Monday, August 25, 2008

Semi-Cranky at the Movies

In the last week I've seen two movies, one based on a classic, world-renowned, nearly flawless novel, the second based on a collection of SF tropes that have been around for fifty years. The second movie was the good one.

Brideshead Revisited (Evelyn Waugh) is one of my favorite novels of all time. The current version did not need to be made, since the BBC had already done a marvelous mini-series starring Anthony Andrews and Jeremy Irons. If the current version somehow had to be made, it didn't need to totally reverse characterization (in the book Charles Ryder says Brideshead Castle should go to the heir presumptive; in the movie he covets it throughout for himself.) The film did not need to polarize complex and subtle characters into good-bad. It did not need to change the ending, and thus the point of the entire book. It didn't need to do those things, but it did them, and the result is an unqualified disaster. Do not see this movie.

On the other hand, Wall-e is charming. It contains no ideas that Fred Pohl, Cyril Kornbluth, or Arthur Clarke were not exploring in the 1950's: a consumerist society growing fat and powerless, the exodus from a ruined Earth, the survival of machines after we leave. But Wall-e embodies these ideas in robots that are inventive, appealing, and just plain fun to watch. There are sly nods to 2001: A Space Odyssey, to Star Wars, to less well-known SF. When I left the theater, I felt like humming a quick chorus of "Everything Old Is New Again."

Was this partly because my expectations of Brideshead were greater than for an animated movie for kids? Undoubtedly. But the contrast isn't totally a matter of expectations. It also grows from film makers who treat their material with both respect and pleasure. Waugh deserved better.


Ann said...

I avoided Brideshead because I knew it would ruin the book and the mini-series for me.

I loved Wall-E. It was a bit dark for my 6 year old though.

Steven Francis Murphy said...

Robots are just plain fun to work with (says the guy who used one in his first sale). I personally wish there was more short fiction on robots updated to the current day. Instead, we get all of this angst ridden polemical crap. There is nothing I hate more as a Reader or consumer of films than getting preached to.

It gives me a headache. Sounds like Wall-E is the aspirin I've been looking for.

I need to go see it before it escapes and evades its way to DVD.

S. F. Murphy

Unknown said...

I loved Wall-E and it showed once again how marvelous Pixar is at storytelling.

As for Brideshead, I never read the book or saw the movie but as is typical, movies from books are disappointing if you try to compare to the book.

I try to just enjoy the movie on its own merits and not get hung up on inconsistencies.

Nick A said...

1) How could _BR_ possibly be condensed into a feature film length, and still retain the scope of the novel?

2) Hadn't thought of the Kornbluth and Pohl precedent to Wall-E. Remember Pohl's novel, called...The midas war I think, a parody with a consumer driven society with people 'rationed' to consume as much as possible.