Rapa Nui (1995) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Scoop's notes

Rapa Nui is a film which offers a possible explanation to the mysteries of Easter Island. As you may know, Easter Island is an isolated and quite desolate little chunk of igneous rock sitting approximately in the middle of the open Pacific Ocean, about halfway between Chile and Tahiti. Before the first Dutch explorer discovered and renamed it, on Easter Day in 1722, Easter Island was known to the natives as Rapa Nui, hence our title.

It is most famous for two things: (1) The Norwegian explorer, Thor Heyerdahl, has attempted to prove that it was settled at least once from the East, although most archeologists insist that it is completely Polynesian in culture. Heyerdahl formed his hypothesis based on similarities between artifacts found on Easter Island and artifacts found in the Western portions of South America. Heyerdahl's own voyages proved that it was possible to sail from Chile to Easter Island using only the sailing technology known centuries ago. (2) The shore of Easter Island is dotted with several very famous and very immense stone statues which look out to sea. These statues seem to have been dragged to their resting places from various other parts of the island, using technology not possessed by any of the inhabitants who were there when the Europeans finally arrived. This link contains just about every possible worthwhile link to Easter Island info and theories.

This movie posits that the statues may have been moved to their seaside locations by sophisticated people who once lived there, people who possessed a written language and sufficient technology to move such immense stone objects. The script also offers an explanation for the complete disappearance of those people before the Europeans arrived. To tell you the truth, the story told here is plausible. It involves a civil war, or maybe it should be called a slave uprising, between an aristocratic tribe and some others they enslaved to do their heavy labor. The social context portrayed here bears a certain similarity to what we know of the people of ancient Egypt, and the story also meshes well with the social stratification which was still present among the primitive remaining natives encountered by the European explorers. Granted, the dramatic arc of the story is kind of silly (a Romeo and Juliet story between lovers from the two different tribes), and the dialogue is an absolute hoot, but the setting of the story is not entirely illogical.

This was another of Kevin Costner's lavish money-wasting concepts. If you are a poker player, you know that the key to success is to make small mistakes. You can afford to risk a lot of $100 raises if you win a few $3000 pots. The ones you can't afford are the $3000 pots where half of the pot is your money, and you have the second best hand. I'm thinking Kevin Costner isn't much of a poker player because he doesn't seem to understand that a big risk should not be taken unless there is potential for a big reward. Three times in his life he's tossed a monumental amount of money into projects that just didn't seem to have any potential to pay out. Three times he went all-in for $2000 with a pair of nines in order to steal $150 in blinds.

Waterworld, The Postman ... Rapa Nui. 

Costner didn't direct or star in Rapa Nui, but he was the money man, and the director was Costner's personal designated director, Kevin Reynolds. Just before Rapa Nui, Reynolds directed Costner's infamous Robin Hood movie, and when Rapa Nui was wrapped up, Costner and Reynolds went on to the even more infamous Waterworld (aka Kevin's Gate, aka Fishtar), a movie which has become the very symbol of wildly uncontrolled spending on a mediocre project.

There was no need for Rapa Nui to end up as an expensive movie with a cast of unknowns. This film could probably have been made for three or four million dollars in Hawaii, and could have attracted big-name stars if it had offered a short shooting schedule in a nice part of the world. But no-o-o-o-o- ... Rapa Nui was actually filmed on Easter Island. That means that The Two Kevins set up a film crew on one of the remotest places on earth. The only air-based contact between Easter Island and the outside world is two flights a week from Santiago. Pretend you are a director, and imagine how that would affect your project.  Let's assume you crack a lens. How long will it be before you can replace it? Let's assume an actor needs some fairly sophisticated medical treatment. How long before he can get it? Let's assume we need the usual filmmaking crew. You have to think that not many film professionals live on Easter Island, so you'll have to fly in every single person you need. But Easter Island is not filled with hotels and restaurants, so where will you house and feed everyone you fly in? I know, you can build a village for them! Do you see where all this is leading? Filming on Easter Island requires a major commitment of time and money.

