Trapped in a world of perpetual fun and inter-species love ruled by a universal Mother, a teenage boy crosses the forbidden frontier to save his childhood sweetheart as an absurd election and deadly virus lead to chaos and violence.
Greatland is quite easily one of the weirdest films I have ever seen, it is a mish-mash of so many different styles and so many different influences that it can’t be pigeon-holed. What I can tell you about the film unequivocally, is that it is completely and utterly bonkers. A coming of age story of sorts, Greatland is set in a dystopian future but instead of being the dark, gloomy and industrial future we are used to seeing so many times on screen, the future we are given in Greatland is a brash, bright, garish utopia where the class system is ruled by a minority species known as The Greats, while the majority are known as Slaves.
The Greats are humans whose choices in life have helped them to evolve so much so that they no longer need anything like government, work, education, law, technology, and money to help them succeed or to be happy. While the rest of the population are known as Slaves, but not in the same sense as you might think. Greatland slaves are indeed prisoners who are looked down upon by society and not treated equally, but everyone remains polite and cordial in this world. Slaves also have freedom of movement, a place to live, appliances, and pets to love. The word SLAVE is an acronym that stands for Support, Love, Appreciation, Victory, Empowerment.
Our hero in this world is Ulysses, played by relative newcomer Arman Dabo, who we meet on his 15th birthday. He is a young Great but he’s restless and unhappy. Dabo has the look of a Disney kid and fits right into this strange environment. Much like his namesake in Greek literature Odysseus, Ulysses becomes uncomfortable in his surroundings and with what his fate has in store, so he decides to go on a quest to find his long lost sweetheart Ugly Duckling, played by Chloe Ray Warmoth. We follow Ulysses on his adventure through a world filled with dazzling lights, kitschy colour, and contemporary pop culture references.
Ulysses meets a number of different characters from all areas of Greatland society on his way, one of which is Alpha Altruist played by the great Eric Roberts, who again shows his class by appearing in an independent movie and giving his all for the cause. The stand out character in the entire film is Clerk, who is played by the British writer, director, and actor Nick Moran from Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Moran is a revelation in this role, with a flawless American accent. It’s a performance so good it deserves more recognition and a much bigger film.
Director Ziyasheva has said that she wanted to bring to mind Bunuel, Fellini and Forman with her movie, while also being inspired by anime and surrealism and, although those influences are there, I would say it has elements more attune to Barbarella, the Beatles animation Yellow Submarine, A Clockwork Orange, Ken Russell movies and Black Mirror. The cinematography is also impressive and to thank for that we have expert DP Charles Schner who worked on Captain America: Civil War and American Horror Story. The images are never boring and there is always something wonderful to look at.
Legend has it that when Stanley Kubrick released 2001 in 1968 ‘hippies’ would flock to the film, lie on their backs on the floor at the front of the screen stoned, while the sound and light show at the end of the movie washed over them. They would then stagger out whispering ‘far out’ to their friends in quiet ecstasy. Greatland is no 2001, but after the sound and light show that Ziyasheva has thrown at you, you will stagger out of the exits whispering ‘what the hell?’ for days. So no matter what you think about the final product. Whether you loved it or hated it, you will have certainly experienced it. It’s a film like none you would have ever seen before and, because of that, one you won’t easily forget.