Friday, June 09, 2006

Slicin' and Dicin' a Classic

One thing I've noticed as a parent: I'm way behind on the new movie releases. I consider myself doing well to even have some clue as to what films are on the big screen at any moment. Thus it may seem strange that I finally got around to watching the 2005 release of Pride and Prejudice this week. That being said, I didn't make an effort to see it earlier because the five-hour BBC version is sacrosanct in my eyes, and I rather doubted that any two-hour version could do the story or the characters justice.

I'll get what I liked out of the way quickly: the soundtrack is beautiful and I will be getting my hands on it shortly, Mr. Collins was cast very well, and the Darcy proposal scene had a sexy love/hate thing going on that I thoroughly enjoyed (though I can't quite decide if it fit the characters; but the rain and the anger and the attraction worked just so damn well...sigh).

I'm on the fence about how they portrayed the Bennett household as a clutered, shabby affair, though I understand the reasoning behind it--when you've only got two hours to tell this story, you need far more visual cues to distinguish class and social standing in place of the character-driven ones the BBC version developed. I'm similarly torn on the tweaks they made to Charlotte Lucas, Mr. Bingley, and Jane. They didn't have time to develop Charlotte's personality and thus her reasoning for marrying Mr. Collins, so they made her an ugly spinster who was desperate to be settled in order to secure her future and ease the burden on her parents. The ugly old maid is a nasty cliche that could stand to be shelved for eternity, and I think the BBC (and, IIRC, book) spin of a non-romantic view of marriage provided much greater social depth. But, again, I understand why it was done, and it didn't take much away from the movie as a whole. Flattening Bingley from a happy-go-lucky man into a vacuous idiot made me wince a decent amount, but he was still charming and very much in love with Jane, so it worked out in the end (and it provided a great scene in which Bingley practices his proposal on Darcy). Jane's character was adjusted so severely at times that she came across as vapid rather than reserved, but this provided a great moment during said phenomenal proposal scene in which Elizabeth could explain that even she can't read her sister at times, and thus what right did Darcy have to assume Jane's indifference?

As for the things that nearly had us turning the movie off without finishing it, no excuse of time contraints can make them palatable. Darcy became merely a misunderstood shy guy who is never brought to task for his horrid manners toward Elizabeth at the first ball (slightly forgiveable, given the movie's limits and the fact that Elizabeth manages to zing him back in this version) or for his insulting proposal (unforgiveable!). Elizabeth loses all personality after this proposal and turns into an angsty, lost, forlorn woman in love. It's like her spine oozes out of her with the rain in that above-mentioned perfect scene. Mr. Bennett is a clumsy, absent-minded drunk who can't speak clearly and seems to be only slightly more witty than his wife. Wickham is a cad by proxy in that he flirts with Elizabeth and then is off-screen until Lydia returns to Longborne a married and suddenly self-aware and devious woman. Darcy's motivations for paying for that arrangement are baffling with these plot and character tweaks. The Lady Katharine de Burgh is such a non-entity that her intrusion at the end of the movie is just that--an intrusion into the viewing experience. It's only used to provide a reason for Darcy to be wandering around that morning, hoping to find Elizabeth so he can propose again--which is a non-issue, given the way they've handled both characters and all the plot issues. If the Darcy in this version of the story needs his aunt's shenanigans and Elizbeth's response to them in order to galvanize him, then he's not that great a catch.

Overall, in trying to tell this story in two hours, they kept too much in that they should've cut, thus making the entire experience feel rushed and dizzy. The things they did cut and change butchered the story more than a drastic adaptation for the time frame would have. Still, I love the soundtrack and that one scene is so blissfully perfect that I'm tempted to purchase a copy of the movie for it alone. But as for a film experience of a classic book, stick to the BBC version. It may be five hours, but it's a fabulous five hours.

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