Monday, November 10, 2014

Movie Monday: The Magnificent Ambersons

The Magnificent Ambersons
When opportunity arises, I feature Movie Monday. I recognize few people have the time or desire to read the amount I do, especially when it comes to the 100 Best Novels list. Luckily, Hollywood loves adapting a classic and I love a good story in any form.

Thus far, The Magnificent Ambersons is one of my favorite books that I have discovered through the Modern Library list. The Pulitzer winner captures the story of the Amberson family downfall, centered around the spoiled heir George Amberson Minafer. 

I did a post about the original Orson Welles adaptation about this time last year. Actually, in a weird and unintentional turn of events, I reviewed that movie one year again tomorrow. Total coincidence and probably of no interest to anyone except me. Haha.  

This TV movie adaptation from 2002 was based on the original screenplay Welles had wanted to use but was cut down by the studio. All of my complaints with the original were assuaged by this rendition. The story is told pretty much in full and captures the essence of the book much better.

From the very first scene, the casting is impeccable. Each part lead seems perfectly cast with semi-recognizable faces. Best of all, Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays George. He captures the attitude of the lead character so well. Of course, the same can be said for all of the leads. Their acting, along with this script, explores the relationships so much more effectively than Welles' original work. In this movie, the subtleties and complexities of each relationship were much more evident. 

I liked how the director chose to portray the letters written between characters. The characters' faces are shown in tight shots and the writer is speaking as if to the camera, interspersed with shots of the recipient's listening face. Written (and not digital) content has forever been a difficult thing to portary effectively on screen and I thought it was handled well here. 

A few critiques: first of all, the scene in which George was born was completely gross. For a movie with such elegant and resplendent details, I was not expecting a childbirth scene quite that, uh, yuck. Also, and much more importantly, this new adaptation changes the ending! As I was watching the end, fully contemplating for the first time the irony that George is killed by a car, the very thing that brought his family and his relationship with Lucy down as well, he suddenly is in the hospital on the road to recovery! I am not at all a fan of big changes such as this, particularly when they change the message and point of the story. I realize this ending is much happier, but I felt it simply didn't fit, especially when the rest of the film remains so true to the book. 

If you've read the book, I think you'll enjoy the movie. If you are completely unfamiliar with the story or Booth Tarkington's work, then I don't know that I'd necessarily recommend the movie. It is a wonderful portrayal of the story, but unless you're into that specific genre of film, I'd probably steer clear. Still, if you do like this genre or this story, I would definitely recommend this adaptation over Welles' original. 

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