Archive for 16 February 2014

Review – Winter’s Tale

Winter's Tale The MovieAfter seeing the trailer that “Winter’s Tale” by Mark Helprin has become a movie, I got goose bumps from watching the scenes that I read as a teenager in the early 1980’s. Alas, I saw the movie and it was a disappointment. The novel itself might be “unfilmable,” a special category that “The Lord of The Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien had for many years until Peter Jackson brought it to life in three movies, as two-thirds of the novel was left out of this movie adaptation.

The novel was about the turn of the century (1899-1900) and the coming of the millennium (1999-2000), the struggles between good and evil, love and death, past and future, and the city of justice known as New York City. A host of different characters occupies each time period, a few transcended both time periods, and several were immortal.

The first thing the movie does was toss out the coming of the millennium theme. Since the real-life millennium came and went without a herald of angels proclaiming the second coming of Christ, and even the Y2K computer disaster went out with whimper, it’s understandable that the movie would shift the timeline forward to 1916 and 2014.

Without the millennium being the implicit theme for good and evil, the film had the devil (Will Smith) in a Jimmie Hendrix t-shirt and the villain, Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), being the demonic mastermind of a criminal enterprise. Their job is to prevent miracles from happening in New York City in general, and by Peter Lake (Collin Farrell) in particular. This explicit “angels and demons” theme was a somewhat unnecessary distraction.

The movie focuses on the brief and tragic romance between Peter Lake and Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay) as star-crossed lovers from opposite ends of society. He’s a thief who got caught cracking her father’s safe and she’s the dying daughter of a newspaper magnate. All scenes concerning these two were faithful to the novel for the most part, enough so that I broke out in goose bumps and/or tears.

The latter half of the movie where Peter find himself in present day New York City goes by in a star-sparkled flash, which this movie has too many as a nod to the “city of light” theme from the novel, rushing to the final battle between good and evil that the miracle Peter does perform in bringing the dead back to life is almost an afterthought.

The script fell short of expectations from having read the novel despite the superb acting of a talented cast. A faithful adaptation would have required a longer movie—perhaps a trilogy of movies—to capture the sweeping themes and the characters from the rest of the novel. Since I can’t separate myself from the novel, I’m not sure how the movie would work for someone who has never read the novel.

“Winter’s Tale” Becomes A Movie

After I graduated from the eighth grade, I spent three months in the ninth grade and three days in the tenth grade. The first time I quit high school was from being overweight, high blood pressure and ulcers, as going to school was too stressful and killing me. The second time I quit high school was when the guidance counselor tried to enroll back into the special ed classes—the school got three times more funding for each special ed student—in exchange for a locker to store my 30 pounds of textbooks, which I dumped on her desk and walked out. I became a shut in during my high school years. My only link to the outside world was public television, magazines, newspapers and books.

During those pre-Internet days, the book review section of the San Jose Mercury News was four to six pages long. I read each review with great interest. If I found a book that I wanted to read, I cut out the review and handed it to my mother to take to Crown Books (a discount bookstore chain). Since I came from a family of non-readers, my mother would give the review to a clerk to find and ring up the book for her.

One such book was “Winter’s Tale” by Mark Helprin about a magical and wondrous New York City at the turn of century, 1899-1900 and 1999-2000. Peter Lake runs away from the gang he betrayed and escapes on a magical white horse, finds the love of his life while burgling a mansion, and gets hurled into the apocalyptic future as the millennium comes to an end.

My favorite scene came from the latter half of the novel.

After the father of a prominent San Francisco family passed away, his two sons are sitting in front of the attorney’s desk for the reading of the will. The city is waiting with anticipation to see how the estate would get divided. The responsible brother was given the choice of accepting magnificent wealth or a silver platter. The responsible brother laughed, recognizing his father’s sense humor while the irresponsible brother squirmed in the chair next to him. He takes the silver platter without hesitation, stunning both his brother and the city. With only the clothes on his back and a backpack to carry the silver platter, he’s hitchhike across the United States to New York City.

That scene became somewhat symbolic of what happened after my father passed away two years ago. My brother took possession of the truck and tools, I took possession of the paperwork. Having previously owned my father’s old car and spent five years figuring out every little repair job he did that I had to professionally fix, I’m familiar with the expensive heartache that the truck brings to my brother. From unraveling the paperwork like a treasure map, it was scary to see how much my father and I think alike.

A few weeks ago I saw the trailer for “Winter’s Tale” without knowing that it got made into a movie. A white horse walking into New York City, a man running away from a gang. I got goose bumps from watching the trailer before the movie title was ever presented. I’m rarely excited about seeing any movie these days, staying away from the hype and keeping my expectations low. This movie I’m looking forward to seeing in a few weeks.

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