The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Tale of Two Movies

I'll confess at the start: I'm not much of a moviegoer. In any given year I probably go to a movie theater perhaps three or four times. As you might expect Dear Diane is quite the opposite and tries to convince me, usually unsuccessfully, to join her at the movies more often. Every once in a while I succumb. 

Recently, though, as an avid Tolkien fan, I decided I had to see part one of The Hobbit. I had thoroughly enjoyed the three Lord of the Rings films of a few years ago despite their inexplicable changes from Tolkien's trilogy. Why, for example, did the screenwriters decide to have Frodo succeed in his quest when Tolkien allowed him to fail? In the book Gollum and the ring fall to their destruction through what might be described as an act of God. 

And whatever happened to Tom Bombadil, perhaps the most mysterious, surprising and likable character in Tolkien's Middle Earth? I was looking forward to the films' depiction of this rhyming, walking enigma who seemed able to divorce himself from all the evil that surrounded him. All considered, though, the trilogy films were wonderful adaptations of the books.

Happily, Dear Diane agreed to accompany me to see The Hobbit, so we both sat through nearly three hours of amazing special effects, lots of action and suspense, and some fairly good acting. (I'm pretty sure it was only my second 3D movie since I saw Vincent Price's "House of Wax" back in the 1950s.) Once again, as a Tolkien purist I suppose I focused too much on the deviations from Tolkien's book. And I suspect the entire story could be compressed into two films instead of the planned three. But I enjoyed it nevertheless and will no doubt pay to view parts two and three when they're released.

Having sat through The Hobbit with me, Dear Diane asked me to accompany her and some friends to see Les Miserables, another almost three-hour film. I had read the book only once, back in 1961 at the command of my high school English teacher who was always assigning books that had been written originally in languages other than English. As I recall in addition to Hugo's Les Miserables, we read also Alessandro Manzoni's The Betrothed (I Promessi Sposi), and Sigrid Undset's trilogy, Kristin Lavransdatter -- all, of course, in translation. I think he threw in some Austen, Dickens, Hawthorne and Melville as well. Some I enjoyed immensely; others not so much. Les Miserables fell into the latter category probably because it seemed far too dark for my optimistic 17-year-old worldview. 

Time caused me to forget much of the plot and most of the characters of Les Miserables. After all, it's been over 50 years since I read the book and I never had my memory refreshed by seeing the musical. And so as I took my seat I approached the film with few preconceptions -- not quite tabula rasa, but close. If anything, my expectations were fairly low.

I will say only that this film is a magnificent production, perhaps the best film I have seen in years. Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway gave us truly remarkable performances. Despite what some critics have said, I thought Russell Crowe played a believable Javert, the policeman whose interior confusion over law, justice and mercy ultimately led to his self-destruction. Les Miserables is a wonderful story of crime, punishment, injustice, love, repentance, mercy, and redemption. If you see one film this year, make this the one.

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