Saturday, July 21, 2012

The 2012 Summer Screen Review (Part V)

A few days ago, I watched The Dark Knight (not to be confused with The Dark Knight Rises) in preparation for the latter.  I found myself a bit more forgiving on a few details (the Two-Face design didn't bug me as much this time around though I still think it's too unrealistic for a film trying to be more gritty and realistic; I chose not to wonder about the origins of the secret chamber below the shipping container).  I still don't like the new bat suit or the tumbler, and the batvoice continues to be a bit overdone, but none of that stops me from recognizing what a good film it is.  Heath Ledger was gripping as The Joker, I prefer Maggie Gyllenhaal's Rachel Dawes to Katie Holmes's Rachel Dawes, and Gary Oldman is, as usual, fantastic.    

I'm looking forward to seeing, at some point, the final film in the Nolan trilogy.  Where from there?  I wonder if the general movie-going public is ready to swallow a faithful adaptation of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns.

Last night, I sat down to watch the 1988 film adaptation of The Chocolate War.  The movie had a lot going for it: a good cast of not-big-name at the time young actors as the students (Ilan Mitchel-Smith is a standout as protagonist Jerry Renault), the adult cast is decent (a cameo by Bud Cort is perfect, John Glover is a great choice for Brother Leon, but the character is a watered down version of that in the book).  Taken as a whole, however, the movie suffers because its screenwriter and director, Keith Gordon, didn't have a firm grip on what made the book so powerful.

That he's a fan of the book is not in question, I don't doubt his passion for the material, but perhaps because he was a new director, perhaps because he reread the story with the intent to adapt rather than as a reader, perhaps because he was too trusting of his actors' impulses, the film lacks the depth and impact of the original novel.  There are small ways in which this is evident (the Room 19 incident, for example, fails to translate well enough as filmed to explain the impact it has on Brother Eugene and, subsequently, on Goober), but more significantly, there are some serious misfires in characterization (Archie, Obie, Janza, Brother Leon) and story.  The altered climax and ending, which have often been misrepresented as a Hollywood "happy ending", miss the mark almost entirely.  Listening to (and reading) the director explaining the reasons for his changes confirm for me that he missed something key in the original ending.  A tag involving Archie and Obie is nearly unforgivable in its misfire, and listening to the director discuss these few minutes in an interview made my jaw drop; either he is trying to construct a more palatable rationale for this scene after-the-fact, or his thinking is a clear indication of how little he understood of Archie, Obie, and the book.  During the interview, Gordon indicates that the novel's writer, Robert Cormier, was sort of reservedly supportive of the change, in the "I see what you're going for but it's hard for me to imagine it other than how I wrote it" vein.

I won't even get into the extremely 80s soundtrack (with its own hits -- Running Up That Hill -- and misses -- most of the rest) or the moments of force "artiness".

Likely, this film falls into the ever-popular "If You Don't Know the Book, You Won't Realize Why This Doesn't Work and You Might Not Mind" category of adaptations.  I think the book could be ripe for a new adaptation, now that a quarter of a century has past and filmmakers are a bit more comfortable with discomfort.

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