Film Review: Paradise (1982)


While many films ask the audience to suspend their disbelief, few do so in proportions like Paradise, Canadian 1982 period adventure film written and directed by Stuart Gillard. The plot begins in 1823 Baghdad, where two Western teenagers meet at the local market. David (played by Willie Aames) is a son of American Christian missionaries, while Sarah (played by Phoebe Cates) is daughter of British East India Company official being chaperoned on her way to Damascus. Sarah catches attention of an Arab slaver known as "The Jackal" (played by Tuvia Tavi) who wants to add her to his harem. So he later attacks the caravan in desert, massacring everyone, except David, Sarah and Sarah's chaperone Geoffrey (played by Richard Curnock) who manage to escape and find temporary refuge in a nearby cave, which also happens to have source of warm water. After Geoffrey gets killed while trying to seek help, the pair decides to move and they soon discover an oasis with water and plenty of food. There they build temporary home and, in absence of anything else, they begin to recognise certain feelings that they have towards each other, as well as certain biological facts they learn with the help of a medical book and pair of chimpanzees they happen to meet there. However, their bliss might be cut short by The Jackal and his gang which still combs the desert in search for Sarah.

Paradise shares its basic plot premise – two teenagers discovering their sexuality while being disconnected from the rest of civilisation – with The Blue Lagoon, controversial, yet immensely popular 1980 film. The inevitable comparisons between the two show that Paradise, shot entirely at Israeli locations, had much lower budget and production values, as well as much inferior quality of cinematography, music and even acting talent, with Aames and Cates being obviously cast on their looks. Script isn't much better, because it reduces an Arab villain to worst cliches and stereotypes, while asking the audience to believe that the protagonists could suddenly become experts in desert survival, camel riding and making improvised houses and clothes of rather limited resources. Authors of Paradise obviously care little about geography of Middle East, so the protagonists find not only oasis where they can swim and frolic, but that oasis also happens to be next to the sea – whether it is Mediterranean or Red Sea is never explained. All those flaws are, however, somewhat compensated with attempts to provide humour, usually by chimpanzees. But the greatest asset of the film, at least if the target audience (male teenagers) are concerned is Phoebe Cates, and she makes this film almost superior to The Blue Lagoon. Unlike Brooke Shields, who was barely 15 years old during production of her film and had to rely to strategically placed hairstyles and body doubles for obligatory nude scenes, Cates was 17 year old while making her acting debut. That allowed her to actually appear naked in the film, with Gillard using every possible excuse to shoot scenes in which Sarah takes a bath or swims naked. These scenes might explain why Cates became one of the most legendary sex symbols of 1980s Hollywood and why so many of her fans felt sad when she decided to end her acting career for the sake of family. On the other hand, cheesy title song Cates sings during the end credits might explain why she tried to distance herself from Paradise and why this film became one of the more obscure parts of her filmography.

RATING: 4/10 (++)

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