Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Winter's Tale

I just finished reading Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale for the second time. It's one of those magical books, like Charles de Lint's The Little Country or Keith Donohue's The Stolen Child, that represent the kind of fanciful work that form the cornerstones of my new life. They are examples of beauty and wonder that Tara's influence instilled in me and continues to guide my path.

So it is with some trepidation that I consider the home video release of the movie version of this much-beloved work, starring Colin Firth and Downton Abbey's Jessica Brown Findlay, along with A Beautiful Mind alums Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly. I missed this movie in theaters last year, partly because I wanted to finish re-reading the book first, and I'm glad I did. This is one of the densest, most evocative books I've ever read, and challenges even my prodigious vocabulary to the limit. So the second reading was much more enjoyable than the first time I slogged through it several years ago.

The movie has gotten really awful reviews from critics, and many negative reviews from viewers as well. Liz told me that the word is that the movie ran out of budget and had to be wrapped up hastily, which might account for plotlines being dropped. For a time, I had despaired that I should even try to watch the movie at all, since I would rather not witness this magical story sullied by a poorly executed adaptation.

However, I've been reading the Amazon product page for the Blu Ray of the movie, and the reviews are surprisingly skewed to the positive, with 57 five-star and 21 four-star reviews to just 16 one-star and 5 two-star reviews. And reading some of the positive reviews, I wonder if this is one of those movies that simply got trampled by a mob mentality of negativity.

For example:

I'm not sure why this movie did so poorly in theaters -- bad release timing? critics who came in expecting one thing and got another? -- but it's far more enjoyable than Rotten Tomatoes might lead one to believe. It was hyped as a romance, which it is, but it's more about the power of love in general across generations and how we don't always get the miracles we want, but we sometimes get miracles nonetheless. The performances are moving and the visuals are beautiful. - Michelle Erica Green

Keep in mind, this film is predominantly about Love. Capital L. Love in the highest sense of the word.
Not only the romance that occurs between the two leading characters.
There's more than meets the eye if you look closer. Nothing is without meaning.

Some films may be read like poetry - the smallest nuance being as vital to the whole
as what's blazing on the surface. This one has "layers" of stories within the story.
Some are obvious: the slips and bends of time, the impact of historic places, crossed destinies,
good versus evil, mystery over certainty, the universal longing for love in a world where death
should not triumph. Other aspects are far more secretive and delicate, better left to
individual interpretation.

A person biased against poetry will miss the treasure of the most exquisite poem.
The fault-finding critic will relentlessly find something to pick apart, be it in movie or book.
The particular audience this movie appeals to, the open-hearted viewer, will find
the light and beauty within ~ no matter what anyone else says or doesn't say. 

A touching, deeply memorable film. - Harmony C. Adkins

In a comment to her original review, Ms. Adkins also writes:

Like any movie, it's not for everyone. Even director Akiva Goldsman, in an interview with Vanity Fair, said 17-year-olds would leave the cinema saying "What was that?" Basically, the more you've lived, the more people you've loved & lost, the more thoughtful your perspective, the deeper your emotional experience of life, the more likely you are to find something meaningful in it. 

So given all this, I've reconsidered avoiding the movie and I'm going to give it a try. I'll invite friends to see it with me because I know I have some friends who feel the same way about such works. I have no illusions that it will be a perfect movie, but given all the negative reviews, I just want to approach it with an open mind and an open heart. I have no expectations, but my hope is that I become one of those five-star reviewers who falls under its spell and becomes so captivated by the movie that they feel the need to contradict its many naysayers.