Latest Issue

“3000 Years”: George Miller’s Grown-Up Fairy Tale

“3000 Years of Longing” feels both old-fashioned and original; it also feels like a fairy tale for adults.

What it doesn’t feel like is a movie you can warmly recommend to your friends.

Adapted from an A. S. Byatt story, the latest from writer-director George Miller is a romance about a genie granting three wishes. The film is by no means bad, but the narrative is thin, with a simple, downbeat, low-key ending that betrays its short-story origins.

Tilda Swinton plays modern-day British writer and scholar Alithea Binnie (the script styles her as a “narratologist,” as if to give more weight to these age-old professions). While at a conference in Istanbul, Binnie buys a lovely little bottle and later unwittingly lets out a djinn, who is played by Idris Elba. He urges her to make three wishes so he can go free — but Binnie is reluctant, insisting that every story with this motif winds up backfiring on the greedy wisher.

The djinn then proceeds to tell her three stories about his long imprisonment in the vessel; so “3000 Years” is just two people in a hotel room, with one narrating flashbacks to the other. The movie doesn’t really get out of the past and start moving forward till its last half hour, when Binnie realizes she is falling in love with her supernatural visitor.

Since the djinn’s past tales are nothing extraordinary — mostly involving romance, betrayal and court intrigue — the storyline feels lumpy and stuck. It never develops much momentum, and though the ending has an excellent moral, it likewise feels unsatisfying — as though the narrative simply pooped out, rather than actually going somewhere; needless to say, this is awkward in a film that purports to address the art of storytelling.

Also on the downside: the decidedly R rating stems mostly from one character’s obsession with extremely large women, whose mounds of copious of flesh are on regular and somewhat hair-raising display.

Nonetheless, “3000 Years” has much to recommend it.

Having given us what may be the greatest action-movie ever made (“Mad Max: Fury Road”), Miller might seem an unlikely choice to direct this tale — unless you remember that he also helmed the medical drama “Lorenzo’s Oil,” the animated “Happy Feet” and 1995’s beloved “Babe.” Here, he gets fine performances from his leads.

In other films, the acclaimed Swinton often strikes me as too mannered; but she is wonderful here, and so is Elba. They both underplay a bit, helping carry over the movie’s more fantastical elements.

The film also has dazzling cinematography by the veteran John Seale, whose impressive resume includes “Witness,” the first Harry Potter film and “The English Patient,” for which he won an Oscar.

And the script, co-written by Miller, manages plenty of terrific dialog, achieving a fairy-tale simplicity without violating its modern milieu.

Cellphones are called “glass tiles that coax love-songs from the air,” and satellite dishes “listen to whispers of stars long dead.” Elsewhere, the djinn declares, “Hope is a monster, and I am its plaything” — while, says Binnie, “There’s no story about wishing that is not a cautionary tale.”

While the film has been well reviewed by critics, it is performing so poorly at the box office that Variety predicted it would be one of the year’s biggest bombs. So far, it has netted only a sixth of its $60 million budget.

That might be cautionary enough.