Saturday 8 February 2020

Some recent screen productions

TV - The War of the Worlds (2019)

This BBC production of Wells's classic novel takes considerable liberties with the plot (if you really don't know it, I reviewed the book – and its recent sequel – in February 2018). First of all, the main character is a scientifically-educated woman (Eleanor Tomlinson in an impressive performance) who doesn't even exist in the book: in this world she is the girlfriend of the main character in the book who scandalously has abandoned his wife.  Secondly, the progress of the Martian invasion is spread out over a longer period and although it ends in a similar way, the after-effects last for years as the noxious red weed keeps spreading and killing off other crops, leaving a devastated landscape with few survivors.

The whole mood of the TV version is much more dark and downbeat than the book, with a high casualty rate among the main characters and the final setting deeply dystopian until a glimmer of hope is visible at the very end. The pace is quite slow, lingering over the people's (mostly negative) emotions, and it becomes something of a psychodrama. There is also an explicit reference to colonialism; that the Brits maybe deserved what they were getting, because it was more or less what they had been dealing out to the natives in their empire.

Having said that, it is a high-quality, atmospheric production with a top-level cast and is worth watching – once. Too gloomy for a repeat view in the foreseeable future.


TV - His Dark Materials (2019)

This 8-part TV version of Pullman's His Dark Materials covers the first book of the trilogy, with the second series already commissioned. I have read the trilogy and seen the previous movie version of Vol.1 (The Golden Compass, 2007), but so long ago that I only had a vague recollection of events so can't draw direct comparisons.

One thing that did strike me straight away was that the introductory sequence is strongly reminiscent of the Game of Thrones TV series, in term of the music and the style of graphics. Perhaps an indication of what the producers are aiming for? Certainly the "eight hours per volume" (so presumably 24 hours for the trilogy) should provide ample time to explore the story and develop the characters, compared with the two hours of the movie version.

The other aspect I noticed was the choice of actors playing some of the main characters. The one clear memory of the film version I took away was that Nicole Kidman was perfectly cast as the beautiful but evil Mrs Coulter. This part is now played by Ruth Wilson, who is a highly-regarded actress but lacks the icy perfection of Kidman. The other is that the main character, Lyra Belacqua, initially came across as the kind of tiresome brat who I would avoid in real life. Fortunately, her character developed during the series, which was interesting enough for me to pursue. It kept on getting better so it was no problem to stick with it to the end, by which time I was eager to see the adaptation of the next volume.  What made me like it? The production values are excellent; this is a very high quality product in all respects; the acting is of a high standard; and the generous time allowance provided lots of scope for plot as well as character development.

I do hope that the producers don't fall into the trap of extending the story with indefinite sequels. A total of 24 episodes for all three volumes sounds just about manageable.


Blade Runner 2049 (2018)

I decided to watch Blade Runner 2049, which I've had on Blu-Ray for some time. It lasted for over 2.5 hours and is relatively slow-paced for an action movie but despite this it held my attention to the end, which tells you something about its quality. While it lacks the raw originality of Bladerunner, it is a truly beautiful production, a work of art and an instant classic. Definitely one to keep - even at that length!


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