Young Einstein is a 1988 Australian comedy film written, produced, directed by and starring Yahoo Serious. It is a fantasized account of the life of Albert Einstein which alters all people, places and circumstances of his life, including relocating the theoretical physicist to Australia, having him splitting the atom with a chisel, inventing rock and roll and surfing.
|Directed by||Yahoo Serious|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$24.9 million|
Although highly successful in Australia, and winning an award from the Australian Film Institute Awards, it was poorly received by critics in the United States.
The film begins with Albert Einstein (Yahoo Serious) as the son of an apple farmer in Tasmania in the early 1900s. He is uninterested in the family business, but shows an interest in science, especially in the study of physics. His interest leads his father to show him his grandfather's “laboratory”, a shed in the middle of the Australian bush where he made beer. His father tells him that they have tried for years to introduce bubbles to beer, saying that the person who can will change the world forever.
After a day's worth of heavy drinking, Albert postulates the theory of mass–energy equivalence (E=MC2) as a formula to split beer atoms to create bubbles in beer. After spending all night preparing, he splits a beer atom (with hammer and chisel), which causes the shed to explode. Albert runs to his parents, blackened from the explosion, carrying the formula and a glass of beer with bubbles in it. His father tells him to head to the Australian mainland and patent the formula. Once arrived, he boards a train for Sydney, where he is introduced to Marie Curie (Odile Le Clezio), a Polish-French scientist studying at the University of Sydney and Preston Preston (John Howard), the pompous manager of the Sydney Patent Office. Marie is fascinated by Albert, while Preston is annoyed by him. Albert tells Marie of his theory, which she finds fascinating.
Once arrived in Sydney, Albert finds lodging in a whorehouse, and finds that the patent office will not accept theories, but only applicable ideas that apply to inventions. Albert leaves and meets Marie at the university, only to upset her professor by erasing his work and writing his own theory, causing him to be comically thrown out. She reiterates his brilliance and is seemingly more taken with him than before.
Meanwhile, Preston is attempting to woo Marie with his upper-class lifestyle. During a performance at a social club, she mentions that Albert's theory has merit and is extremely interesting. Preston takes this as a challenge to his romantic aspirations and has his clerk call Einstein in to take his formula for safe keeping. Preston then turns the formula over to the Bavarian Brothers, a pair of brewmasters who intend to use the formula to get rich.
Meanwhile, Albert continues inventing things (such as rock and roll and the electric violin), he also begins a romance with Marie, he takes her to the beach and demonstrates surfing for her. As they are leaving, Marie comments that she wished this moment could last forever. Suddenly, Albert has a realization and comes up with the theory of relativity on the spot. Marie is amazed that he came up with that so quickly. As they return to the hotel, the clerk tells him that Preston is creating a keg using his formula.
Albert runs to the Bavarian Brothers to tell them that they cannot create this keg, they claim that Einstein is insane and have him committed. On his way to the mental institution, he meets a group of deranged scientists, including Ernest Rutherford. Once committed, his electric violin is destroyed by the nurse and he is kept isolated from the outside world in an electric cell. Marie confronts Preston about his theft of Einstein's research and his commitment to an institution. Preston counters that Einstein would have done nothing with it and he was trying to help everyone.
Marie infiltrates the institution under the guise of Einstein's father, she confronts Albert in the shower room and tells him of Preston's plot. When Albert says there is not much he can do about it now, Marie storms out saying she needs a man of action. Albert rebuilds his violin into an instrument more resembling an electric guitar, he plugs it into the electrified door and plays the instrument, shorting the door out and escaping.
He returns to the hotel to find a note from Marie, saying she has left Australia and returned to France. Albert finds a small steamboat and sails to France to confront Marie. She initially rejects him, but acquiesces when he tells her he's prepared to stop Preston. They use the Curie family hot air balloon and head to the Nobel ceremony in Paris that night. Many inventors and scientific luminaries are there, such as the Wright Brothers and Sigmund Freud.
Charles Darwin announces Preston Preston is the winner of this year's Nobel Prize for his discovery of putting bubbles in beer. Preston begins his speech, but is interrupted by Albert, who questions if Preston even knows what happens when an atom is split. When Darwin realizes that Preston has (unknowingly) built an atomic bomb, he orders Preston to stop. Preston scoffs the warning and starts the keg, which starts shaking and building up pressure.
Einstein attaches his guitar to the keg as a way to drain the atomic keg, Marie tells him not to as this would kill him. Albert sends her away and starts playing a riff on the guitar, this seems to work as the keg begins to lose power. Preston attempts to kill Einstein, but is knocked unconscious by Marie. Albert is starting to feel the effects of siphoning off the energy from the keg as he starts to radiate pure energy. This causes a massive feedback, then an explosion.
As the smoke clears, Albert is standing there, blackened (like before in the shed), but otherwise unharmed. He and Marie kiss as the assembled crowd cheers for him. He returns to Tasmania with the keg and the Nobel Prize (in his name). He tells his family that he will give his formula to the world instead of keeping it for personal gain. Marie questions what will happen if governments use that formula to create atomic weapons. Albert naively replies “If you can’t trust the governments of the world, then who can you trust?” Albert steps in front of the mic and says that he has learned a new theory out of this, he then pulls up his guitar and starts playing a rock song to the delight of the assembled crowd.
