Monday, 18 May 2009

The cave of swimmers

The English Patient is one of my favourite books. It is one of only a handful of books I have read multiple times. It is one of the few books that I like to see on my shelves. It is also a good example of where a film and a book compliment each other. I write this because the night before last we sat down and re watched the film for the first time in a long time and found it to be a rewarding experience.

I know one should be instinctively suspicious of a film with a stellar cast and 9 Oscar wins but this an exception to that rule. With the benefit of having read the book many times and not seen the film in a long time I was able to see subtleties in the performances of Fiennes and Scott Thomas that were not immediately obvious first time around. In adapting the story to the film I also enjoyed the counterweight provided by Hanna & Kip’s story to that of Almasy & Katherine’s. Like the book, the film does stand up to repeated viewing. I must also confess that I liked the circular nature of the film beginning as it does at the end and then setting off around again to reveal the many facets of its story.

It is also good to bring up the merits of this film and the book it derives from as we were at the movies this week to see the franchise reboot of Star Trek. First of all the good news: It is a silly romp through a culturally familiar set up that will entertain if not overly analyzed. It also looks good. However the bad news is that some of the old bugs remain in the system: the plot requires a universe in mortal danger from an unstoppable enemy that can be resolved by our hero where all have been blown to smithereens. Why does the bad guy do it? What is his motivation? It in invariably of the "Milkman ran over my cat by accident and now I will destroy everything and everyone" variety. It just doesn’t warrant the destruction of the known universe. Therefore the actor doomed to play the bad guy is forced to go down the “I must finish my unfinished symphony” brand of absurd madness. This is the problem. We’ve seen it all before and no matter how deft the reboot these fundamental weaknesses remain.

When the movie finished we went and saw the Walt Disney and Western Art exhibition at the Tennispalatsi museum. It was there I found out that Peter Pan says “Second star on the left and straight on till morning.” I thought it was Jean Luc Picard of the star ship Enterprise. In fact it was Captain James Tiberius Kirk “Second star on the right and straight on till morning.” So franchise weaknesses apart it is at least nice to see some deft references to Walt Disney who was himself such a liberal referencer in his own works.

However if there is a choice between Star Trek, Peter Pan & the English Patient I hope you will find me with an old copy of Michael Ondaatje's book.

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