Yul Brynner stars in a Mesoamerican adventure film from J. Lee Thompson. Optimum UK R2 DVD
Hiding in their temple, the citizens of a Mayan city are hiding from the relentless forces of Ah
Min. Escaping through a secret exit they flee to the coast where they
commandeer the boats from a small village and set sail to the unknown
land beyond just as Ah
Min's forces arrive at the beach. Eventually arriving at land (the
Southern coast of the modern day USA) the tribe start a new community.
Meanwhile a local native tribe lead by Chief Black Eagle (Yul Brynner)
discover a canoe washed up and suspect that there might be invaders on
their land. While searching they discover the Mayans and Black Eagle is
captured. Although the leader of the Mayans, Balam is opposed to human
sacrifice, his priest insists that Black Eage should be sacrificed to
appease the gods.
Written by Elliott Arnold during the great heyday of the Hollywood epic, Kings of the Sun
is a rather unusual production, largely eschewing battles and action in
favour of characterisation and storyline. The main plot is a pretty
standard love triangle, but it is played with some unusual conviction
and gets a lot more time to develop than in many similar films, making
the falling out of the two men over the issue much more understandable.
The religious subplot however doesn't get as much time - human
sacrifice is a historically controversial issue when it comes to the
Mesoamerican tribes and the film approaches it from a rather safe
perspective, having the king (and most of the lead characters) opposed
to it - we do get a couple of characters expressing their discontent at
his attitude but it is largely kept in the background, making a scene
near the end where it comes to a potential climax, quite unprepared for
in the script.
Historically the Mayans almost certainly practiced human sacrific during the period at Chichen Itza, although
oddly the film does not mention the known sacrifical location of Sacred
Cenote (a small pool), instead giving them Aztec style sacrifical stones atop the
temples. The character of Ah Min is based on the real conquering Mayan
General Hunac Ceel but the story around him is fictional. After the adventure movie style opening, the film
is pretty slow paced as the storyline kicks in and there are no battle
scenes until the film's epic climax. While this does avoid the rather
gratuitous battle scenes that appeared in some of the other productions, it
does mean that the middle of the film will become a little tiresome for
Director J. Lee Thompson had gained epic experience in Taras Bulba
and puts it to good use here, particularly in the film's dramatic and
genuinely epic scale climax, he also gets to show off some superb
direction duirng the dialogue scenes - particularly when Black Eagle is
being held in the hut and spends his time lurking inhumanly in the
shadows. The Hollywood regular Elmer Bernstein provides the film with a typical epic score but it is not particularly Mayan.
Brynner is perfectly cast in the lead role and looks genuinely suitable
as a Native American - since he spends most of the film in a loin
cloth, he has clearly worked hard on a physique that although
impressive, avoids becoming implausible for someone who would hardly
have had gym access. West Side Story
star George Chakiris seems like rather odd casting as the heroic lead
but seems well suited to the part of a young man who is unexpectedly
put into power. More at home in the British New Wave, Shirley Anne
Field makes a solid choice of female lead.
Not as action packed as many of its contemporaries, Kings of the Sun
does boast an incredible climactic battle sequence and its midpoint
contains some well written storyline. Yul Brynner provides a typically
strong performance and the production is on an impressive scale
throughout. Certainly one for fans of the 1960s epics and of Yul
Anyone famous in it?
Yul Brynner - Russian born star who starred in Spaghetti Western comedy Adios Sabata (1972)
Directed by anyone interesting?
J. Lee Thompson - a British born director who previously worked with Yul Brynner on Taras Bulba (1962) and helmed the adventure films Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) and King Solomon's Mines (1985)
Who is it for?
Recommended to fans of the 1960s epics and of Yul Brynner.
Original Aspect Ratio - 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour. The
print is generally good with only some slight print damage and grain.
The disc includes:
A rather beaten up theatrical trailer
Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Also available in the US from MGM.
Believed to be fully uncut. English language print
An enjoyable epic but rather short on the action scenes. Yul Brynner is as good as ever. Recommended to epic fans.