‘Unfilmable Novels’ – Two Quick Reviews

When an adaptation of a beloved book is first announced, amongst the clamour of the novel’s fans wishing for certain casting and the detractors aggressively not caring, there is often a cry that said book is ‘unfilmable’. It happened with Lord of the Rings, it happened with Watchmen and more recently it has happened with Yann Martel’s Life of Pi and David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Having watched both films, I can safely say that they most certainly are ‘filmable’ (albeit to differing degrees of success) and that, as I prefer to judge a film on its own merit rather than on its faithfulness to source material, no other mentions will be made to the books.

Life of Pi – I went to see Life of Pi in 3D, which is a rarity for me as I already wear glasses and the ‘6 eyed’ 3D experience is often rather uncomfortable for me. Anyway, I am very glad that I did, as LOP’s use of the added dimension is far removed from most films’ urges to throw stuff at your face, genuinely enhancing what is already on screen rather than turning the movie into a gimmick, and what is already on screen is never anything short of stunning. Ang Lee’s work is genuinely a step forward for the medium of cinema, in purely technical terms. The effects are gorgeous (every penny spent on the production feels visible on screen), both hyper-real (the animals are often difficult to tell apart from a real-life counterpart) and artistic, with a sunset looking like a painting being a standout image. This miraculous visual trickery helps Lee and his team present magic realism in a way that I have never seen before and it is wonderfully captivating. The rest of the films parts are not quite as strong, but are still more than enough, with Suraj Sharma doing exceptionally well, especially when one considers the circumstances under which he is acting – it is his first film role and he is more often than not acting against nothing but his set and a, presumably, imaginary tiger. The ending is rather frustrating (and the whole framing of the film by Pi as an adult could have easily been cut), but overall I cannot say that Life of Pi is anything other than a must-see. 5/5

Cloud Atlas – From its first trailer, it has been obvious that the Wachowski siblings’ Cloud Atlas is a hugely ambitious film, which in itself cannot really be faulted. However, the desire for their film to achieve something possibly out of the reach of movies actually hamstrings the thing as a whole. Cutting between six separate stories set in varying time periods and locations around the world, from 1840s Pacific Islands to post-apocalyptic Hawaii, visiting England in the 30s, dystopian Korea and more along the way, the message seems to be about shared human experience, as evidenced by the repeating birthmarks and, far more notably, actors. Each of the major actors (and it is a starry cast with Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Sturgess, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant and others)  plays a role in each area of the plot and it is here where Cloud Atlas slightly falls down. The actors have to heavily change appearance to fit in with each story and whilst it occasionally works I found it often terrible to the point of distraction. At one point Hugh Grant is horrifically aged with very visible prosthetics (not even close to Lincoln’s stellar make-up work) whilst Hugo Weaving and Ben Whishaw have to change genders to genuinely startling effect. However, all of this pales in comparison to Tom Hanks doing a British accent that makes Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood look  superb. In the space of roughly 5 minutes he hits Scotland, Ireland, the Midlands and London, typifying the problems caused by not getting ethnically/gender correct actors in each role. The action is half-decent (this is a surprisingly violent film) and it is certainly interesting enough to warrant a DVD rental but at almost 3 hours, the poor directorial decisions really shine through, making Cloud Atlas a frustrating watch. 2/5

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