It ran up a $20 million tab, and it starred  ... um ... well, they hired any actor willing to spend a few months in the most desolate and god-awful spot in the Pacific, possibly excepting Pitcairn's Island. As shown in the "making of" special feature on the DVD, even the weather on Easter Island is unpleasant, and the people who wore skimpy native garb while on camera were wearing winter coats when the cameras were off! The actors must have been freezing cold most of the time.

Are there good reasons to film in such a location? Yes, of course. Very few people in the world have seen what Easter Island looks like today, and still fewer have seen a meticulous recreation of how it may have looked in its Golden Age, so this film represents a unique window into a place and time forgotten by the world. I was willing to watch it just because it was really filmed on Easter Island, and I was curious about what that place really looks like.

Unfortunately, the marketability of such a project is limited. I can see the allure of the project, but I can't see where they could have expected any potential payback. Just how big is the market for a corny love story set inside a cornier story about forgotten ancient tribes battling in silly headgear, which also tries to work as a heavy-handed environmental impact parable for our own times.  That wasn't a rhetorical question. The answer is: "very small." The film made about thirty five cents at the box office, and the investment turned out to be a total write-off.

Like many of Coster's investments in the 1990s.



  • No features
  • no widescreen



Lots of breasts. Sandrine Holt and various unknowns parade around topless at all times, as the natives might have have in that place and time. (Well, at least in summer. Maybe.)

Tuna's notes

Rapa Nui (1994) was an attempt by producer Kevin Costner to solve the mystery of Rapa Nui (Easter Island). I was unable to find out why he felt compelled to do so, but it must have been some burning desire that convinced him to spend $20M to make a film in the most remote and uninhabitable place in the world. How successful was he? The film grossed a whopping $305K. In fact, this film is so popular that it has still not come to region one DVD 12 years later. I screened a Chinese region-free full screen version that is devoid of special features, but does have the original English soundtrack. A Region 2 DVD also exists that is a much better Widescreen transfer, but is entirely in German with no subtitles.

The story revolves around an annual pecker contest among the brightest and best from each "long-eared clan" to determine which clan chief will reign for the next year as "bird man." Each clan picks a contestant who must scale a cliff, swim through shark infested water to another island, steal a bird egg from a nest, and make the return journey. While the long-ears (aristocrats) are doing this, the short-ears (slaves) are conscripted to raise all the food for the island, as well as to make and set up the immense statues called Moai. The local religion holds that Rapa Nui is the only land left in the world, the rest having sunk, so the priest is arranging to build all of the statues for a chance to ride the "white canoe" to heaven. Unfortunately, the construction project is destroying the island's ecology.

The year when our story takes place is the year things could change because the grandson of the current bird man will race for his clan, but he has strange ideas about such things as ecology and human rights, and he is in love with Sandrine Holt, who is a short-ear. He is not alone in that passion, as the heir apparent to short-ear leadership also loves her. Holt spends much of the film locked in the "cave of the white virgin," from which she emerges obviously ready for the larger "two-room cave of the woman who is no longer virginal and needs a nursery for a baby soon to arrive." Oh, those cave nights!

Honestly, although the story told here is plausible, my overwhelming reaction was, "This is just plain silly." It is a case of reverse synergy. The film is much less than the sum of its parts. It has lots of pleasant nudity. Beautiful Sandrine Holt, and all the other women who made this film, constantly ran around topless in mostly freezing weather while pretending on camera that it was warm. In addition to beautiful semi-naked women, the film has an exotic location, sound historical background and strong messages about ecology and human rights. That, on paper, sounds like a good movie, and many do seem to love it.

As for me, it is not one I will re-watch.

The Critics Vote ...

The People Vote ...

  • It grossed $305,000 on a budget of $20 million.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C-. The movie itself is horsebleep, but you may enjoy some things about it, especially the beautiful topless women. Its only truly unique asset is that it was actually shot on Easter Island.

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