Saturday, 30 January 2010

No.1 : The Road

I sometimes get annoyed when people saw they preferred the book to the film, as they invariably do. Some people say it to show how well read they are (‘Oh yes the novelisation of ‘The Transporter by Gore Vidal had far more depth’) but for the most part it’s said because it’s true. Of course it is, when you read a book you cast it in your brain and imagine the characters and visualise the events. In a film some director does it for you, and how can that ever match your imagination? The exceptions to the rule are films like ‘The Music of Chance’ which was a great book but also a great film, partly due to a fantastic cast and a respect bordering on reverence to the source material, which came through virtually intact.

‘The Road’ is a great book. It won a Pulitzer prize and was even showcased by Oprah’s book club. I read it in one sitting on a bumpy flight back from New York and have read it at least three times since. I like the attention to detail and the desperate situations of unimaginable hardship the father and son characters endure. There are many sequences where nothing much happens, such as the Dad changes a wheel on a supermarket trolley. This basic task is described over a full page and shows how the simplest of things have taken on the greatest significance and are so difficult to imagine to our privileged society.

The film of the book was always going to be a tough ask. A 400 page book takes a lot of condensing and inevitable scenes are lost - that supermarket trolley one for a start!

If you are new to all of this, the book and film follow a journey of an unnamed father and son character who are trekking across a ruined and desolate America to an uncertain future. The world is dying with the animals all gone and petrified trees crashing down all around. Their fellow survivors of the unspecified apocalypse are mostly robbers and cannibals and every step of their journey is fraught with danger. Not a lot happens as such, but as the journey progresses we realise their trek is pointless and oblivion looms large.

The film stars Viggo Mortenson as the father and Kodi Smit McPhee as the boy, two good actors who didn’t quite live up to my own thoughts on the characters. Viggo for a start is too familiar. You never get the sense of a desperate everyman, more ‘look there Aragon wearing a dirty puffa jacket’!. The boy looks a bit too well fed and too ‘stage school’ for my liking. He does OK but I had the Boy down as a stick thin waif not this chubby brute who practically sweated pies! The cast is filled out by the likes of Robert Duvall, Guy Pearce and Omar off ‘The Wire’ each of whom seemed to stick out like a sore thumb then they showed up. These ‘star cameos’ do nothing but lift you out of the calamitous world and set you thinking ‘what was that thing he was in again?’

The film also features Chalize Theron as the mother of the boy, whom we see in flashback. In the book she merits a couple of pages, but in the film she appears in Viggo’s dreams every five minutes and kind of invades the two person dynamic.

My main problems as a devotee of the book was the amount of stuff missed out, condensed or abridged - where was the baby on the fire or the head in the cake dome? Where was ’trolley fixing hour’? or the apples and morel feasts? or even the march of the catamites? Clearly you can’t have everything but what we got was so disjointed that it was almost like ’scenes from the hit book!’. For example in the book they scavenge and forage for weeks for scraps and then one day they find an abandoned fall out shelter and they see real food for the first time in years and the joy pours off the page. In the film they go ten minutes without a meal and then it’s banquet time. It just felt totally unearned.

Overall the film is a good effort and if I’d seen it in isolation I’d probably have quite enjoyed it but as it was it seemed a bit rushed and insubstantial. The world didn’t look too bad and nor did the people. If this is to be the end of the world I don’t think it’ll be as bad as we may have been lead to believe.

THE Tag Line : A Road Best Not Travelled - 63%

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