Film and TV


Bad scholarship, new-age fantasy and publishers' avarice have collided to produce the current vogue for Nostradamus, the sixteenth-century French physician and astrologer who is said to have predicted everything from Nazi Germany to AIDS to the JFK assassination.

What he didn't predict is that a movie this awful would one day be made about his trumped-up life.

Adherents to the man and the myth may find themselves all dewy-eyed watching Nostradamus. But anyone with a speck of healthy skepticism--not to mention a respect for filmmaking and a couple of working brain cells--will burst out laughing dozens of times in the face of this grandiose nonsense. You keep waiting for John Cleese and Terry Gilliam to pop out of the medieval shadows, wearing bells on their toes and screeching with laughter. But they never do. Instead, British director Roger Christian and his co-conspirators press forward relentlessly, stone-cold serious about their Nostradamus sanctification program.

Even if you take the myth as gospel, this is a terrible movie. Born Michel de Nostradame in 1503, our hero is portrayed here, with unintended humor, as a guy who can do it all--cure the Plague, defy the Inquisition, assist at the birth of a son and dispense sound advice on germs and food preservation. He's a great doctor, a pioneer feminist, a dedicated ecologist and a know-it-all the likes of which the Dark Ages have never seen. In fact, he might have done well to team up with the enlightened lawyer from another medieval drama currently on view, The Advocate. Together they could have kicked the French Renaissance into overdrive and saved everybody a lot of grief.

But, mon dieu, the nightmares! When Nostradamus isn't glimpsing nuclear explosions in the glimmer of his washbasin, Hitler's Panzer divisions are rolling through the Poland of his dreams and corrupt Henry II is getting knocked off on jousting day. Right. While Nostradamus's heralded "prophecies" are densely shrouded in verse (and thus susceptible to just about any "interpretation" true believers want to affix to them), the King Henry business was apparently on the money. The Big Nos literally called the shot.

The question is: Was this a good guess or a real gift?
No one knows--least of all the somber French actor Tcheky Karyo (La Femme Nikita), who remains nearly inert through these proceedings--even when Nostradamus's horny sister-in-law (Maja Morgenstern) is hitting on him, even when the forward-thinking Catherine de Medicis (Amanda Plummer, of all actresses) is keeping the dolts and philistines off his back, even when he's burning up the cherished manuscripts of Copernicus and Leonardo da Vinci passed on to him by his mentor Scalinger (F. Murray Abraham), lest the Papist enforcers find them and burn everyone at the stake.

In a movie crammed with apocalyptic jive, the strangest moment of all may be tough guy Rutger Hauer's cameo as "the Mystic Monk" (no kidding, that's the billing). From out of the castle darkness the M.M. appears, a crown of blazing candles plopped on his head, to transmit some gibberish to the hero. Then he simply vanishes, just like Nostradamus's hallucinations of crumbling skyscrapers, or JFK and Jackie cruising along Elm Street in their limo.

Amid one torment of the future, our man starts screaming and sweating, but dutiful Scalinger is there to help.

"It's only a vision," he assures his friend, in the tone of a good mom smoothing things out in the nursery.

Indeed, it's only a vision. And Nostradamus is only the most idiotic piece of mythmaking you'll find on the big screen this year.

Still, I wonder if Doc Michel is busy Saturday. Love to see how he does out at the racetrack.

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Bill Gallo
Contact: Bill Gallo