly feel that this is a movie that even modern kids would enjoy, at least for a good half hour, if not for its entirety.

That's 596 movies down. Only 591 to go before I can die.