by Jim Wunderle
Directed by: Alfonso Cuaron
Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Ethan Hawke, Anne Bancroft, Robert DeNiro
The new version of "Great Expectations" is no less than the fifth screen adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic. Director Alfonso Cuaron made a brave decision tackling this piece, considering David Lean's 1946 film is considered to be one of the greatest movies ever made.
But Cuaron reworks the tale quite a bit to update it for the '90s. It's not as radical as the makeover Shakespeare received in 1996's "Romeo + Juliet," but enough of a change to upset some who maintain an unswerving reverence for the classics.
Pip is now Finn, the setting is the Florida Gulf Coast rather than the English moors, and one of the most important scenes takes place on a New York City subway instead of an English prison.
Enough similarities remain that the filmmakers had to acknowledge Dickens, but Cuaron's sumptuous visual style, as well as Mitch Glazer's screenplay, will allow this "Great Expectations" to stand on its own merits. As for some of the seemingly implausible plot devices, I choose to forgive and prefer to look at this story as a parable. Finn, himself, establishes this in the opening of the film when he says, "I'm not going to tell you the story as it happened. I'm going to tell it the way I remember."
The young Finn, out for a boat ride, encounters an escaped convict who forces the kid to help him make his getaway. It's a terrifying experience for Finn and one that will haunt him throughout his life.
Shortly after this episode, he's summoned to the decaying estate of Ms. Nora Dinsmoor, the richest, and weirdest, woman on the Gulf. Ms. Dinsmoor is willing to pay Finn to come by each Sunday and entertain her and her niece, Estella.
Finn is quite smitten with the beautiful, but cold as ice Estella, and we get the feeling that Ms. Dinsmoor, who was jilted at the altar and driven mad, is not only schooling her niece in the ways of cruelty, but orchestrating a rather heartless scenario for Finn. As the years pass and Estella has long since gone abroad to study Finn is offered a chance to move to New York to pursue his artistic endeavors. All expenses will be paid by an unnamed benefactor, obviously, we believe, Ms. Dinsmoor.
Finn goes, becomes a success and eventually is reunited with Estella. What follows is a truly sad love story and also a tale about how one deals with where he's come from and who he really is.
Gwyneth Paltrow, as the adult Estella, is perfect as the object of Finn's desire. She is ultimately as sensual as she is unattainable. There are a few, very brief scenes wherein Finn is allowed to paint Estella in the nude, but the eroticism of the film is handled tastefully, poignantly and effectively. As a lot of mature viewers already know, most of the steamiest moments in a good film occur while the people involved are fully clothed.
To be fair, I have to admit I sidestepped reading a great number of classics when I was in high school (hey, it was the '60s, and besides, I've been catching up) and I have not seen any of the other film versions of this story. A lot of the plot surprises I enjoyed may not be as effective for those familiar with the work.
That said, I enjoyed "Great Expectations" as a thought-provoking tale and a great love story.
On another subject, in the "old" days, before VCRs, computers and video games, before TVs were the ubiquitous appliances they are today, the movie theater was the place to go for an evening of entertainment.
Newsreels, cartoons and double features were the order of the day, and live entertainment, product giveaways (ask someone who was around back then about things like "Dish Night") and contests were common, as well.
More recently, Dickinson's North Town Theatre won several national awards for its promotions, mostly for Disney movies. And now, Wehrenberg's Campbell 16 Cine is carrying on the tradition. For the Feb. 6 opening of "Blues Brothers 2000," it's featuring a big bash that includes live performances by Delta Flood, a young Springfield blues band, and a trivia contest with prizes. Hats off to showmanship.
(Jim Wunderle works at Associated Video Producers and is a Springfield free-lance writer and musician.)
Director Alfonso Cuaron reworks the Dickens tale quite a bit to update it
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