The Emperor's New Clothes Movie Review

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There is nothing wrong with fictionalizing history in the pursuit of creativity. Even documentaries, which supposedly capture "the truth," are put together by someone with a specific purpose in mind, to steer the audience towards a new perspective. So it's okay that The Emperor's New Clothes isn't attempting to unearth some new evidence on a historically enigmatic figure, as it even admits to hypothesizing what could have been for the sake of a touchy-feely portrait.

Sir Ian Holm stars as both the outrageous Napoleon and Eugene the impostor, who is put in his place of exile on St. Helena. While the real Napoleon is rediscovering how to be with normal people in Paris, opposite the lovely, recently-widowed Pumpkin (Iben Hjejle, High Fidelity), Eugene is enjoying the newfound wealth of food and beverage. Though the acting of these two fine veterans is spotless, what they are given to do comes off wooden, as if they were over-directed to punctuate a particular word or facial expression.

Maybe director Alan Taylor (Palookaville) has been directing too much television lately. He unfortunately chooses to pace Emperor (based on the book The Death of Napoleon) like an episodic soap opera, with a conflict and verbal resolution in every scene, not allowing for any chance of emotional buildup for the characters. This makes the Pumpkin-Napoleon romance impossible to fathom, because though he assists the villagers in a scheme to get out of poverty, Napoleon is not particularly imbued with enough charm that Pumpkin could conceivably initiate a relationship, especially over the sweetly responsive older friend Dr. Lambert (Tim McInnerny). For a respectfully independent woman, Pumpkin's choice and insistence on affection for the monarch is difficult to swallow.

The most powerful interaction in this romantic farce comes between Dr. Lambert and anyone who is in the room with him at the time. For whatever reason, these sections are intelligently underwritten to evoke more stimulation through stares and silences than the predictably cheesy dialogue found throughout the rest of the film.

Still, Emperor could be more tuned for a younger audience, one that can appreciate more blatantly dramatic characterizations and scenes that leave nothing to imagination. The adults are set up as role models of integrity and openness, willing to be a productive part of a larger community in the hopes that their lot will end up better. Children may also not care as much when scenery consists of a poorly painted background.

For all of its drawbacks, The Emperor's New Clothes is certainly an interesting experiment. It's human nature to think about the what-ifs of any given situation, to wonder what might have been, and at least Taylor was trying to give a scandalized figure a more positive ending. By concentrating more on the people involved, mannequins though they may be, instead of finite production details, you can appreciate the circumstances even if you don't really care about them.

Clothes (with Emperor), on stroll.

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The Emperor's New Clothes Rating

" Grim "

Rating: PG, 2002

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