Hawaii is the often boring and frequently turgid epic film adapted from James Michener’s novel of the same name. It tells the story of Christian missionary Abner Hale (Max Von Sydow) and his efforts to bring his fire and brimstone brand of Christianity to the “heathens” who are native to Hawaii. Along for the ride, constantly whining, is Julie Andrews. Gene Hackman also appears sporting epic muttonchops.
Abner is a pasty faced lanky fellow who dresses like an undertaker, is a real god-boy and hears the calling to spread the gospel in beautiful Hawaii! Yes, you and a wife to be arranged for you will spend 20 glorious years in the islands, harassing the locals, mocking their traditions, and exposing them to fatal diseases all the while enjoying all the comfortable accommodations a grass hut with a dirt floor can provide!
Hale and Jerusha (Andrews) get married because the church won’t let him go to Hawaii without a wife and Julie Andrews is trying to forget a sailor named Rafer. (Has anyone thought about optioning this as a sitcom?)
We then spend a half an hour aboard a ship watching Jerusha be sea sick and watching Hale strutting about the boat unaffected and bullying the shipmates with his prolific bible quotes. There is also a tender scene where Hale forces Jerusha to eat a big green banana!
The rest of the movie is spent watching Hale berate anyone within shouting distance about how they are sinners and they need to renounce their beliefs so that they will not “burn in everlasting hell!” Unfortunately the Hawaiians were all into incest and pagan shark gods and running around topless and killing babies that were deformed with birthmarks, so there was an inevitable culture clash and hilarity ensues.
The problem Hale has, as his long suffering doormat, I mean wife, tells him is that he doesn’t really see these Hawaiians as the easy going, lovable deviants they are. He sees them simply as potential converts, not people.
Jerusha also challenges him about his conception of God. The whole time Hale runs around screaming like Chicken Little about a wrathful, vengeful god, Jerusha tells him that her God is a warm, loving, forgiving god. Of course, we all know that’s just feel-good liberal hogwash, but because Jerusha was batting her pretty little eyes at him when she said it, he promises to straighten up and fly right.
There’s also a little personal soap opera type storyline with Hale and his wife that rears its unlikely head every hour and fifteen minutes or so. Remember Rafer, the sailor Jerusha was trying to forget? Well, as luck would have it, Richard Harris shows up on the very same island as these two as a sailor named Rafer!
He’s a rough and tumble rogue with colorful language and a two-fisted answer to Hale’s piety. There’s almost a knife fight between the two of them and Hale has his knife taken from him by Rafer like a little girl!
Rafer wants Jerusha back, but she’s with child and says her place is with Hale. So Rafer steals some native girls and leaves the islands until the last act of the film.
Then we sit through hours of blather until the end of the movie when a big outbreak of measles occurs that kills a bunch of the Hawaiians When the film was finally over, there was no place on Earth I wanted to visit less than Hawaii.
Max Von Sydow gives a good account of himself in portraying Abner Hale over a twenty year time span and the toll that time and his inflexible ways take on him, but he just isn’t much fun to watch. He just keeps harping away at everyone all the time.
His wife tried to be a moderating influence, but all that got her was an early grave. She finally just worked herself to death without really getting any affection from Abner. He didn’t want to let his God down by putting someone ahead of Him.
When Rafer shows up towards the end of the film looking for her and Hale points at her grave and says, “I killed her,” I think Rafer punched his lights out for all of us. Geez, you only had that coming for twenty year!
And if the main character is going to be so unsympathetic, the least the movie could do is finish up with a big hurricane scene at the end. I thought I was going to get to see people lashed to trees and huts buried in water as monstrous wave after monstrous wave chased our stars in and out of volcanoes. But all we got were measles. After watching this one, I was checking myself for spots.
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