A big, old-fashioned, historically inaccurate, slightly corny, period entertainment, the sort of classically structured, plot-driven saga Hollywood rarely tries now. But they do in Germany, and with everyone speaking English everywhere you go! (No doubt trying for a Stateside theatrical release that didn't happen.) Based on one of those mega-bestsellers no one you know has read, it’s tasty fun on it’s own terms, just don’t expect it to rise much above a Renaissance Fair on the believability scale. Blandly handsome Tom Payne is the orphaned British lad who’s apprenticed to barber/surgeon Stellan Skarsgård, then gobsmacked upon meeting legit medicos in the isolated Jewish community. Where did they learn these miracles? So off he hies to Persia, hoping to learn from Ben Kingsley, greatest physician of the Eleventh Century, finding danger & romance along the way. The real interest here lies less in acquired medical advances or in keeping his Christianity a secret, but in the clash between a relatively enlightened Shah open to scientific enquiry, and the growing clan of religious zealots who want to shut it all down. Some things never change, East or West. The shiny production doesn’t always convince, the many CGI cityscapes are anything but an improvement on old matte painting analogue techniques; while the mix of accents can also be a pain along with a score that leans toward Maurice Jarre in the desert and on John Williams in town. Then again, originality is not the point. Instead, a Tall Tale with the world’s first appendectomy as climax; told graphically, with painterly compositions off a Hallmark gift card. Chances are, there’s an even better story in the facts.
DOUBLE-BILL: For a Hollywood comparison, try THE EGYPTIAN/’54, the first CinemaScope film to flop commercially.