Today I’m going to be reviewing THE DIG. This film dramatizes the excavation of Sutton, hoo one of the most important archaeological discoveries of all time. It’s no king tut but it still makes an interesting story. So hold your trowel and hear me out.
The Dig Film Review (2021) And My Opinion
The dig primarily follows the characters of Basil brown and Edith pretty. As they embark on the excavation of what appears to be burial grounds at Sutton hoo. Edith is the owner of the land on which these mounds sit. Basil brown is the self-taught archaeologist or excavator as he calls himself in the film. Digging begins as Britain is on the brink of war.
What i loved most about this film is the enthusiasm of the archaeologists as they undertake the excavation as well as, the character’s varying discourse on what it means to dig up the past. I for one have always been fascinated by archaeology and the ideas that contemporary generations are finding things that were used by people thousands of years ago.
The time when i was most fascinated by this profession was at school between the ages of around 8 to 12, when i was learning about the ancient Egyptians, Romans and Anglo-Saxons. After that the curriculum became mostly confined to the two world wars.
This film made me realize that for a long time i hadn’t been as excited about history as i was when i was a kid. Probably not since i first watched the mummy which by the way would absolutely make my list of top 50 films of all time.
With my childhood association triggered every time one of the characters would find something i would be emotionally invested and excited for them, as the big boys rolled in from the British museum. I was rooting for the little guys for basil and his merry band of diggers.
I was enthused by this finder’s keeper’s sentiment that i thoroughly enjoyed. How they connected young me to adult me is through the aforementioned discourse about what uncovering the past. Means this dig is happening at a difficult time, when young men are about to be sent off to war with the wounds from the previous war still quite fresh.
There is an air of uncertainty about life heightened by the personal losses that many of the characters have experienced. It is no wonder that they are musing on the meaning of life what the film comes up with as an answer is beautiful. We may physically disappear but we are never truly gone.
We all contribute to human history whether that be through physical objects that we leave behind or our actions that affect others, be it sometimes without their knowledge. Interestingly when i was researching Sutton hoo. I read how for many years there was a big mystery about what happened to the body that was buried in the burial mound.
After the technology was developed chemical analysis could be done on the sand beneath the burial chamber. It found high phosphate levels which indicated that a body decomposed there. So it appears that even if there seems to be no trace there still is a trace. There is something very comforting about that speaking of history the accuracy of the events portrayed is relatively good.
The film consolidates the time of the full dig which in truth took over a year into several months. The romance is added to provide a bit of intrigue. To highlight the impending trauma that the war will bring.
These editions are also present in the book of the same name that the credits cite as the basis of the film. The book was written by John Preston who is actually the nephew of Peggy Pigott one of the archaeologists on the dig who found the first piece of gold.
In the film’s press notes Preston says that the idea of writing a book about buried treasure for grown-ups really appealed to me. I think this perfectly summarizes how the film approaches its subject, balancing between being an adventure and a drama. What helps sell this balancing act is the performances.
Ralph Fiennes is an incredibly talented actor. His body language and tone of voice here really helps embody a person who has spent their whole life being underestimated. Carrie mulligan is okay but she spends most of the film in a state of dread and worry which becomes repetitive quite quickly.
An actor that left a lasting impression on me is Archie Barnes who plays Edith’s son. He has a very moving speech that left me with a lump in my throat. Considering his age, i was really impressed with how he handled such heavy topics.
Unfortunately the praise stops short at the technical aspects of the film. The cinematography editing and sound design were in my opinion a complete mess. The camera angles had no consistency. A wide shot inches from the ground would then cut to one that is so far into the sky that you could only see the character’s head. In the edit there were jump cuts that felt jarring and didn’t match the pace of the action.
When combined with the weird camera angles this made some montages unnecessarily chaotic. The sound design went to complete silence at some points. This felt like it was being used to try and push us to have some sort of epiphany but only lessened the impact of the story.
The camera edit and sound came together in all their discombobulating with the two characters having a conversation scenes. In some of these scenes as we hear the conversation we would see shots of these characters not actually talking or intercutting with characters that aren’t actually in the conversation.
It was pretty bizarre considering some of these conversations were quite banal. Especially the one between Rory and Basil in the excavation site that is intercut with Edith in her bedroom.
I am all for experimentation in the technical departments. I want to see the love and creativity that these filmmakers have in their individual crafts. It needs to not be derogatory to the telling of the story which i think it absolutely is in the dig.
A great example of experimentation done well is Mr Robot, particularly season one. You could identify the technical choices that made it a unique audio visual experience, such as those camera angles that had the actors framed really close to the edge of the screen giving them very little breathing room.
Each decision felt like it had purpose and further immersed me in the story. Making Mr Robot stand out amongst the sea of TV shows on offer.
What bothers me most about the technical decisions in the dig is it makes me think that the book would be a better experience of this story that the adaptation into a film just doesn’t add anything. However i suppose without the film i would not have known about the story.
As a film based on true events. It at least didn’t alter the history to the point where it is no longer the truth as is the case with the trial of the Chicago seven. I adored that film so much stylistically but its one-sided presentation of the story that felt somewhat sensationalized was thoroughly disappointing.
Overall the dig tells an exciting story that will inspire your inner treasure hunter however the cinematic presentation of that story is at times distracting and does a disservice to this important archaeological discovery.