Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Perils of Adaptation

Adapting a great work of literature for the screen is a daunting task. It is very rare to find an adaptation outdoing the original work.I came across one adaptation that was ambitious yet a tad pitiful.I have always maintained that Dostoyevsky's 'Crime and Punishment' (or for that matter any work of Dostoyevsky's) is a nightmare in the context of adaptation.

To start with, one would need an actor with tremendous stamina and acting prowess to play Raskolnikov, the protagonist who wavers between sanity and guilt. Next, one would require a reverent screenwriter who is capable of constructing a screenplay that is accurate,insightful and in line with Dostoyevsky's original vision. One would also need scrupulous attention in the department of art direction and cinematography to recreate 19th century Russia as seen through the eyes of the writer and the protagonist.

Menahem Golan's modern day adaptation of 'Crime and Punishment' falls just short of all the above.It took me a while to figure out that it was a modern day adaptation, because the actors seemed to be under the impression that they were in 19th century Russia. The dialog is shifty and inconsistent. It swings between 19th century propriety and 21st century debauchery, peppered with phrases like 'I kicked his a**' and 'Oh mother I love you so'.

Crispin Glover's Raskolnikov is more like a psychotic slacker than the benevolent yet neurotic intellectual that readers love. I was disappointed in the way Raskolnikov's character was handled. He is portrayed as chatty and confrontational as opposed to the introvert stricken with guilt and illness.Vanessa Redgrave, who plays the protagonist's mother, puts a little too much class in her portrayal of the slightly boorish Mrs. Raskolnikov.The supporting cast, all except for John Hurt, make very little of an impression. There are a flurry of American and English accents. The only elements of Russian life are the names of the characters and the costumes worn by the priests and members of the police force.A viewer who hasn't read the book is bound to feel cheated enough to censure Dostoyevsky's body of work.

I was a little hesitant to write this entry as I am still appreciative of the intention behind the film, but as it turns out I'm not alone in my opinion.On the bright side,I am left with nothing but awe for the complexity of Dostoyevsky's work. Here's something that cannot be tainted or twisted by any amount of 'Hollywood tweaking'.

ps: I picked the minimal white template for readers who care more for content than for color.

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