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Published on January 1st, 2005 | by Michelle Thomas

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Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Classification: U Director: Hall Bartlett
Cast: (Voices) Philip Ahn, Richard Crenna, James Franciscus, David Ladd, Juliet Mills
Rating: 1.5/5

Adapted from the novella by Richard Bach, the film tells the story of Jonathan Livingston Seagull (Franciscus), a seagull who, bored with the daily squabbles over food is seized by a passion for flight. He pushes himself, learning everything he can about flying, until finally his unwillingness to conform results in his expulsion from his clan. An outcast, he continues to learn, becoming increasingly pleased with his abilities as he leads an idyllic but lonely life.
One day, Jonathan is met by two seagulls who take him to a “higher plane of existence”, where he meets other gulls who love to fly. He discovers that his sheer tenacity and desire to learn make him “a gull in a million”. Jonathan befriends the wisest gull in this new place, named Chang , who takes him beyond his previous learning, teaching him how to move instantaneously to anywhere else in the universe. The secret, Chang says, is to “begin by knowing that you have already arrived”.

Not satisfied with his new life, Jonathan returns to Earth to find others like him, to bring them his learning and to spread his love for flight. His mission is successful, gathering around him others who have been outlawed for not conforming. Ultimately, one of his students, Fletcher Lynd Seagull , becomes a teacher in his own right and Jonathan leaves to continue his learning.

If you were alive in the Seventies the chances are that your parents had a copy of Jonathan Livingston Seagull on their bookshelf. A cross between The Little Engine That Could and Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway, it was one of those all things to all people books that could be seen as a nice story about a brave little gull, or an existential self-help guide. Nonetheless, I was surprised to discover that it had been made into a film, especially as the filmmakers would have lacked the ability to create CGI gulls.

There is some absolutely stunning photography – opening with a shot of a huge wave which any surfer would love, the helicopter shots of gulls in flight, clouds and water are sensational. Unfortunately once we start hearing Jonathan’s thoughts the film gets a bit odd, and rapidly gets odder. Jonathan is our hero, and we know this because he doesn’t behave like a seagull. He’s the archetypal loner, accompanied only by Neil Diamond songs; his feathers pure white, while all the other gulls are dirty grey and often covered with muck – they live in a landfill, while Jonathan soars above them. All this symbolism reads ok on the page, but is a bit trite on screen, especially when Jonathan meets Mr Miyagi, I mean Chang, who teaches him a few Zen homilies.

Also, when Jonathan is wandering about, he doesn’t seem to need to eat (and he spends quite a lot of time in the desert). So eventually when he returns to earth, all glowing like Arwen in Fellowship of the Ring, its not surprising that his flock take him for some sort of Messiah figure, even though he insists he’s just an ordinary gull, the fact that he can translocate, heal cripples, and raise gulls from the dead, would seem to indicate otherwise.

It’s not a completely terrible film, if you’re a fan of seagulls, but more of a curiosity than a must-watch. Bet your mum would like it though.


About the Author

Michelle Thomas

An unashamed, unabashed, unrepentant movie geek, as a child I painted crosses on the walls of our house after seeing Dracula, convinced that our neighbours were vampires...Note to self: It's only a movie.


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