David Lean provided a triple threat for his final film, A PASSAGE TO INDIA (1984), serving as director, screenwriter and editor. But by serving in too many roles, he lost sight of the “big picture.”
Lean had been trying to purchase the rights to E.M. Forster’s novel for years, and was only able to secure them once Forster (who detested the cinema and thought no one could do the story justice) died. While Lean still provides trademarks moments of lovely imagery for the big screen, the film is overly long and a lumbering snore. Maurice Jarre‘s Oscar-winning score suffers as well.
While attacks had been leveled at Jarre’s music in the past, this time they were warranted. The main title theme (associated with Adela Quested played by Judy Davis) is an anachronistically upbeat (yet pleasant) tune that is totally out of sync with the tragic events of the story about to unfold. One of the major instruments in the score is the ondes martenot (which Jarre also used in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA), a keyboard that produced eerie, howling sounds along the lines of the theremin.
As in most Jarre/Lean collaborations, the score contains the requisite march, but this time it’s none too distinctive. Only in one instance do we ever get the awe-inspiring feel of the Indian landscape as Fielding (James Fox) returns to India to see Dr. Aziz (Victor Banerjee) and emerges from a tunnel with a spectacular view of the Himalayas. Cymbals, timpani, brass, strings and harp glissandi convey the majesty of the mountains.
Lean usually liked to coat his films in music, but there is only about twenty minutes of music in A PASSAGE TO INDIA. For a change, I wanted more of Jarre’s music, anachronistic though it was, to relieve the tedium of the film.
If the Academy voters were going to pick twenty minutes of film music to award, they would have done better to finally recognize the genius of Alex North and his brief, evocative score for UNDER THE VOLCANO rather than this subpar effort.