The genie is out of the bottle for the dynamic director George Miller and his newest venture “Three Thousand Years of Longing,” starring Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba. You’ll hear the awards comparisons that call it Miller’s version of “The Shape of Water” (2017), Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winner for best picture, but it’s closer to Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” (2012) but with an accessible and soulful core. It’s a love story to the storytellers, and a love letter to mankind. With its imperfect perfection, the first contender for Oscar’s most coveted prize has arrived.
Two of Miller’s films have received nominations: “Babe” (1995) and “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015). This is hands-down his most narrative-rich achievement, something that could bring him three Oscar noms as a producer, director and co-writer.
Marking the first MGM title to debut at the film festival following the studio’s merger with Amazon Studios, it’s the beginning of a new era for potential awards contenders, although it’s yet to be seen how the two entities will co-exist and develop a voice that feels signatory.
The movie is adapted by Miller and Augusta Goran from the short story “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye” by A. S. Byatt. The film tells the story of Alithea, a scholar, who is content with her life but encounters a djinn who offers her three wishes in exchange for his freedom. Like “Aladdin” (1992) and virtually every cartoon and childhood story we’ve ever known, it’s never that simple when a genie gives you wishes.
The simplicity of the premise should not be read as a slight. Miller has the ability to elevate the most modest loglines (i.e., a talking pig who befriends his owner or a bunch of rebels who drive halfway through the desert before deciding to drive back).
Elba, desperately owed an Oscar nom after missing out for “Beasts of No Nation” (2015), could be barreling towards his first career nom. His djinn is a heartbreaking amalgamation of humanity’s curiosity about the world and our vulnerability to fall in love. It’s worthy of multiple citations.
Swinton, who won supporting actress for her work as a sweaty general counsel in “Michael Clayton” (2007), has never struggled to make every character she portrays uniquely her own. Despite her elegance and wit, it’s the only Oscar nom she’s ever mustered, despite “Orlando” (1992), “I Am Love” (2009) and “We Need to Talk About Kevin” (2011). At 61, the British sensation has no qualms about redefining the acting medium at almost every turn. Her creation with Miller could snag her a second, very overdue nomination.
Many of Miller’s Oscar-nominated and winning “Mad Max” team have assembled once again. John Seale, the frame-tasic cinematographer, who won a statuette for “The English Patient” (1996), shows that at 79, age cannot hold a master back from sharing his gifts.
Margaret Sixel edited an staggering 6,000 hours of footage down to the tightest “Fury Road” we could imagine. Here, she explores new territory, and while the visual effects could be jarring for a few, especially in the opening, it lands beautifully by end credits.
Composer Tom Holkenborg, the Dutch composer and DJ who may be better known by his stage name Junkie XL, is on a roll. The score, especially in one particular sonorous sequence, will make you a believer in the power of love and music.
A lot will hinge on mainstream audience’s response. Miller and his army of artisan masters ask a lot of its viewers, and it’s not entirely clear if they would be willing to grant it. While post-pandemic box office may carry less weight than in previous years, a catastrophic performance could doom its chances. Hopefully audiences won’t let that happen.
“Three Thousand Years of Longing” is distributed by MGM and United Artists Releasing and is scheduled to open in theaters on August 31.