I was raised on early 80s cinema, and I’ll always love it. As well as defend it: for one thing, it’s easy in the eternal autumn of CGI to recognize just how exquisite production design was back then. The Empire Strikes Back, Superman II, The Shining, Excalibur, The Road Warrior, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Time Bandits, Blade Runner, Conan the Barbarian, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, The Dark Crystal, TRON, Return of the Jedi, The Neverending Story, Brazil, Legend, … They’re all wonderfully enjoyable outsized films that still look great today.
The Keep, visually, holds its own in that company, and has the merit of being the most “New Wave” of the bunch. Sure, it’s set during WWII—but the Tangerine Dream soundtrack just screams early 80s. (How could it not?) (The track that starts almost 15 minutes in is especially awesome.) And as the film continues, its period trappings steadily fall away, until we’re left with images of Ian McKellen striding across abstract, fluorescent-lit sets that look like something out of a Gary Numan video …
(Mind you, I’m not at all complaining!)
The Keep (1983)
Directed by Michael Mann
Written by F. Paul Wilson (novel) and Michael Mann (screenplay)
Scott Glenn, Alberta Watson, Jürgen Prochnow, Robert Prosky, Gabriel Byrne, and Ian McKellen
It’s also worth pointing out that the cinematographer, the late Alex Thomson, shot Excalibur, Eureka, Legend, Labyrinth, and Alien³ (as well as Cliffhanger and Demolition Man, two early 90s action films I remember enjoying well enough). And its art director, Alan Tomkins, also helped design Empire Strikes Back, my beloved Lifeforce, and the severely underrated Mel Gibson Hamlet. (He also served as supervising art director on Kundun and Saving Private Ryan, two films that I’m less crazy about, but that look absolutely terrific.) (He was also assistant art director on last week’s FF, The Devils, and worked as a draughtsman on 2001: A Space Odyssey.)
As for the movie itself: as many have complained, it’s something of a baggy monster, and none too coherent. I don’t think that’s a drawback, really, since the parts are all so wonderful. … But I’ve said enough. Enjoy!