“Windjammer: The Voyage of the Christian Radich” (1958)

by A.J. Hakari

"Windjammer" poster

I suspect that watching a Cinerama presentation in the comfort of one’s home is akin to seeing IMAX projected on a toenail. Not even my trusty 32-incher can do justice to their scope, a serious drawback considering why these films even exist at all. They weren’t just made to be pretty; they were marketed as journeys, sense-consuming expeditions you simply had to abandon your televisions and microwaved meals to experience. Bigness is basically all these flicks had, for once you take that away, all that remains is the feeling of someone making an impossibly big deal out of their vacation videos. Such is what comes of Windjammer: The Voyage of the Christian Radich, a listless travelogue that’s not only shockingly low on cultural insight but, ironically, on visual appeal to boot.

To some, it’s a rite of passage. To others, it’s a way to see the world. But whatever the reason may be, hundreds of boys flock every year to Oslo in hopes of serving aboard the Christian Radich. The vessel is due to set out on its annual training cruise, during which only fifty applicants will be chosen to join the crew and learn those skills necessary for surviving on the high seas. But those lucky lads will be in for the adventure of a lifetime, one that will take them from port to port and have them bear witness to all the incredible sights this old planet has to offer. In fact, it’s that last idea in which this film finds itself most preoccupied, eager to plunge viewers into a basket sled ride in Madeira and tour a Caribbean sugar plantation. Once afforded to only a select few, the masses can now partake in this rare look at life themselves, without ever having to leave terra firma behind.

Windjammer was the sole product of would-be Cinerama competitor “Cinemiracle,” a process that differed only in fairly minute ways. Like its more popular rival, Cinemiracle used three separate projectors to cast their respective reels on a designated portion of a massive, curved screen. The desired effect was to totally dominate the viewer’s vision and simulate the experience of being wherever the people in the movie were. It was a technologically-bold gimmick, but it was a gimmick nonetheless, one whose charms wore thin fast when something like Windjammer chose to trade completely on its looks. The intent with Windjammer was to, presumably, supply a first-hand account of living on the seas, yet it’s this aspect with which the film ultimately finds itself phenomenally bored. There’s almost nothing in the way of an interesting human element, a story or fascinating figure to latch onto and vicariously absorb the thrill of travel through. Once in a blue moon, we cut to either one sailor who’s lugged his piano onboard or to some discussion on how this is the captain’s final voyage, yet these anecdotes are paid so little mind, their climactic payoff carries not a hint of satisfaction with it.

Also not helping a hell of a lot is that Windjammer just doesn’t look very good. I don’t blame the folks at Flicker Alley, who restored this and a number of Cinerama-related titles in pristine, Blu-ray editions but rather the original brain trust itself. There’s a muddiness that pervades the entire print, one that’s understandable when entrenched within the briny bowels of the Christian Radich but inexcusable when we head out on land. Windjammer has no shortage of cool stuff to take in, but the muted color scheme — coupled with an overall inability to replicate the “you are there” feel as palpably as Cinerama did — only rips you right out of the action. It’s like seeing 3D with the lenses caked in rubber cement, so when the cheery narrator’s tales of chasing down the ship’s dog lose their luster, you’re left without even the fact that it probably looked like a million bucks when blown up to console you.

Not even in a historical context was I able to enjoy or appreciate Windjammer to any degree. It’s just a massively uninvolving picture, regardless of how much it likes to raise a fuss about bringing that damned piano on the ship for the twentieth time. Windjammer is a chore, leaving one in the sort of funk that requires more than terrible, sea-related puns about the film’s badness to be cured.