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“A Boring Movie” – Film Review: The Dig

Alex Watkin

The Dig, directed by Simon Stone, is based on a 2016 book of the same name by John Preston. The story dramatizes the 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo, which resulted in a discovery that altered our perception of the dark ages.

I expected the film to use the excavation as a mechanism to tell a human story, but it uses it to try and tell multiple stories. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work. In total, all the film leaves you with is a history lesson about archaeology and some nice cinematography.

The film opens with compelling energy

The film opens with compelling energy. Mike Eley’s cinematography feels spontaneous and dynamic. Undoubtedly, I was won over pretty quickly by the film’s presentation, and for most of the film, this did sustain my interest. The central location of a field in Suffolk could have been extremely dull, but surprisingly the presentation manages to find and accentuate its beauty.

The film makes use of handheld camerawork using wide angle lenses, which allow the camera to get incredibly close to the subject while keeping it in frame. Through this, Stone creates a sense of intimacy with the characters and a sense of tactility with the dirt of the excavation.

It is very derivative of Terence Malek’s style

The film’s presentation is good, but it shouldn’t be ignored that it is very derivative of Terence Malek’s style. I think Malek’s A Hidden Life (2019) is a brilliant film, and within minutes of The Dig’s opening the similarities are already clear, but unfortunately after a third of The Dig’s 112 minute runtime it becomes apparent that the similarities are only surface level.

The Dig began to feel like a shallow imitation. It’s not that the story, or should I say stories, of The Dig are trivial, but the script doesn’t make enough of the emotional pathos to justify this style of presentation. However, this may just be an issue with the score; it was often completely out of place.

It’s difficult to say whether the film is too interested in the history of the excavation to properly make the human stories captivating or if it’s just badly executed altogether. All the characters, whether that be Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes), Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) or Peggy Preston (Lily James), do have character arcs that can be extrapolated.

These stories often feel like they’re only here because they should be, and so come off as manufactured

Basil Brown questions his worth in the field of archaeology, Edith Pretty deals with questions of mortality and Peggy Preston has to face an unfortunate emotional truth in regards to her marriage. Yet, these stories often feel like they’re only here because they should be, and so come off as manufactured.

It gets worse though – the Peggy Preston subplot should not be here altogether. Around halfway through, the film throws this subplot, which revolves around an unhappy married couple lacking romance and passion, into the mix, and its inclusion is so strange.

The film tries to tie it thematically into some mumbo-jumbo about transience and permanence relating to the excavation. However, it feels like it’s just here to reach a longer runtime and to add some juicy drama for the second half of the movie.

The film, at times, seems to be worried it’s boring

The film, at times, seems to be worried it’s boring. This is why I think it adds the romantic subplot. Yet, it gets worse because every so often, it will throw some contrived dramatic moment to add lazy action spectacle.

All of a sudden, a plane will crash nearby, or someone will get crushed under the dirt of the excavation. These moments are baffling and really show a lack of confidence in the material.

The Dig is a boring movie about people digging in the ground

They are hackneyed attempts to try to avoid anyone brandishing this film as a boring movie about people digging in the ground – but I won’t fall for it! The Dig is a boring movie about people digging in the ground.

There are redeemable aspects to The Dig. The cinematography, as previously mentioned, is very nice and the performances are good throughout. I really want to like this film more; if its potential was fully capitalised it could have been a truly beautiful film.

It just needed to have more faith in its own material, scrap contrived drama, and focus a little more. Currently, The Dig is only worth watching if you’re interested in the topic, or as innocuous afternoon fodder.  

Alex Watkin

Featured image courtesy of Stock Catalog via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.

In-article images courtesy of @NetflixFilm and @BBCWorld via Twitter. No changes made to these images.

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