[box cover]

I Dreamed of Africa

A movie of excruciating tedium if well-meaning intent, I Dreamed of Africa also suffers from too many echoes of Out of Africa, even though both films are based on true stories. In this case it's the life of Kuki Gallmann (played by Kim Basinger), a woman living in Italy who in 1972 moved to a 100,000-acre ranch near the Great Rift Valley in Kenya called Ol Ari Nyiro with her son and second husband Paolo (Vincent Perez). It is also a movie that illustrates some of the faults of contemporary formulaic scriptwriting (in its Harlequin Romance approach to things, I Dreamed of Africa deems it unnecessary to explain how the couple purchased the ranch and then maintained it — basic information available at Kuki's official website). Directed by Hugh Hudson in high Oscar somberness, I Dreamed of Africa is pretty to look at but supremely unmemorable, even though it's chronicling the life of a dedicated conservationalist, which must have made the filmmakers think they had a sure-fire hit, especially among women. Instead the film (which cost $34 million and only made $6 million), is suffocating, even when the characters roam the vast, arid plains of the African veldt. That's because it's one of those "fate" films in which character is destiny. Both Kuki and her husband once experienced Africa as youths; so of course they must end up going back. Kuki and Paolo meet "cute" in a dire parody of old style Hollywood techniques: Kuki is a passenger in a car Paolo is driving during a wild night when his carelessness leads to a crash. For some reason, not clearly explained, the two marry not long after that. And of course, because he was reckless once, he will be reckless again later, with mortal consequences. And because the screenplay by Paula Milne and Susan Shilliday (Legends of the Fall), is dependent on fate, reducing the events of the main character's life episodes to a bad soap opera, the same is true of Kuki's son, played by two different actors. His childhood interest in snakes leads to a bad accident in adulthood. These moments feel as if they exist less to tell a story than to provide settings in which Basinger can emote in still tablaux (the Oscar-winning actress simply must find a new agent or advisor). This is supposed to be the story of Kuki Gallmann's life, but it doesn't feel lived — it feels posed. There's not a lot of drama here, either; Basinger spends most of her time alone on the ranch bemoaning the her husband's frequent hunting trips. In total, the film is patronizing to its host continent and patronizing to the Oxygen-viewership to which it is geared. Columbia TriStar's DVD edition comes in an anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) and with a pan-and-scan version on the flip-side. It's a nice transfer, but this is a film with a lot of thatched roofs in it, so you see the occasional shimmer. Audio is available in DD 5.1, and extras are pedestrian: the trailer, an HBO short, and the inevitable talent files on Hudson, Basinger, Perez, Eva Marie Saint (who plays Kuki's mother), and child actor Liam Aiken. Only the isolated music track with Maurice Jarré's score really hits the mark. Keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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