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Until the End of the World poster
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Until The End Of The World
cast: William Hurt, Solveig Dommartin, Sam Neill, and Max Von Sydow

director: Wim Wenders

155 minutes (15) 1991
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Metrodome DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Steve Aylett
Until The End Of The World (aka: Bis ans Ende der Welt) was made in the late 1980s to early 1990s, is set in 1999 and was filmed all over the world, resulting in an atmosphere unlike any other film I've seen. It's littered with cyberpunk leftovers and tech accessory dead-ends and is so amiable that it conjures a strange, bittersweet nostalgia for a future that never happened and the naive innocence that conjured it.

In 1999, a Russian nuclear satellite is about to fall out of the sky and possibly trigger an apocalypse. Everyone is panicking and leaving the cities, but this end-time is even milder than the Canadian one in Don McKellar's Last Night. As with many Wim Wenders movies, Until The End Of The World portrays a soft universe in which it seems nobody could possibly come to real harm. Even the thieves are friendly and reasonable, giving Claire (Solveig Dommartin) a stack of cash to take to Paris in return for a big cut. She bumps into strange fugitive Sam Farber (William Hurt), who is taking a sort of VR headset to Australia where it will help his blind mother to see. The first two-thirds of the movie are an unhurried chase through France, Germany, America, China and Japan as Sam and Claire run from and with Claire's ex (Sam Neill as a bland author named Eugene Fitzpatrick), evading bounty hunters and detectives.

Adding strangeness to the movie is a sort of product placement whereby tech companies loaned Wenders their prototypes, many of which never reached street use. There are no cell-phones but characters are seen using huge public videophones, clunky laptops with hatched-in screens (and voice-recognition that actually works), hand-held videophones like little decorated Doric columns, digital video cameras like bus ticket dispensers, and occasional weird electric cars (streamlined, not stumped off). There's also some cute and clumsy CGI of a search-engine bear who walks around stiff-legged looking in manholes: "I'm searching, I'm searching..." In the most accurately prophetic moment, Dommartin's car sat-nav doesn't work.

In the last third of the movie Sam and Claire arrive at Sam's father's experimental compound in the Australian outback, where Sam attempts to gain his father's impossible approval by playing back the images collected in the headset. These memory and dream images - sometimes sad, sometimes spooky, are an abstract symphony of de-tuned graphics and add a whole new element to the film. The last third of the film is in fact like a different movie, in which the main characters suddenly have emotional content. Max Von Sydow is in danger of doing his usual 'curmudgeon' party trick but is rescued by the genuinely touching relationship with his screen wife (played by Jeanne Moreau). Sam and Claire become addicted to the dream images and withdraw from real relationships.

The disc in hand contains the 158-minute version of Wenders' movie, which has a complicated history. After a rough cut of 20 hours and a first clean cut of eight hours, the original theatrical cut was forced down to this 'short' 158 minutes by the studio - half the length Wenders had in mind. He disowned this version (calling it the Reader's Digest version) and released a three-part 280-minute director's cut, several years later. Having seen that long version recently I now found the present 'short' version slightly halting and disjointed. From the absence, in the first scene, of Dommartin's beautiful feet padding over broken glass, the movie's missing pieces are glaring, resulting in apparently unmotivated acts and unexplained dialogue ("Goodbye, broken ladder"). Material important to the relationship between Claire and Sam is absent from the Japanese teahouse interlude in this shorter version. Though the added voiceover narration in the longer 280-minute version is a bit too much, it does set up Claire's 'capacity for self-destruction' early so that her addiction doesn't seem to come out of the blue, as it does here. The longer version also better integrates the last third of the movie, and gives more of the aborigines' viewpoint on the Farber experiment. Lost here are shots of the addicted Hurt lying in the folds of rock formations, some extra Solveig nudity, and the cast making music at the outback camp. Lost, thankfully, are Chico's (Chick Ortega's) painful efforts at being 'top of the pops'. In all versions Chico is irritating. In all versions the extent of the nuclear damage is not really delineated, and 'Claire in space' is not believable.

But even the shorter version retains the feel of having taken a journey. More so than Wings Of Desire, this movie is a visual love-letter to Dommartin (Wenders' onetime girlfriend, who died in January 2007, aged 45), who is often pictured doing very little but looking interesting, though in the last third is allowed to show she can act. Sam Neill's author character is flat, and his narration suggests he is mediocre - we are left to wonder why the adventurous Claire was ever involved with him. Rüdiger Vogler's euro-noir detective is slightly posed and unconvincing though likeable enough. The music, though resolutely middle-of-the-road (U2, Talking Heads, etc) doesn't get in the way. In a movie so fond and amiable, many viewers will make allowances for its indulgent and awkward moments - or actively indulge in them, as it allows time to inhabit that universe and look around. Its world is a confectioner's version of apocalypse, a fun one to roll around in, with space for all, coolly inadvertent retro-tech, beautiful landscapes and no real peril. It leaves the viewer wishing the turn of the century had actually been as daft-and-cool as this, and as fit for human habitation.

The only extras on this disc are a theatrical trailer and a text article on the 'making of' which doesn't go into much detail.

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