Rainbow (1995): A Pot of Lead

Ambition, good intentions and Freddie Francis does not necessarily equate success as Dave discovers with Bob Hoskins’ dud family flick.

“Based on the script alone, experts in the United States are already saying that it has the physical humour of Home Alone (1990) and the sheer awe and wonder of E.T. (1982).” – The Birmingham Post, 28th May 1994.

“Even Zippy, George and Bungle wouldn’t have greenlighted this picture.” – Evening Standard, 25th July 1996.

With a shoot scheduled for November, Robert and Ashley Sidaway – the father and son team behind RAINBOW – headed to Cannes in May ’94 to drum up support for their forthcoming dream project. In tow was Yorkshireman Gary Smith, an accountant turned entrepreneur who had big ideas for his newly formed production company, Winchester Entertainment, and who was convinced Rainbow was destined to be the next big kids’ film.

“We made a bit of a stir with the poster,” Smith bragged to journalist Christine Barker upon their return. “I want to make a film that’s real family entertainment. Something the kids can enjoy with the mums and dads. Something British, with no spurious sex or violence. Something to give kids an experience of wonder and innocence. Rainbow is exactly right.” [1]

Ambitious aspirations for sure, but the wannabe mogul failed to achieve a single one of them. This Montreal production couldn’t feel any less British, while ideas of “wonder and innocence” are crushed beneath a lengthy post-apocalyptic act that features riots and civil unrest. The colour spectrum that intrigued potential investors at Cannes promised a rich fantasy; Rainbow is a poorly assembled misfire that alienates the audience it was so desperate to appeal to.

Ten year-old Mikey (Willy Lavendel) lives with his single mother, Jackie (Terry Finn), and reclusive older brother, Steve (Jacob Tierney, Josh and S.A.M (1993)) – though the family member he feels closest to is his quirky magician grandfather, Frank (helmer Bob Hoskins). Obsessed with discovering the end of the rainbow, Mikey and Steve – as well as friends Pete (Jonathan Schuman), Tessy (Eleanor Misrahi), and stray dog Mutt – get sucked inside one of the meteorological phenomena and transported to Kansas. Along the way, Steve pockets a handful of gold pieces – the knock-on of which being that all the colour and positivity drains from the world. Uh-oh! Can the gang return things to the way they used to be? Meh. It’s tough to care.

The second of four directorial assignments for the acclaimed Long Good Friday (1980) and Mona Lisa (1986) star [2], Hoskins designed Rainbow to be the first live-action theatrical motion picture shot on high-definition digital video, believing costs would spiral if they attempted to do it on film. Lensing his penultimate assignment, legendary cinematographer Freddie Francis composes some masterful imagery, but the special effects have dated quite badly and expose the limitations of the format (or, at least, the format at the time).

Still, such flaws are forgivable – the see-sawing tone not so much. Rainbow veers from slapstick as Dan Aykroyd chases kids around an airport (replete with annoying ‘comedy’ sound effects), to something more akin with arthouse solemnity. It’s a jarring switch – and though that’s largely the point, the scope is too broad and erodes any sense of subtlety. Pleasantville (1998) did this sort of thing with aplomb a few years later. Granted, that film might have had nearly ten times Rainbow‘s $7million budget – but if Hoskins had only a tenth of Pleasantville‘s composure and charm, then he would have had a better movie.

Premiering in early December 1995 at the Belfast Cinemagic International Film Festival, Rainbow went on to a nationwide British release the following summer. It had been sold to Canada prior to filming taking place, which led to the indignity of every major U.S. distributor snubbing the picture, deeming it worthless without territorial rights of the complete North American Union. Indeed, aside from a brief appearance at the Newport Beach Film Festival in 1997, Rainbow has been absent on all formats in the States – and worldwide it now resides in relative obscurity.

UK/Canada ● 1995 ● Family, Comedy ● 94mins

Willy Lavendel, Jacob Tierney, Bob Hoskins, Dan Aykroyd, Saul Rubinek ● Dir. Bob Hoskins ● Wri. Ashley Sidaway, Robert Sidaway

[1] Numbers Man Who Hopes to Make Dreams Comes True, The Birmingham Post, 28th May 1994.
[2] The others were: The Raggedy Rawney (1988), an episode of Tales From the Crypt (Fatal Caper, S7, E1), and a segment of portmanteau Tube Tales (1999).

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