Rapa-Nui Blu-ray Review

2.5 Stars Beautiful but vapid period love triangle.
Rapa-Nui Review

Rapa-Nui, Kevin Reynolds’ period love story is pretty to watch but empty dramatically.

Rapa Nui (1994)
Released: 09 Sep 1994
Rated: R
Runtime: 107 min
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama
Cast: Jason Scott Lee, Esai Morales, Sandrine Holt
Writer(s): Kevin Reynolds, Tim Rose Price
Plot: Love between the representatives of two warring tribes changes the balance of power on the whole remote island.
IMDB rating: 6.4
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Warner Brothers
Distributed By: Warner Archive
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.39.1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: R
Run Time: 1 Hr. 47 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: All
Release Date: 11/14/2023
MSRP: $21.99

The Production: 2.5/5

Gorgeously filmed in stunning locations but dramatically feeble in most regards, Kevin Reynolds’ Rapa-Nui doesn’t offer major dividends for those who invest a couple of hours of their lives into its telling. Underdeveloped characters and a mostly predictable story betray any narrative impetus that the director and his co-writer attempted to portray on the screen. A couple of unexpected surprises along the way give the film some of its only other saving graces.

In 17th century Easter Island (the translation of the film’s title), the Long Ears consisting of the island’s elite tribes have long held sway over the Short Ears, the island’s manual laborers. The majority of their working hours are spent carving moai, huge stone sculptures to honor their gods. Each year, a Birdman competition is held to determine the island’s leader for the next year, and Ariki-mau (Eru Potaka-Dewes) has held the Birdman title for twenty years. This year, he’s expecting his grandson Noro (Jason Scott Lee) to win the contest for his tribe, a physically punishing ordeal involving sheer cliff scaling both down and up, swimming through shark-infested waters to a rocky island where sea birds nest and where an unbroken egg must be retrieved to be brought back to the tribe signifying the winner. Noro bargains with his grandfather to be allowed to wed Ramana (Sandrine Holt), a Short Ear whom he’s loved since childhood. But his childhood friend and rival Make (Esai Morales) also loves Ramana, and when he bargains his way into the Birdman contest with the promise of the same reward if he wins, it makes the outcome completely up in the air.

Director Kevin Reynolds co-wrote the screenplay with writing partner Tim Rose Price based on an original story by Reynolds. He’s boiled down this primitive culture to basics: masters and slaves, love rivalries between once childhood friends-now enemies, an evil high priest (George Henare playing Tupa) who has his own agenda, and an athletic competition for mastery over the masses. As story outlines go, it’s fine, but Reynolds and Price have peopled the island with underdeveloped characters with a stunning lack of complexity, and the dialogue they’ve fashioned isn’t much better, the natives sounding too modern and looking way too gym-toned. Where Reynolds excels is in capturing the breadth and majesty of the environment with stunning overhead shots showing Easter Island in all its glory (filming was done there and in Australia). There’s also a bit of environmental lecture going on as we witness the natives strip their island bare thinking only of today and not for the future. The contest itself is the film’s centerpiece with the athletic tribesmen fully body painted and scrambling to win the ultimate prize while the thundering soundtrack, the brilliant editing, and a raft of dazzling long shots and close-ups keeps pacing fluid and electric over the ten to fifteen minutes of the competition. There are some surprises along the way, of course, as unsportsmanlike conduct seems to affect more than one of the participants, and the surprises don’t end at the completion of the contest. With a quarter hour left of running time, we’re given Reynolds’ speculation as to the reasons for the island’s desertion upon its discovery by the Dutch several decades later.

While the three leading roles are all acted with professional grit and determination (Sandrine Holt possibly being the weakest of the three leads), more canny character acting by Eru Potaka-Dewes as the senility-approaching leader Ariki-mau and George Henare as the brutal and conniving priest Tupa steal the show whenever they’re on camera. Zac Wallace as Noro’s elderly friend and mentor Haoa also makes the most of his various scenes.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s Panavision aspect ratio of 2.39:1 is faithfully rendered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The visuals are gorgeous throughout with excellent sharpness, striking contrast, and nicely saturated color that never blooms. Black levels are also quite impressive. The film looks as though it were filmed yesterday with no video artifacts to spoil the presentation. The movie has been divided into 22 chapters.

Audio: 5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound mix is very involving and quite expansive. The sounds one would expect from a remote island are all around constantly in the front and rear soundstages, and Stewart Copeland’s native sounding music score is likewise threaded through the audio channels for maximum impact. Dialogue has been well recorded and has been placed in the center channel. There is some strong if infrequent use of the LFE channel. There are no age-related audio artifacts.

Special Features: 1/5

Theatrical Trailer (2:01, HD)

Overall: 2.5/5

Kevin Reynolds’ Rapa-Nui is long on beauty and short on intelligence, its simple stories of love rivalries and class domination all rather trite and predictable. The Warner Archive Blu-ray release certainly provides a grand viewing and listening experience for those who wish to sample its contents.

Matt has been reviewing films and television professionally since 1974 and has been a member of Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2007, his reviews now numbering close to three thousand. During those years, he has also been a junior and senior high school English teacher earning numerous entries into Who’s Who Among America’s Educators and spent many years treading the community theater boards as an actor in everything from Agatha Christie mysteries to Stephen Sondheim musicals.

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