Friday, August 8, 2014

Summer Reading: Great Expectations (2012) - It's Hard Out Here For a Pip

Okay, I promise. This is going to be the last 'Pip-Pimp' pun of the season. To be honest, I almost didn't go with this one either.

Then I saw this.

and the joke wrote itself.

 I'll admit I found this adaptation by accident. I stumbled across this while hunting down another adaptation that I'll be getting to later this month. I had some misgivings, but the cast looked promising, so I gave it the shot.

Well, the cast still is pretty promising. The rest of the movie...we'll get to that.

This particular adaptation is helmed by Mike Newell and scripted by David Nicholls. I can honestly say there's a sort of a history with the director for me. Prior to this, one of Newell's more well known projects was another British adaptation- the film adaptation of the fourth Harry Potter book. Personally, I found that adaptation to be very lacking, as they put more emphasis on wizarding puberty than the things which could, you know, get people killed if they're not careful- the exciting parts of the story. His adaptation here, however, seems to suffer from the exact opposite problem: Too much story. After the opening credits, there are no slow moments. The movie speeds through the events of the novel at an almost infuriating clip. Even the actors seem like they have a hard time keeping up with some of the rushing at times. This is probably the first adaptation since I started this project last year where I can honestly say I was glad I read the book first, since without it, parts of this version would be utterly confusing in how quickly they jump from point a to point b. This hit home for me near the end of the movie, as a fever stricken Pip finds his fortunes fading around him. I'll concede it's a point that is a bit tricky to do on film - even in the book Pip acknowledges it hits him pretty fast since he's so concerned with Magwitch that he never pays any mind to his own health. The problem is, other versions, when they include the fever, at least let you see him as it hits, so you know there's health issues catching up to him. This version is in such a hurry to get Magwitch sentenced and hanged that by the time he's out of the picture, we just cut to Pip bed-ridden and going destitute with no explanation as to why he's suddenly sick as a dog.

"Really now Newell, I know I wasn't the nicest role in our last film, but your rushing to kill me here is a LITTLE much..."

This is just one example, but it's a problem that runs throughout the entire movie. Events happen with such a rush that it makes even Dickens' occasional tendency to overdo coincidences feel quaint compared to the mechanical way everything clicks together here. In fact, the story all gets forced along in such a clear path and at such speed that I can almost hear Newell yelling "All abooooard!" as a train whistle sounds in the distance. Things happen not because they're built up to, but because they were in the book and the book says they have to. It's that unfortunate level of arbitrary faithfulness- you can't rightly say the movie does it wrong, but at the same time you're hard pressed to say they did it well either.

Also, while I'm starting this off with the filmmakers and nitpicking, I do have to call a partial foul on the film's editing. For the most part, it's actually not too bad. There's even one or two bits I liked the work on. Then there are parts where Tariq Anwar makes the confusing decision to have certain scenes where characters are repeating or listing things done in a series of rapid, different cuts. I can see what he's trying to convey with it, except it's a choice that feels out of place with the rest of the movie's more relaxed style and seems like someone decided the film needed a dash of French New Wave for color.

The sad thing is, for as many issues as this film has in how its made, it has some good components going into it. The cast is generally pretty good. In the lead role, brothers Toby and Jeremy Irvine (as young and older Pip respectively) are well suited to the part. I also have to give Jeremy some points for one difference in this version with regards to how Pip's attitude towards Joe changes. The agitation he puts into the scenes where he is being embarrassed by Joe's simple ways does a good job of making the moment appropriately uncomfortable. Herbert actually puts it best in movie when he gets that "I think I left the oven on" look on his face as he shows himself out. Opposite Irvine, Helena Barlow and Holliday Grainger as Estella are  mixed. The former gets her aloof and haughty side down pretty well, even if some of her line reads are a bit flat. The latter, while she again gets the aloof side right, really doesn't seem to gel well with Irvine, which makes the whole love story between her and Pip fumble. Some minor occasional slips aside, most of the casting is pretty satisfactory here. The one surprise standout actually going to Robbie Coltrane as Jaggers, playing the character's brisk legalese well with a definite sense of a man who's learned to suppress his emotions in the better interests of his profession.

"You think I'm going to WHAT? ... and no, I never promised you candy either!"

Overall though, the only casting choice I can say I was fully disappointed in was Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham. I had my misgivings with this one on paper, but I really wanted to give her a fair chance here. I know she's capable of some range with the right role, so I wanted to see if this role could show that. Unfortunately, this feels like a return to the 'crazy' typecast she's been getting repeatedly dealt by Tim Burton and the Harry Potter movies. Now, I'm not gonna deny Havisham is a bit crazy-that's kind of the point, really. The thing is, Havisham is meant to be crazy in the sense of having been twisted and bitter from having her heart broken. She's supposed to be this very withdrawn, with a creepy personality. Carter, meanwhile, is using that same style of crazy she's done before- it works for some roles, but in this case, that extra crazy energy feels really out of place. It really could have been a good casting call with a director that was willing to push and perhaps reign her in more, but as it is, it feels like Carter autopiloted this one.

"Eh...Burton's on set. Still counts."

Alongside the casting, this movie looks very good. John Mathieson's cinematography is not wasted, and even when it's rushing along, it's very easy on the eyes. Between the withered remains of Satis House, the crowded streets of London, and the opening scenes in the churchyard, he has a good feel for the look of the story and captures it well in this movie.

All in all, this movie gives me flashes of Zack Snyder's Watchmen. It has a largely strong cast and consistently looks good, so it has that going for it as a film. At the same time, it's an adaptation that feels like, in its rush to hit all the appropriate plot points it misses the point and feel of the story. So it feels less like an adaptation and more like a pure re-enactment: the moves are all carried out, but with none of the heart. Which is a shame since I would have liked to see many of these cast get a chance to do their characters proper justice in a more fleshed out adaptation. Unfortunately, this was not to be.

This is something I've actually been pondering more lately, actually- is it better to be an adaptation that hits all the marks though it loses the core of the story, or one that takes a lot of liberties with the source but still maintains the core themes?

That may be a discussion for another time.

"and I come into money later too? Man, these spoilers are AWESOME!"

Sorry for the delay on this one. Next SR entry coming soon.

Till then.

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