Film, directed by Ross Hunter, 1973, remake of Frank Capra's version of 1937, adaptation of James Hilton's novel.

I can imagine what happened for this film to come into being: a bunch of studio guys are sitting around, drinking gin-and-tonic, maybe a joint, and one of them comes up with the idea that it would be great if they could find a film that would bridge the generation gap, which at that time was about as far apart as Archie Bunker and Mick Jagger. Something that both college-age rebels and their parents would find equally interesting-- for different reasons, perhaps, but still, a ticket is a ticket. What interested hippies? Asia, philosophy, pacifism, and wild sets and costumes. What interested their parents? Musicals, eye candy, a feel-good script, and nostalgia. Very well, then, "Lost Horizon", the old classic, as a musical, in color. Can't miss, right? It was a bomb.

Lost Horizon, by James Hilton, is perhaps less than a classic, but not a bad novel. In broad terms, he sketches out a utopian society in Shangri-la, "The Valley of the Blue Moon", near Tibet, inhabited by peacefully contented villagers who serve an abbey of very long-lived monks. Intruding into paradise is a Gilligan's Island-like planeful of outsiders (a veteran of WWI, a missionary, etc.) each with their own spin on the situation -- what plot there is concerns the reaction of each of them to being presented with a choice to live in paradise, or try to return to the tumult of the Twentieth Century. Taken on its own terms, it's gentle, pop-lit fluff, presenting Hilton's own conservative British views in "Oriental" dress, as exotic and as familiar as a fortune cookie. As captive honored guests of the monks, the castaways are forbidden to leave the valley, but never pressed into work or prayer (not that the monks do too much of that themselves), treated royally, and given simple, yet luxurious quarters --who'd want to escape? In this Middle American Heaven-on-Earth, the monks are both cultured and wise, the climate is warm, the food is plentiful and tasty, the villagers are picturesque nonentities and nothing ever changes. The nuns are chaste, but encouraged to look pretty, and even flirt a bit (the reason given is one of the most hilariously inaccurate explanations of Tantric Sex I've ever read). Even their religion is nonthreatening: revealed as a best-of-both worlds blend of Christianity and Buddhism, there's little to offend any but the staunchest fundamentalist or the oddballs out there who actually knew something about Tibet (which in the early Thirties was a very small number).

As a Capra film focussing on the adventure/character interplay angles it was enchanting; and perhaps Steven Spielburg could have made it fly, if he'd been around. As an early-Seventies Hollywood product, the adventure was over too quickly, and the updated roster of characters too bland, to make much of an impression. Deprived of the sketchy, suggestive qualities of classic B&W, the monastery resembles a de luxe beauty spa in white and pale blue, and while at least some of the monks' robes tried for historical accuracy, most of the rest of the inmates looked as if on their way to a morning massage and fango bath, with a couple of holes of golf in the afternoon. Maybe Stephan Sondheim could have restored some grit to the story, playing up the very real conflict inside each character's reaction; just five years afterwards, Brian Eno or Philip Glass would have captured the tranquil atmosphere to a T; instead, Bert Bacherach and Hal David were given the job of writing the songs, which marry Muzak-like melodies with some of the clunkiest New Agey lyrics ever penned. Quite naturally for the time, every song calls for a dance number, which range from the merely forgettable to the completely boring, and so is the script, which has not one line worth quoting.

Tie-ins with this movie were legion -- there were everything from cookbooks to posters planned to promote this film, and such was the hype that I actually went out and bought the soundtrack album. Just about the only thing good I can say about it is that it made enough of an impression on me to write this review completely from memory nearly thirty years after -- the next month I read Aldous Huxley, bought a copy of the Bardo Thadol, and hence learned about real Tibetan culture. Moan.