Jonathan Livingston Seagull
A Hall Bartlett Film

I guess that I should be honest about Jonathan Livingston Seagull- It could be advertised as a sleep aid and be fairly successful (don't feel bad- there's a set of IBM AS/400 training tapes that could also serve this purpose). Definitely far too long at 98 minutes. I kept punching the "time" button on the remote control to see how much time was left. After viewing it twice this week, I found it impossible to watch the entire movie in 1 sitting- I had to split it in two to keep awake! Too slowly paced, with long stretches of  "dead time". Ho boy, did this need more editing!

Obviously, it wasn't filmed on a very high budget. I figure that most of the movie was culled from large amounts of filmed seagulls, with the filmmaker using the footage that seemed appropriate (seagulls looking up, or looking at each other, etc.). If you were to shut off the soundtrack and look only at the picture for a few minutes, it could be something from the Discovery Channel. You never quite get a sense that the gulls are true characters- their beaks stay shut while they look around with that somewhat mindless seagull expression while the actors read from cue cards (James Franciscus is NOT very good here!). The synchronization between the bird movements and the voices could just as-well be coincidental.

Another problem is the inconsistent appearance of the characters (birds, that is). You assume that the lone seagull flying around for most of  the movie is Jonathan (although his appearance changes), but once you get more birds into the picture, it's hard to tell who's who and which one is supposed to be "speaking". On the second viewing, an inspiration came to me: this movie would be a swell candidate for animation. Just think about watching the finer Disney animated classic features. Pinnochio, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Peter Pan, Cruella DeVille, Ariel, Belle and the Beast, etc. weren't just drawings flashed on the screen- they were real characters, who made you laugh, made you cry, made you understand who they were and what drove them. Now imagine Jonathan Livingston Seagull, animated and shortened to a realistic length (65 mins. tops), with better actors (get rid of James Franciscus- please), and characters with real expressions, like a  young and curious Jonathan, the dignified Chiang, the vengeful Fletcher, etc. With animation, these characters could express emotion that we can identify with, have unique coloring and markings to differentiate one from another, and have their beaks move in sync with the voices, so you can suspend your disbelief and accept what you see onscreen as "reality", if only for a little more than an hour. And of course, I'd vote to keep the Lee Holdridge/Neil Diamond soundtrack exactly as-is!

It's no wonder why JLS, in the form that it exists in now, had been called a "troubled production", and didn't exactly pack the theaters. I wouldn't be surprised if people wanted their money back! There aren't very many video rental stores that carry it- look for it at your "cult movie" or art house video rental store, not mainstream places like Blockbuster.

The parts of JLS that are worth watching are already embedded in Neil Diamond's I'm Glad You're Here With Me Tonight (the video). A total of five minutes of video was taken from the film, respliced and given a brand new audio soundtrack: "Lonely Looking Sky/Skybird" (no less gorgeous than the original versions of these songs). Plus, once you've had your fill watching dumb birds for (only) 5 minutes, you'd go directly back to watching Neil, looking good, neatly dressed and with a smart haircut, singing a medley of his best stuff. I'd recommend this as an alternative to the full length JLS.

Unless you have hyperactive toddlers around the house... then JLS could make its way onto your "must buy" list as an insidious way to get them to take their nap.

This article is Copyright 1999, K.F. Louie. May not be reproduced without the written permission of the author.

Questions, Comments, discussions about the film, or the soundtrack can be sent to me at:

The "Thank You" List:
Iris Gerhardt, for providing the JLS screen captures!

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