For any aficionado of Jorge Luis Borges' writing, "Death and the Compass" by Alex Cox is a must skip. Any trace of Borges' subtle fantasy and intricate intelligence is lost in the glut of this unsuccessful Terry Gilliam-wannabe. Its post-apocalyptic setting, flashy colors and characters, warped camera angles and close-ups may all stylistically remind viewers of Terry Gilliam films such as "Brazil". Except unlike a Terry Gilliam film, I can't seem to find a point to this movie. There's a complete lack of intelligent dialogue, even the actors appeared stumped by the lack of interesting or realistic lines. All of its flashy techniques and synthesizer sounds give the impression that Cox aimed too hard to make this film an instant "cult" classic. Along the way, the original short story is lost all together. The sole redeeming point of the movie comes at the finale, where an impressive vision of the labyrinthine Triste LeRoy is recreated. I really liked two of Alex Cox' other movies, "Repo Man" - which is about the supernatural adventures of a newcomer in the car repossession business, and "Sid and Nancy". I think both movies have incredible merit, but "Death and the Compass" is a miss.
So why am I giving this DVD five stars? Well, the previous reviewer was correct in that this DVD contains a "lost gem". It's just that this "gem" is not the feature film most would suspect; it is instead the "bonus" short film by Paul Miller called "Spiderweb", also based on Borges' story "Death and the Compass". Though according to the audio commentary by Alex Cox, this 20-minute short film was made in the seventies, it is shot in clear black and white, reminiscent of a 1930s' film. It's steeped in visual symbolism that interpret literary expressions. The entire film is thoughtfully shot and carefully edited. Unlike often-seen student shorts, it feels more like a mini feature film. Like a Borges story, it is short and sweet. And similarly, I will keep my review of it short. For any Borges aficionado, "Spiderweb" is a rewarding treasure find. For any movie aficionado, it is an intelligent adaptation of a Borges story that the author himself would have approved of.