Movie Review: Young Einstein

Posted: February 13, 2010 in Movie Review, Reviews
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Young Einstein (1988 Warner Bros. Dir. Yahoo Serious)

That’s a Tasmanian devil. Evidently, that’s what they look like.

So here’s how the story goes. Australian Greg Pead was floating down the Amazon when he saw a person with a t-shirt showing Albert Einstein. He was given an idea about what a great guy Einstein was, what he might have been like as a young man and decided to make a movie. He rushed home to Australia, changed his name to Yahoo Serious and directed a movie about Einstein’s early years. That movie was so awesome, it changed the stream of history, which meant that the movie was no longer accurate. The reality warping power of the movie meant that Einstein was now born in Germany and never surfed. Because it has changed the way we live through time, it also meant the movie was no longer as conventionally funny as it had been before. Okay, Serious changed his name 8 years before this movie, and this wasn’t even his first film. His first was a documentary about coal mining. Still, it’s a nice way to start the review isn’t it?

Dubious hottie is dubious… and hot.

At its heart, this is a screwball comedy, calling back to the feeling of the silent and early sound era. Actually, for all the screwball comediness, I think I can conclusively be proved that this is an early steampunk movie. Think about it, we’ve got an alternate history of a well-known scientist who invents and uses lots of things way before their time. Along the way he meets people the original never met and has adventures the historical person never had. The only thing it lacks is goggles and a lot of gears sticking out of everything. If only there was a scene in every movie where someone decides to isolate an atom with a file and then split the nucleolus with a chisel, disarms an atomic bomb with an electric guitar, or invents surfing. Actually, scratch that, I just realized that I was saying. It probably wouldn’t be such a good idea. OR WOULD IT?

Subtle acting skills on display.

The movie begins in Tasmania, because in this movie Albert Einstein was the child of Tasmanian apple farmers. I think partly this spot was chosen because it gave Serious a little more space to show off the one thing he seems to love most, which is Australia. Along with being an early Steampunk movie, this is also damn near an advertisement for Australia. At the very least, it’s a celebration of everything the Aussies love. Beer, surfing, rock music and being just plain quirky are all pretty much celebrated as the finest parts of Australian life. I keep concentrating on the overview because once we start the movie, it’ll be over before you know it. see, this movie has a slight problem. While the movie has a runtime of 91 minutes, the actual story only covers about 60 minutes or so.

Something funny… something funny… nope, got nothing.

See, the movie has a great soundtrack of Australian pop songs. I really like the songs, and so does Serious, because he lets about half the songs play in their entirety during the flick. This movie has… a few montages you see. I read somewhere that when he finished the movie, it was found to be a bit short so some extra scenes were shot and as far as I can tell they were all for these music videos. I say videos because they go beyond just having a bit of music and become a series of music vids with a bit of plot between them. Near the middle of the movie I find myself saying things like, “Yes, because it must be three minutes since we have a music montage” and such things. You could just about loose the thread of the plot at some points. I never quite loose the plot though, because this isn’t exactly a legendary epic full of characters and subplots. It’s pretty easy to keep track, you can follow the progression pretty easily. That’s not to say it’s bad, it isn’t. It’s only bad if you expect more than a simple screwball alternate history story about how atomic physics gave us carbonated beer.

The girls had heard what they say about guys with big hair.

You heard me! See, the opening of the movie is mostly Albert telling us about how great it was growing up in Tasmania. He was raised on the Einstein Apple Farm, and he retains the simple gormless innocence of a stereotypical farmer for the whole film. One day he discovers science, tells his dad he wants to be a scientist and gets told about beer. It seems that beer has no bubbles, and Albert decides that an atomic chain reaction would put bubbles into beer. With that he comes up with the formula E=mc2 which leads him to splitting a beer atom and putting bubbles into the beer. He decides to go to the mainland, so he can patent the formula and seek his fortune. This leads to the first pop song of the movie, Great Southern Land by Icehouse. This is entirely a song about Australia, as you can tell if you clicked the link.

“What the fu-?”

This gets him from the apple farm on Tasmania all the way to the middle of the Outback. I’m not kidding, he goes everywhere. From the shore, to the grasslands, to trackless desert, to swamps, up cliff sides and down mountains and even finds time to hang out with some aborigines. He walks and wanders until he comes to some railway tracks. I’m not sure if the train is supposed to have significance beyond it being a train track in the desert. I’m also no sure where anyone is supposed to be since he ends up near Ayres Rock at one point during the montage. This despite the fact that he was supposed to be going to Sydney. He should have gone straight north, he would have just gotten right there. Instead, he ends up in the middle of the continent for no good reason. Does any of this matter? No, but it bugs me when geography is thrown off in a movie like a set of shackles. And yet, the whole “Splitting a beer atom with a chisel” thing? Doesn’t bother me a bit. You can screw with history and science (Two of my big loves) but when it comes to geography (something I’ve always been rather “meh” about) you just don’t screw with locations!

Stern rules, particularly for a music school.

Where was I? Ah yes. So he gets on the train, meets Marie Curie and the villain for he movie. This is the Steampunk version of Marie though, so Curie is her maiden name, and she’s something of a hottie. Now Marie was something of a cutie when she was young, but not like this chick. Odile Le Clezio is what you always hope Victorian super genius babes would look like. Put her in stompy boots, give her some goggles, and she would make any fanboy swoon. As soon as they meet, they start to talk about physics, and then Hungry Town by Big Pig plays in the background and we’re into a fairly shot montage. Albert gets turned down for a patent, rents a room in a brothel that he’s mistaken for a regular hotel, and then gets his patent stolen out from under his nose by the villain.

