Last and First Men

Streaming as part of EDFILMFEST AT HOME brought to you by EIFF and Curzon Home Cinema (CHC)

The late Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson, perhaps best known for his scores for The Theory of Everything andSicario, adapted Last and First Men from W Olaf Stapledon’s influential 1930 science fiction masterwork. First presented at Manchester International Festival with the score played live by the BBC orchestra, that must have been an impressive debut for the work.

Sadly, I have to say that seeing it on screen without the thrill of such live accompaniment, it does not reach the cinematic heights that the scope of the vision deserves.

Tilda Swinton’s reading of the text is excellent, the music evocative of the vast emptiness of space and time that the message crosses, but the visuals – black, white, but mostly shades of gray, do not make for enthralling cinema viewing. More suited, I feel, as an installation in a gallery of modern art.

Any sci-fi enthusiasts drawn by the source material may suffer a disappointment. For a tale that spans two billion years and eighteen different stages of humanity’s evolution, there is not a lot to dazzle the eyes. It is this final stage that speaks to us, telling of the impending disaster that will see the extinction of our species.

Represented only by Swinton’s voice and an occasional green dot on screen – humanity has developed into a group mind, searching through time and space to contact us, the “past minds” in the hope of changing the course of their history – the vision is relentlessly bleak.

Most of the photography is centred on huge monuments, seemingly left behind and forgotten by some long dead civilisation, but in fact are scattered around the Balkans, having been commissioned in the time of Tito’s Yugoslavia as memorials to the second world war.

While they provide an interesting and eerie backdrop to the music, they failed to entrance this viewer over the course of a 70 minute film.

All in all, not the exhilarating experience it might have been.

Screens on BFI Player from 30th July

Jim Welsh

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