The Thief of Bagdad is about grand sets, spectacle, Douglas Fairbanks and a lot of hand waving. Two and a half hours of it.
While the sets still look great, the special effects have had almost a century to date. The trouble is that Fairbanks, annoying as he can be with all his me-me waving, takes a back seat to the rest of the spectacle. We get glimpses of his athleticism but it’s mostly under-used. Films that are over-reliant on special effects age quickly.
Unlike the films of Buster Keaton, where gestures and expressions can be understated, this one seems to be a competition to see who can flap their arms so much that they take flight and open their eyes so wide that they risk having their brains fall out. More play-acting than acting.
“Show don’t tell” is a good way to approach telling a story through film and it applies here, too. Even though practically everything is shown, there’s far too much exposition and self-indulgence in the editing. It’s supposed to be an epic but it would be a much better film if it wasn’t. Once you go beyond about 90 minutes it becomes increasingly disrespectful of the audience to waste their time with overly-long scenes. There’s no need to show Fairbanks fully collect the magic rope, for example. Even the positives wear thin when you get too much of them – I’m sure any ladies who don’t mind watching the chiselled Fairbanks run about bare-chested will be sick of him when he overstays his welcome, particularly since his performance is more of an ego trip.