Thursday, January 24, 2013

Review: 1984 (1984 version)

Though it's a solid translation from text to screen, the 1984 film version of Orwell's 1984 is really only worth seeing for two reasons: John Hurt and Richard Burton.

I say this because nothing in the film is more effective than (or even an impressively-accurate realization of) anything in the book—and much of the best stuff from the book is missing or only hinted at in the film.

In short, if you have interest in the film but you've never read the book, then what the hell is up with that. Seriously, read the book first. I know people say that all the time about movies based on books, but this is Nineteen Frickin' Eighty-Four. I feel so strongly about this that the rest of this review is going to be spoiler-free, which I don't usually bother to worry about.

First off, the things about the movie that were dead-on:

  • The grime. 1984 was actually shot in some of the more urban-decay-y areas of London, including places mentioned in the book decades earlier—a fact that is as depressing as anything in the story.

  • John Hurt IS Winston Smith. Before I saw this, I'd read the book probably four or five times, and I'd always imagined Orwell's face on the character of Winston. It immediately switched to Hurt's in subsequent readings. I suppose it helps that Hurt has Orwell's haircut here.

  • The Room 101 scenes. No spoilers, but...yeah, pretty exactly right (though understandably abridged).

    And the major ways the movie didn't quite nail it:

  • Newspeak. I don't see how any film could really make this work, though.

  • Goldstein's book. See above. Some may dismiss this segment of the original novel as an awkwardly tacked-on polemic, but I always liked it, and felt its absence.

  • O'Brien. Burton's performance (his last) is commanding, to be sure, but a little more detached and almost somnolent than I read the character to be in the novel. He's definitely not affectionate enough...unless the affection suggested in the book is Smith's perspective, i.e. he's more of an unreliable narrator than I realized.

    I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that 1984 is my favorite book. I therefore probably share with many Tolkien fanatics a sense of ambivalence toward the filmed version of our respectively beloved literary works. But you'd have to be a pretty far-gone Tolkien nut to seriously insist that anybody interested in seeing Peter Jackson's films MUST read the books first. Conversely, I do insist that anybody interested in seeing this film MUST read the book first. Otherwise you won't fully understand what people mean when they call things "Orwellian."

    Star Score: 3 out of  4  5

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