Update of Dickens novel goes beyond Expectations



Alysa Slocum

Staff Writer

The vast majority of us know that life has as many climbs and dips as a theme park roller-coaster. Once strapped into the seat, it becomes pretty hard to avoid the rise and fall of the ride. Once it comes to a halt, though, one may realize that some of expectations were unfulfilled in some way or other.

The great Charles Dickens was one who took it upon himself to reveal a little about life and its round-about manner when he wrote his classic novel, Great Expectations.

First turned into a film classic in 1946 by David Lean, the novel has been born again courtesy of 20th Century Fox, producer Art Linson and director Alfonso Cuarón.

Loosely based on the novel, Great Expectations tells the tale of a boy growing into a young man with dreams and aspirations that will be tested by reality and three individuals.

Most people, especially those who were in honors courses, may recall having to read Dickens' novel while in high school.

The majority of those know it to be an enjoyable novel, even though some details were just a bit sleep-worthy.

Knowing the novel and the style in which it was written may help one to understand the difficulty of transposing the novel's tale into a contemporary film without losing its grit.

Some may say that if Lean could make the novel into a film back in the '40s, then it should be even easier to do in the '90s.

However, it is never easy to take a treasured classic and time-warp it into the future. The outcome could itself turn out to be warped.

Still fresh in many minds is the 1997 film remake of William Shakespeare's classic, Romeo and Juliet, which turned out to be a classic all its own. So, many may venture to the theater with great expectations that this newest remake of a classic will be as word for word as Romeo and Juliet had been.

That expectation will go unfulfilled.

This version holds its own with a tale that moves freely on the screen and is palpable to the minds of all movie-goers, not just Dickens followers.

Viewing the film does show that producer Linson's choice to have Mexican director Cuarón direct this interpretation was a good one indeed.

Cuarón gained top recognition with two previous films, the critically acclaimed A Little Princess, his American directing debut, and the more controversial Love in the Time of Hysteria, a Mexican comedy about AIDS that turned Hollywood's attention towards the talent that lay across the border.

Great Expectations should earn Cuarón more respect within the domains of Hollywood and the world.

Mitch Glazer, who wrote the film's screenplay, may have changed some names, and the words, too, but the conflict between the aristocracy and the working class remains part of the tale.

If one really appreciates Dickens' classic, he will be able to appreciate this modern take. Although it may not follow the words, the film still follows the feelings, emotions and underlying meanings that made the novel so great.

The principle actors are well worthy of that $6.50, $4.50 for matinee or student, movie ticket. Ethan Hawke, who set himself as an actor in such films as Dead Poet's Society and Reality Bites, does a good job with the Pip-like character Finnegan Bell. However, something did seem lacking in his performance. Finn seemed far too gullible before venturing to New York City, but then again, he didn't seem to have much of a childhood besides Estella and her aunt.

The awards really go to Hawke's fellow actors, Gwyneth Paltrow, Robert De Niro and Anne Bancroft.

Paltrow takes on the role of Estella, the cold-hearted niece of the loony Ms. Dinsmoor, who leads the poor, dimwitted Finn into falling head-over-heels for Estella. Paltrow's performance is excellent, and her wardrobe, once in NYC, is killer.

De Niro, a two-time Academy Award winner, brings to life Lustig, the terrifying convict who is imprisoned and later shows up "coincidentally" in New York. Although his role was not ongoing throughout the film, De Niro did what only the best of the best can do - make the character count.

The Oscar-winning Bancroft delivers a sensational Ms. Dinsmoor, a wealthy and bitter (she was left standing at the altar 30 years earlier) woman who stays cooped up in her mansion listening to different versions of Consuelo Velazquez's song, "Bésame Mucho." Her character alone provides enough incentive to see the movie.

Speaking of music, the Atlantic Records soundtrack would be a nice addition to one's collection. Tori Amos' "Siren" is hauntingly beautiful, as most of her songs are, and other tracks by the Grateful Dead and The Verve Pipe make for great stereo play.

Just keep in mind when going to see Great Expectations, leave your expectations behind and your mind open to the pure Dickens basics.

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