Thursday, August 12, 2010

THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH--The Disappointment of the Summer on Starz on Netflix streaming

The movie of a favored novel is almost always disappointing but this one disappoints in so many ways. After you've seen Monty Python's version of the era, the buckets of blood approach is hard to take without snickering.

Let's look at the ingenue, Aliena. In the novel she first appears as a spoiled brat, daughter of a lord, who survives a brutal assault and impoverishment by the villain of the piece. She comes out of it hell-bent to survive and to avenge her executed father, but also to restore her family's place in the order of things. Capitalism saves her as she becomes a successful wool merchant. She flirts with the brooding younger-than-her Jack, the cathedral builder's stepson.

Jack wins her over slowly and gently with his modest demeanor, artistic temperament, storytelling, and a well-timed love ballad. Jack first kisses Aliena in the woods during a chaste encounter. Even though she is starting to fall for him, she latter rebuffs him in her spinning room, the villainous rape still in her mind. All this is well-plotted and understandable by the reader.

The miniseries: Aliena may make one snarky comment but you don't find yourself not liking her. The assault isn't anywhere as awful as in the book even with TV sensibilities factored in. The courtship of Aliena and Jack is missing. The worst part is the second kiss in the spinning room. In episode four we see Jack kiss Aliena and there is no rebuff. She looks like she's a little flushed, maybe a case of the vapors, but no rebuff. It is a critical moment in their rocky relationship because Jack can't understand why she is acting this way. He has no knowledge of the rape.

Instead of character development we have frequent battle scenes, of which the book has several. The technical methodology of cathedral building is interesting in the book and must have also been thought to be unfilmable, because I haven't seen it yet in the still-running series. There's a nice bit of line art animation (made me think of the Hubleys) of the cathedral in the opening credits and this could have been a nice touch as an exposition of the building plans as the architect describes it to the prior. As it stands, the overarching character of the piece, the great cathedral, is an afterthought to the blood and gore.

So how to film the backstory of well-drawn characters from a novel? There must be a way.

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