How many times have I watched this and never noticed the dwarf painting off to the side?

Guess what happens then! No. No hints, just guess. Did you guess we have another montage? Then you are WRONG! He watches some girls playing hopscotch, talks some BS about how beats and motion work and THEN we have a montage. Don’t be so impatient to announce a montage, they’ll come, just be cool. It’s I Hear Motion by the bands known as Models. During the montage, he works out that electrifying his violin can make the music move by the speed of light. Or… something. It’s a lot of gibberish frankly. It almost sounds like it works if you’re 12, trust me. It sounded cool to me when I first watched it, and I still hold enough fondness for the movie to forgive them.

No joke, I just think wallabies are cute.

So we haven’t had the romance for a while, so Albert goes to the University to look for Marie. I should point out that there is a wallaby nibbling the grass on the lawn of the Sydney University lawn. Albert then stops, pets the little guy and gives it an apple. He spends a great deal of the movie taking apples from his pocket, taking one bite and discarding the apple at that point. One assumes he’s used to having lots. ANYWAY! Marie agrees to go on a date and another song pops up. The Saints song The Music Goes Round My Head, which is probably my favorite song from the album. The song pops up because Albert starts grooving to some Hari Christnas while waiting for Marie to show up for their date. NOT KIDDING. He then explains The Theory of Relativity in romantic terms “If we could move away from that clock at the speed of light, then the hands on the clock would appear to have stopped. Time would stand still… this moment, would last forever.” She’s so impressed but this, she doesn’t got to bed with him. She does get him job though, which I believe he’ll hold for a good three minutes before what do you think happens?

And now, something for the guys who were hoping to see something like this.

NO! I keep telling you, WAIT FOR THE MONTAGE! You must let the musical montage come to you. Besides, you’re wrong. He doesn’t get fired. He carves a surfboard for no discernable reason. I wish I was making that up. He just sort of decides make a surfboard and goes out to the ocean with Marie to try it out. And THEN we get the montage, only not the one you were thinking of. At First Sight by The Stems plays as he first surfs, and then hangs out with Marie, being all cute and stuff. Then we get one of those moments I love. The song ends at 47 minutes and 53 seconds. Albert gets fired from the patent office and Paul Kelly’s song Dumb Things starts at the 48 minutes and 58 second mark. For 61 seconds, we went without a musical montage. I told you, if you wait, they’ll start coming to you in droves.

Recognize this? If you do, let me know the title because I can’t remember it.

The plot then rudely interrupts our fun diversion. Albert finds out that the Villain has stolen his formula and intends to produce beer with bubbles. See, the villain has gone to some German brewers (Why aren’t they Australian brewers? Why are they comedy Germans? Why am I bothering to ask these questions?) and given them the formula. When Albert tries to warn them about the danger, men in white coats grab him and take him to a Lunatic Asylum. You know it’s a Lunatic Asylum because it says so on the door, and that’s why I put it in capital letters. While there he meets Ernest Rutherford and Brian Aspirin among others. Aaaaand since it’s been all of three minutes, guess what time it is! I tell you what, I’ll just name the band and song and you work out why I’m doing it. Lime Spiders with their tune, Weirdo Libido. Not an actual montage this time though, just a song.

I miss the days when everything was labeled properly.

There is a scene I really like in this bit though. Some of the characters start talking to Albert about his relativity theory, and everyone gets involved. I like how everyone in this movie gets interested in science just by being around him. Even the cook gets involved in the talk, if only for a moment. Then he goes off to bake cats in a pie. Yup! He puts kittens into a pie tin and while they’re still mewing he puts a crust over them and stuffs them in the oven. It’s okay! The kittens will be fine, because they always are. Albert saves the kittens during his escape, which he effects by using his electric violin, which he modified a bit. He gets away, saves the kittens and finds Marie has gone back to France because that’s what the girl has to do at this stage of the movie. Soooo, he goes after her.

See, the guy leading this dog is Chuck Darwin. Some people find this sort of thing funny.

This takes him to the Academy of Science and their 1906 Science Academy Awards. Allow me to mention that Darwin is the one giving the award away, and he’s got a beagle on a chain. Yup. Albert gets Marie and gets to the Academy just as the villain is about to get the beer keg (which is really a massive atomic bomb) going and destroy the world. So, how does one shut down an atomic bomb? Reversal of the process? Release of some of the excess energy? NO YOU FOOL! He saves the day with the power of rock! His modified violin looks much more like an electric guitar now, and a very Steampunky one at that. So he pops a button of his shirt to use as a pick and starts to jam away on his guitar. This… works. How? I dunno. Why? I dunno. What? I was just saying the same thing. Who and where will have to wait. To make a long story short “Too Late” One by one you all arrived he saves the day.

Why would you even put a light up label like that on the machine if you thought it was completely safe?

We still need another 10 or 15 minutes to make this a complete movie though, so we’ve got one more song left. Albert goes back home to show his dad his good work and mimes as if he’s the one singing the Mental as Anything cover of the Chuck Berry song Rock & Roll Music despite not having a full bad or anything. I guess if you’ve got a steampunk guitar, it can do the heavy lifting for you though. He plays the whole song and that’s it. Once that song ends, the movie also ends. All in all, this is a fun and harmless screwball comedy. It’s not terribly deep, the story tends to loose its way, and it’s got more musical montages than most movies have had hot dinners, but I like it. I like the silly aspects of the movie, I enjoy the goofiness. It’s like a glass of water to clear the palate after you’ve been munching on the heavier stuff.

Yeah, I know you didn’t want to see his O Face. I don’t care. If I have to see these things, I’m going to take you all down with me.

Official Score:
60 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

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