Monday, November 21, 2011

Charles Dickens: Action Hero

Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Haversham
in the Upcoming Great Expectations

I should not, at this late date, be amazed at the cultural priorities of contemporary film production companies, nor of the people who regularly consume the offal smeared across our movie screens. 
Every few months, it seems we are bombarded with news stories about disgruntled aficionados who feel that movies based on comic books have desecrated sacred texts.  “The costumes are wrong!” they shriek, or “but he didn’t do that until later in the comics series!”
More amusing still is the fidelity Hollywood pays to wretched television shows of yesteryear, as if our cultural detritus were of deep, mystical importance.  (“Look, he said just what Dr. Smith would’ve said on Lost in Space.  Kewl!”)  Do we really need a new version of The Munsters (coming to a TV near you); come to think of it, did we need the original version of The Munsters…?
What makes all of this jackanapery all the more ridiculous is that only our junk is sacred, while it is seemingly open season on our fine arts heritage.  The recent film Anonymous posits that William Shakespeare was not Shakespeare – a tired bit of flummery that only Roland Emmerich (the mega-budget Ed Wood) would consider for a large-scale mainstream junk movie.  (Or, as the perpetually adolescent editorial board of Wikipedia dubs it, a “political thriller and historical drama,” which is rather like calling Winnie-the-Pooh a treatise on ursine behavior.)
Now that Hollywood has settled Shakespeare’s hash, they move onto spitting on yet another classic with an upcoming adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.
The horror being molded from a heaping, pullulating pile of rancid celluloid is not merely that which comes with concision or adaptation into another medium.  Oh, no, because now we are being dished up what we have always wanted – proof that Dickens was a writer of action novels.
As recently reported by the BBC, this new version of Great Expectation is being directed by Mike Newell and written by David Nicholls.  As Nicholls told the BBC, Dickens wrote "great action … It's very fast moving - with all kinds of twists and turns - so we're very much approaching it as a thriller … What we didn't want to do was impose an anachronistic genre on to Dickens - we didn't want to turn it entirely into a film noir."
Thank heavens.  Turning it entirely into a film noir would just ruin it.
For those who collect examples of overweening hubris coupled with utter cluelessness, here are Nicholls’ other revelations:  he not only includes flashbacks to Miss Haversham’s wedding (“when Pip goes to see her, it’s a bit like going to see Hannibal Lecter – it’s a real set piece”), but changes the ending of the novel, as well.  As Nicholls’ says, “Dickens came up with two endings - one which is incredibly bleak and one which is unrealistically romantic and sentimental … Neither are quite satisfactory and we've come up with an ending that isn't in the book - and is somewhere in between …It draws on events in the book but takes them in a slightly different direction, but is in no way sacrilegious."
Oh, well.  There’s still The Munsters.

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