Serious first became interested in Albert Einstein when he was travelling down the Amazon River and saw a local wearing a T-shirt with a picture of a physicist on it. The image was that of Einstein sticking out his tongue, taken by photographer Arthur Sasse.
On returning from the Amazon, Serious adapted a previous screenplay called The Great Galute which he had written with David Roach. It was a story about an Australian who invents rock and roll. The two developed The Great Galute into Young Einstein.
Serious managed to get Australian Film Commission support for the movie. By March 1984, an hour of the film had been shot, partly by the AFC and partly by private investment. Serious was then able to pre-sell the film to an American company, Film Accord, for $2 million. This enabled him to raise the film's original budget of $2.2 million. The movie started filming again late in 1985 and went for seven weeks, from 23 September, taking place in Newcastle and Wollombi, near Cessnock in the Hunter Valley, with second unit at various locations throughout Australia. A 91-minute version of the film was entered in the 1986 AFI Awards where composer William Motzing won Best Music.
In 1986, Film Accord sued the production to recover its distribution guarantee and the rushes, claiming the film delivered was not the one it had contracted to buy. The dispute was settled out of court.
Serious was unhappy with his first version of the film. Graham Burke from Roadshow saw it and became enthusiastic about its possibilities. Roadshow bought out Film Accord in March 1987, persuaded Warner Bros. to take on the film for international distribution outside Australia, and financed re-shooting, re-editing and re-scoring, resulting in an hour of new material (including a new ending) and new music score (including the addition of songs by bands such as Mental As Anything). This pushed the budget of the film up to $5 million. Warner Bros. contributed A$4 million to the full version of the film, and would go on to spend eight million on marketing the film in the United States alone.
Serious' key collaborators in the movie were co-writer David Roach, co-producer Warwick Rodd and associate producer Lulu Pinkus. He has said it helped that they all shared the same vision for the movie which got them through the long production process.
Serious refused to consider making a sequel to the film, as he stated in interviews that he was opposed to them in general.
The film received negative reviews in the United States, with Spin describing the release as a "marketing misfire" due to Warner Bros. "PR department's penchant for overkill". Roger Ebert called it a "one-joke movie, and I didn't laugh much the first time." He postulated that the possible lack of appeal to an American audience was because "[b]y moving Einstein to Australia, he was able to set up comic situations that appeal to the vast and inexhaustible fascination the Australians have about their own isolation and gawky charm. But the jokes don't travel very well." He gave the film one star out of a possible four. The reviewers at The Washington Post were unimpressed: Rita Kempley called the film "dumber-than-a-bowling-ball" and questioned its mass appeal; Desson Howe noted that distributor Warner Bros. had made it a "pre-processed legend" regardless of merit. The New York Times was more tempered, noting that though the film was "an uneven series of sketches strung along an extended joke", that the first time director Serious "is a much more adept film maker than his loony plot suggests."
The Los Angeles Times gave a favorable review, saying the film would appeal to younger audiences and that "it's just about impossible to dislike a movie in which examples of the hero's pacifism include his risking his life to save kitties from being baked to death inside a pie." Neil Jillett of Australia's The Age reviewed the film positively, noting that despite some "directorial slackness", the film was "a lively work that is sophisticated and innocent, witty and farcical, satirical and unmalicious, intelligent but not condescending, full of concern with big issues but not arrogantly didactic, thoroughly Australian but not nationalistic." Variety meanwhile thought that the film relied on the performance of Yahoo Serious, who they described "exhibits a brash and confident sense of humor, endearing personality, and a fondness for sight gags." Although giving it a low rating, Leonard Maltin stated, "any movie with 'cat pies' can't be all bad".
In the UK, William Russell for the Glasgow Herald described the film as "trying too hard to be funny for its own good." Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 36% rating based on reviews from 33 critics.
Young Einstein grossed A$13,383,377 at the box office in Australia. On release in Australia, it became the fifth biggest opening in Australian film history behind "Crocodile" Dundee, "Crocodile" Dundee II, Rocky IV, and Fatal Attraction. It grossed A$1.26 million in the opening weekend, despite being released in only three states. It was only the third film of 1988 to exceed the A$1 million mark at the Australian box office. Young Einstein became the tenth most successful film released at the Australian box office, after being the second most successful Australian film ever on release after "Crocodile" Dundee.
In the United States, it debuted at #8 on opening weekend. US distributor Warner Bros., hoping for similar crossover success as "Crocodile" Dundee, spent US$8 million on a major marketing push. It continues to be regarded as a flop. It ended its US theatrical run at $11,536,599.
The film has been released on DVD in region 1. The DVD is available in Australia by LA Entertainment.
Awards and nominationsEdit
|Australian Film Institute Awards||Best Cinematography||Nominated|
|Best Original Music Score||Won|
|Best Original Screenplay||Nominated|
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