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George Miller Does Aladdin in Three Thousand Years of Longing

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George Miller Does Aladdin in Three Thousand Years of Longing

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James Jay Edwards reviews Three Thousand Years of Longing, a fantasy film directed by George Miller, starring Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton. (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

Filmmaker George Miller has covered seemingly every inch of cinematic ground. From creating the Mad Max series and making one of the more memorable segments of Twilight Zone: The Movie to helming family films like Babe: Pig in the City and the Happy Feet franchise, he’s done it all. But even those who think they know what to expect from Miller might be surprised by Three Thousand Years of Longing.

(Three Thousand Years of Longing, theatrical release poster, courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.)

Three Thousand Years of Longing is about an academic narratologist named Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton from We Need to Talk About Kevin) who is on a lecture tour in Turkey. Right from the start, she experiences weird occurrences; but things get really strange when, as she is cleaning up an old bottle that was given to her as a gift, she releases a Djinn (Beast’s Idris Elba). In typical Djinn fashion, he offers her three wishes in exchange for his freedom. But Alithea, knowing all of the legends about trickster Djinns, is reluctant. So, the pair sits and talks for a while, taking turns telling their personal stories and learning that they have a lot in common.

Adapted from the A.S. Byatt short story “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye” by Miller and co-writer Augusta Gore, Three Thousand Years of Longing relies heavily upon the myths and legends of the genie in the bottle. But this isn’t Aladdin. Because Alithea has studied all of these myths and legends, she knows the pitfalls of the whole three wishes fiasco, and she bides her time as she carefully considers her choices. And this is how she gets the Djinn to open up to her (and how she opens up to him).

(Three Thousand Years of Longing, photo by Elise Lockwood, courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.)

But this isn’t My Dinner with Andre, either. Although the narrative is predictably wordy, the story is told via flashbacks that accompany the narration, so the pasts of the characters is brought to life in a vibrant visual style, full of stunning color palettes and slick visual effects. George Miller is at the top of his game as a filmmaker, and the technical aspects of Three Thousand Years of Longing show his intense creativity coupled with his years of experience.

Still, while the filmmaking itself is terrific, even brilliant at times, the story gets a little hokey. Of course, this is to be expected from a story about a genie in a bottle, but even the relationship between Alithea and the Djinn can be silly. The movie turns into a weird little love story, with a lonely woman opening up to a fairy-tale-in-the-flesh and, ultimately, two kindred spirits connecting on a deep level. Swinton and Elba are both fantastic and do their best to keep the campiness to a minimum, but Three Thousand Years of Longing is, at its root, a dark fairy tale, with all the corniness that comes with it.

(Three Thousand Years of Longing, photo by Elise Lockwood, courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.)

And then, there are the loose ends. Plenty of them. Before Alithea even meets the Djinn she experiences visions and hallucinations that are never fully explained. Some of the imagery pops up later in the Djinn’s flashbacks, so maybe it does explain the psychic connection between the two characters. But it comes off as unexplored threads and underdeveloped subplots once the film turns into a full-on love story.

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In the end, Three Thousand Years of Longing comes off as a long episode of Amazing Stories, or maybe one of the tamer episodes of Tales from the Darkside. George Miller fans will recognize the vision, but maybe not the narrative style. It’s not an action-packed adrenaline ride like the Mad Max movies, nor is it a child-friendly romp like the Happy Feet movies. It’s a dark adult fable, neither erotic nor chaste, but never slow or boring. A grown-up fairy tale.

Three Thousand Years of Longing is now playing exclusively in theaters.


Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.


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James Jay Edwards

James Jay Edwards is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and is the current President of the San Diego Film Critics Society. He sees dead people, can handle the truth, and knows that Han shot first.