Three Thousand Years of Longing Review: A magical, but mostly mundane watch
Acclaimed Mad Max franchise director George Miller returns with a visionary romance epic, Three Thousand Years of Longing, that showcases his distinctive vision for mind-bending storytelling but struggles to do much else.
When the first trailers debuted for the film, it looked exactly like the kind of wild and bombastic fever dream experience fans would expect to come from the mind of Miller. Visually, Three Thousand Years of Longing lives up to that idea as it captures the mysticism and mystery of its central Djinn (Idris Elba), a magical wish-granting entity freed from its bottle containment by a lonely scholar named Alithea (Tilda Swinton). All the effects surrounding the Djinn’s power and presence are completely hypnotic and a true treat for the eyes. It perfectly gives the film a strong hallucinatory feel that works for giving the Djinn’s storytelling and set pieces an engaging atmosphere. Three Thousand Years of Longing can showcase the visual spectacle of a high-profile blockbuster but lacks the engagement within its story and characters.
Although it acts as a unique cautionary tale of wishing through the Djinn’s recounting of his time across history and the slow-building connection between him and Alithea, the story and characters just don’t have the same energy as the visuals. The expected bombastic feel of the trailers really doesn’t come through the general storytelling and vibes of the characters, and it deeply affects the pacing of the story as well as overall engagement. Three Thousand Years of Longing literally feels like an eternity at times because of how painstakingly slow each story is told, and they constantly struggle to get their hooks into you.
For history buffs, the film can take viewers into interesting points in history, like through events tied to Queen Sheba in the Hebrew Bible and major shifts in the Ottoman Empire, which could be very fulfilling to see. If you’re not that into historical tidbits though, the film’s reliance on the details of the time and intertwining it heavily into the Djinn’s story will make it tough for general audiences to connect to. It’s a choice that likely stems from the film story source, A.S. Byatt’s 1994 short story The Djinn and the Nightingale’s Eye, and admittedly fits well with the Djinn and Alithea’s scholarly mindsets. But it ultimately backfires as it totally dulls down the more potentially engaging parts of the story and sadly creates a mostly boring viewing experience. None of the characters mentioned ever leave a strong impression and the on-screen action is rarely intriguing to see so you’re already tuned out by the time the film finally wants to delve into The Djinn and Alithea, who are sadly also kind of boring.
The Djinn and Alithea are so consumed by the storytelling style that they are tough to relate to and enjoy. Elba and Swinton definitely play their characters well and are able to create some good emotion and laughs at times, especially in the third act that sees them come together more romantically but can’t do enough to make you care about their story. Even as the film moves out of its trio of historical-based tales and delves into the more personal aspects of these characters, the vibes and style don’t change much, and you already end up feeling disconnected from the film. Its ideas of love and humanity sadly also end up not sticking as well because of this too and Three Thousand Years of Longing just can’t recover from its sluggish storytelling to eventually reengage with audiences.
Perhaps there is an audience who would appreciate some of the more historically tied and detailed storytelling of Three Thousand Years of Longing. For most though, it’ll simply be a forgetful and dull viewing experience rarely saved by striking visuals and solid performances.