You’ve got to wonder if one of the main selling points of this project was all the free publicity it would get from star Tom Hanks turning up at public appearances while growing out his hair and losing weight for his role. It certainly built up anticipation, and any failings of this film can’t be placed with Hanks. Now that the actual movie is finally here, was it worth it?
Ummm…no. BUT, it should have been. Hanks stars as Chuck Noland, a Fed Ex systems engineer always on the move, too often away from his girlfriend Kelly (Helen Hunt). After a 1995 Christmas dinner, he boards a jet for Russia. His doom is sealed the moment he assures Kelley that he’ll be back in time for New Year’s. Of course the plane goes down in the middle of the Pacific Ocean during a terrible storm. Chuck, the lone survivor, washes upon the shore of a deserted island. He doesn’t even have his shoes. A vicious tide and coral reef indicate that he will not easily leave the way he came. Armed only with the contents of a few Fed Ex packages that also washed ashore, Chuckster comes to the understanding that no rescue team will ever find him, and he’d better get busy figuring out how to survive.
Now, up until we see Chuck complete the majority of his learning curve, Hanks is still kind of fleshy and husky. At this point, film production stopped for a few months while the Oscar-winner went about his physical transformation. When both shooting and the film pick back up, we find a lean, mean Hanks with long, wild hair and beard, bleached by the sun and saltwater. For Noland, the change represents four years of tough living where he became an expert in all the skills necessary to stay alive in this environment. It hasn’t been easy though, as his only companions were a picture of Kelly and a soccer ball with a face painted in Noland’s own blood.
However, it is at this point that an opportunity presents itself and Chuck finds his way back to civilization. THIS is the point of the whole movie. Hanks’ physical transformation was made to indicate the larger spiritual and psychological change to be made clear when he returns home. Even the trailers indicate, “The end of his journey…is only the beginning.” Everyone has worked so hard to get to this point, and director Robert Zemeckis and writer William Broyles, Jr. promptly f**k it up.
What went wrong? Well, first the filmmakers rush through this whole part, only to recap what the audience is supposed to have learned in a cheaply sentimental speech where Hanks tearfully describes how the lessons for survival he learned on the island now apply to his life back home.
It shouldn’t have been this way. Many of the details are right. During that four years, Kelly and Chuck’s friends had a mock funeral and moved on. As a result, when Chuck gets back, his old life is gone, forcing him to find a new one. On the flipside, everyone wants to treat Chuck like the old Chuck, but that guy isn’t around any more either. At his return party, Fed Ex has the caterers provide Sushi and crab and all the other things Chuck would prefer never to have to eat ever again. He’s ecstatic just to have ice in his drinks again.
The problem here is that as this segment is the whole point of the film, it should have compromised both of the last two acts of the movie, not just the final third. The island stuff is of interest, but too much of it is actor-ly bullshit. It should have been compressed into a shorter time frame. The audience does not need that much detail to get the point that Chuck is a different guy coming out the other side. I wanted to see more of the story of how he found his way in his new life, but the producers seemed to feel it was time to go. It’s really kind of ironic. The old Chuck’s life is ruled by the clock. Once he’s learned better, we don’t get enough time with him because the author’s decided it was time to go. Oh, well.