Thursday, December 06, 2012

Great Expectations (2012)

Source: Wikipedia
A little over three months ago, I was required to watch the 1946 version of a Charles Dickens novel I ashamedly knew very little about. I had stupidly missed out on educating myself on any of the bucketfuls of previous adaptations - including last year's television series.

Of course, I had to watch it as Empire had awarded it 5 stars, but on my first viewing I really didn't understand what all the fuss was about. I figured that maybe everyone was wrong; perhaps Dickens didn't know how to use a quill and the film's director David Lean was really a misguided fool, mistaken for a genius by some film critics at the world's best selling movie magazine. I mean, what do they know anyway? I watched it again to reaffirm my stone crafted belief - only to find that someone had blunted my chisel. It was I who was the fool, as misguided as Pip and tripping over my ego in the process.

While I'm in confession I didn't realise that a 2012 remake was in the pipeline until a couple of months ago as my eyes were opened once more by the pages of Empire with a little help from the British Film Institute (Great Expectations was the star at the close of the London Film Festival). It is a film I wouldn't have given a second glance to until I understood the majesty of Lean's version. As I read further into it, I found that a dark fantasy was about to come true. Helena Bonham Carter was cast to play perhaps the scattiest and most isolated character in literary history. A role she was born for.

Thanks to Odeon's 25% off Tuesday deals for its Premiere Card customers, I caught a perfectly quiet viewing with the cinema almost empty. No children, rustling popcorn or Nokia ring tones to spoil the viewing pleasure. The film kicks off just as its most famous predecessor did on the lonely marshes where Magwich (Ralph Fiennes), an escaped convict, runs free. The atmosphere isn't up there with Lean's, with a discerning lack of fog occasionally making the film look like a running scene from Chariots of Fire.

Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham
At this point I realised that many of my views on the film would be impared by the obligatory comparisons. Regardless, I sat back, munched some ice cream and watched Pip finally meet a certain Miss Havisham. Bizarrely, Bonham Carter didn't fit the role as much as I expected her to. Sure, she's the standout, but I had personally hyped her to perhaps be the saviour of a film that was always going to struggle in the shadows of history. Alas, she was not. Quirky, lonely, scatty and creepy, yes. Miss Havisham, oddly no. It's not her acting - it's the fact there there is very little dust in a room littered with cobwebs and age. The small amounts of detail that make Miss Havisham were sadly lacking.

Where the film does succeed is in its use of colour (a technology that was commercially unviable in the 1940's). The contrast between Estella and the rest of the scene is often breathtaking as her beauty is enhanced by the bright blue tones in her dress offset against the muggy browns of the City. The garden scenes around Miss Havisham's house reflect vibrant greens offset by the lonely dull tones of her house - really emphasising on the life that she is missing out on.

This isn't the only factor that will draw the Christmas crowds in, as Mike Newell's 2012 version also features a stellar cast ranging from the consistent Robbie Coltrane as the pompous lawyer Jaggers to the comical bumblings of David Walliams as the aspiring Pumblechook. Despite what initially looks like an irregular mismatch of celebrities, it is clear that they have been well-casted for their roles.

It is also easier to understand than the 1940's version and more accessible in the way that it hand-feeds the audience much of Dicken's story - while Lean's gives more detail, there is an air about it that assumes you know the characters at the very least.

There is no real benefit to seeing it in the cinema, but if you are looking for films to watch this Christmas then give it a whirl. Just don't go in with the same misguided Great Expectations as I did.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Hiatus

Hello, Bienvenue, Wilkommen and 'Allo 'Allo.

Holy macaroni, this is my first post in over a month. Time flies when you're refurbishing a house in an attempt to move in to stop your parents complaining that you've had said house for over six months and are still living rent free under their nose having fun.

As a result, I haven't watched a film in over six weeks. For someone that is used to reaching for the popcorn on an almost nightly basis, this hiatus has been horrible as I've spent my time running from wire cutters to plasterers trowel in a futile attempt to not spend any money overhauling the house. On the plus side, the bedroom is finished. Except the curtains. And the floor.

Regardless, last weekend I moved in. I powered up my television for the first time in over a month and realised that while most of the channels were still spewing out their non-primetime crap, there was a saving grace in that I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here had just finished and ITV could return to more sane scheduling - combined with their annual competition with Channel 5 for Corniest-Christmas-Film Of The Year*.

There is another positive in that the cinematic Christmas schedule looks very appetising this year (and I'm not just talking about Samantha Barks in Les Misérables). I have Great Expectations for a modern remake of the Dickens classic, and I'm hoping that The Life of Pi will be awarded more than 3.14 stars. Then there is the small matter of the start of a Peter Jackson trilogy that makes me wish it was 2001 all over again. Maybe not - 12 years ago I was a Hobbit myself, joining up with my Dwarf friends and attempting to quest my way through school.

You can probably tell my humour has become a lot darker since I last wrote - possibly in preparation for Seven Psychopaths - and this means that there will be some changes around. Gone is the standard template of Summary, Storyline, Review and in comes something far more original; Put-Stuff-Where-It-Sounds-Good.

I went to the cinema last night. Let the reviewing commence. Again.

* American Translation: "... The X Factor has nearly finished and Fox can almost return to more sane scheduling - combined with their annual competition with CBS for Corniest-Christmas-Film Of The Year."