Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Twist the night away

If you're like me, you spent many a day as a child watching family movies in front of the living room television.
It's those early life experiences that form your relationship with movies. Many of my favorite films are the same ones I watched while sitting on the carpet and eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with my brother. My mom or dad would sit on the couch, ready to answer my questions and comfort me if the movie took a sad or scary turn. The movies selected were always of good quality for what they were, and my brother and I would sit rapt while taking them in. These movies are like old family friends who remind me of the happy simple days of my childhood. There were the Disney classics, the golden age of hollywood staples, and of course, musicals. One of our favorites was Oliver! Because of the fun songs and the young protagonist, and the one and only Artful Dodger. (Has there ever been a more fantastic name for a literary character? It's an identity in itself!)

So when I heard that Roman Polanski was directing a big screen adaptation of Charles Dickens' much-loved and much-adapted book, I was wary. Then I heard Ben Kingsley was cast as Fagin, so I began to hope. I was not disappointed.
Polanski's devotion to set design, costume design and casting brings Dickens' story to life in a way that delights the senses. The worlds of the underbelly of London- the orphanage, Fagin's lair, etc.- are perfectly gritty and grimy in all the right ways. They stand in stark contrast to the elegance of the Brownlows, as they should. The income gap is half the story. Much of the design was inspired by engravings of old London, and the ste was so large Polanski rode a scooter to get around in it.

Polanski also explicitly made this movie for his children to enjoy. It holds close to the plot of the book and doesn't spare much of the violence, but it is still incredibly entertaining and family-friendly. While it may be disturbing to them, it's important for kids to know that many children had- and still have- to endure life on the streets. It lets them know how lucky they are. And seeing as though Polanski himself had to make his way without his parents during WWII, there is no sugar coating. This flm is a little darker than most adaptations, but not unecessarily so.
The acting is good, not a weak link in the cast and it's all very believable, and yet it still has that storybook quality. The bad guys are bad, the good guys are good, Fagin is both creepy and endearing, and all the poor people doing what they have to get by have hearts of gold.

In short, this movie was everything I wanted it to be and nothing I didn't want it to be. It didn't try to re-invent the wheel. Much like The Lord of The Rings trilogy, it built on our collective idea of what the characters looked like and sounded like, influenced by- but not stealing from- the adaptations that preceeded it. Yet, it was it's own film, it can easily stand on its own. It was panned by critics as merely satisfactory. I disagree. Did we really want a big re-booted Oliver Twist? No! Dickens is one of those authors that so clearly creates characters that have a life of their own. We know what they look like, sound like and act like, and they belong to all of us. You need to let them shine through, you can't go wrapping them up in your own ideas or it's going to spoil it for everyone.
Watch this movie and get in touch with your inner child, or your real child. It has all the makings of a classic.

-- Noel
Sent from my T-Mobile Sidekick®

No comments: