November 30th, 2005

"Pride and Prejudice"

On Friday afternoon the 25th, we went to the Downer Theater for a matinee showing of the new version of "Pride and Prejudice," adapted from the famous Jane Austen novel. This is the latest of many adaptations, including the moderernized and India-themed "Bride and Prejudice" from last year, and one of several I've seen. I do definitely think this one is the best, for a number of reasons. First, it seems most realistic: one sees the Bennetts presented as a farm family, and the rather ramshackle house with its peeling and absent paint and bare, unvarnished board floors gives a picture of genteel poverty decaying gradually down toward the level of "Cold Comfort Farm." In most others, such as the 1995 mini-series, the Bennetts have a quite comfortable appearing home, such that the references to their lack of money seem to be overstated. The difference in ambiance between the country dance that opens the story and the later, very elegant ball at the Bingly residence is quite marked, as well.

But best of all is the performance of Matthew MacFadyen in the crucial role of Mr. Darcy. The usual method of playing this role seems to be to portray Darcy as he is viewed by those around him, arrogant and aloof. In fact, such behavior is often due to profound shyness and reticence, and this is what we see in MacFayden's Darcy. In this version, Elizabeth inquires of darcy if he dances, to which he replies, only if forced. As Elizabeth looks away, he casts his eyes down to the ground, at which time he seems to clearly be saying to himself, "You idiot, why did you say that!" Admittedly, this is a more sympathetic portrayal of Darcy than Austen herself gives*, but it seems to me to have psychological truth, and, after all, a two-hour plus movie is not a three-decker novel, so one has to move character development along to make it at all believable that Darcy will ever fall for Elizabeth.

Keira Knightly is good and sparky as Elizabeth, and the main couple are well supported, with notable performances by Donald Sutherland as the put-upon Mr. Bennett, and Kelly Reilly (also recently on screen in "Mrs. Henderson Presents" as a very snarky and sophistcated Caroline Bingly.

Georgie, who is a bigger Austen fan than I am, enjoyed it as well, and did not find much to quibble with, although I gather that the rabid purists objected to the final scene in which Darcy actually (gasp) kisses Elizabeth (on the forehead!).

* "Mr. Darcy danced only once with Mrs. Hurst and once with Miss Bingley, declined being introduced to any other lady, and spent the rest of the evening in walking about the room, speaking occasionally to one of his own party. His character was decided. He was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and every body hoped that he would never come there again. Amongst the most violent against him was Mrs. Bennet, whose dislike of his general behaviour was sharpened into particular resentment by his having slighted one of her daughters.

Elizabeth Bennet had been obliged, by the scarcity of gentlemen, to sit down for two dances; and during part of that time, Mr. Darcy had been standing near enough for her to overhear a conversation between him and Mr. Bingley, who came from the dance for a few minutes to press his friend to join it.

`Come, Darcy,' said he, `I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance.'

`I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.'"
--"Pride and Prejudice," Chapter 3.

"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"

Last night we joined the Burrahobbits to view "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" at the AMC Multicinema at Mayfair Mall. Despite the shopping season being in effect, it is still not difficult to approach the Mall from the back side and find a parking spot reasonably close to the doors, at least on a weekday night. The theatre was not at all crowded, and we Fantasy enthusiasts made up a good portion of the weeknight audience, nice since we could all sit together and poke and whisper to one another.

Other reviewers have noted the extent to which the hefty novel has been pared down to mostly the action sequences, so I won't go into that much here, except to say that what results is MOSTLY the "good parts version," with a few exceptions. I did not miss the "House Elf Liberation Front" in the least, but I did miss such character-adding bits as Fleur Delacroix being part veela, Madame Maxime being (possibly) part giant, and Rita Skeeter being a very annoying animagus--all of which would have required some additional explanation and exposition, but I think might be missed as future movies are made of the newer books. (For example, introducing the topic of prejudice against giants. On the other hand, for a future film adaptation, I think it likely Hagrid's family might go the way of the house elves, and I would not miss them much, either.)

The major emphasis, of course, is on the Triwizard tournament and Voldemort's machinations, with some endearing looks at the three principals' nascent love lives. We do see Dumbledore becoming a more active character, reinforcing my orginal opinion that the late Richard Harris' Dumbledore was a bit too dotty for the long term. Gambon does well, but could work a bit on catching some of the character's warmth, which admittedly this script does not give much scope for. Maggie Smith as McGonigle and Alan Rickman as Snape have short but memorable cameos. (Snape adjusting his cuffs before delivering swats to Ron and harry for talking in study hall was a character touch that drew appreciative chuckles from our crowd--.) I'm afraid the Triwizard Champions, Diggory, Delacroix, and Krum, get short shrift in the way of character development: Diggory is stalwart and brave, Krum bullet-headed and sinister, and Delacroix--well, when you have a character whose main attribute, even in the novel, is that she is beautiful enough to cloud men's minds, and Clemence Poesy is well-enough looking but just isn't that gorgeous, there isn't much left. Of course the plum role is that of "Mad-Eye" Moody, and Brendan Gleeson chews the scenery with gusto, rendering a performance that makes on think of Tim the Enchanter from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" by way of "Mad Max".

Hogwarts and environs are a bit less stylized than in last picture, a bit darker and more dusty, but still with interesting touches--for example, Moody's room is full of lenses and glasses. The stadium for the Quiddich World Cup is breathtakingly designed and wonderfully sensible for a game played in three dimensions. The Beaubatons flying coach and the Durmstrang ship are well realized. The dragons and merpeople were very well done and quite believable. (I date myself by chuckling over Harry's "Man From Atlantis" swimming style when transformed by the gillyweed).

The climactic scene with Voldemort was dark and wonderfully terrible. Ralph Feinnes returns as Voldemort on a very effective makeup. The murder is swift, brutal and offhand as in the book, and the grief of the bereaved when the body returns home is heart-wrenching, leaving no doubt that the story has entered a tougher phase.

Scary snake, scary Wormtongue, scary dragon, scary merfolk, VERY scary Voldemort. Too intense for young children. On the other hand, very minimal blood, and the only bad language occurs during Ron and Harry's falling-out, in which Ron tells Harry to "piss off," and Harry later responds by calling Ron a "foul git." If you like Harry Potter, highly reccommended. If you haven't seen any of the prior films, you would need a scorecard to tell the characters.