Why don’t they make more movies out of literary classics?
One reason is because the vast majority of them are vastly overrated.
One good example is Anna Karenina, based on Tolstoy’s classic soap opera. Anna is married to a saintly (as she says so over and over again) national cabinet minister, with whom she’s in love with. So, it’s obvious, Tolstoy, who was a bit of a misogynist, will move to destroy this domestic bliss. So she falls in love with a beautiful moron with the title of Baron, and…you get the idea.
Tolstoy is famously wordy. This appears to be based on the Cliff Notes® version, and that is mostly a mean little story (or two, but they appear to have little to do with each other), so how to make it watchable? Staging?
The film takes place in a theater. Since this is a movie, the entire theater, from the rafters to the seats, are used. At first, this is a good idea; the camera angles and the stylized costuming distract us from the mostly boring story. The contrast between the lush costumes and scenery and the spartan, stylized space, and things like model trains going from St. Petersburg to Moscow, but then sometime in the middle, one of the characters walks out into a field, and the illusion falls apart. The illusion that we’re watching a play is shattered, and it turns into a regular movie, and then we discover that the only reason this is considered a classic is that it was written by Tolstoy, not on it’s own merits.
The problem with a film like this is that people come for the story and not the visuals. This isn’t always the case, Avatar was a huge hit and had one of the worst scripts of the decade. But in this case, it’s literary film all about the writing, and if the writing fails, then the whole ting falls apart.
The fact that it’s having a very limited release won’t be any help either, as this sort of thing is going to be decided by word of mouth of the literati. It’s going to be a massive flop.
Another literary adaptation that isn’t doing all that well is Life of Pi, which is a much, much better film.
They said Life of Pi was unfilmable. Clearly it is. . The reason is CGI animation. Many of the backgrounds and all the animals are computer generated, creating a wonder-filled sea and a carnivorous island. The magically realist story is brought completely to life by Ang Lee and his team of animators. The technology is now fully capable, and the visuals add greatly to the storytelling.
The acting is professional. No one gives a poor, or even mediocre performance and before the it turns into a literal cartoon, it more than holds one’s attention, but then the ship sinks and the Pi() begins to play second fiddle to the CGI characters. It’s one guy in front of a green screen all by his little self. Armed only with Tom Stoppard’s script and Ang Lee’s direction. The whole thing works, so why isn’t it doing better? 007 and Vampires, as Parents were all at the stores buying gifts, as their kids go off to the movies so they don’t act as a drag on mom and dad.
This may be one of those years that the Oscars will go to film s that few before their nominated, and Classic books and recent best sellers will get the short shrift.