The Shipping News (2002)
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After taking a look at the first batch of dailies, Blanchette tries to back out of the deal!
The Shipping News represents alot of things to me. First of all it is without a close second the most excited I've ever been about a film. Secondly it represents the most disappointed I've ever been about a film - a disappointment that bordered on psychosis. Why was I so excited? Well The Shipping News, the Pulitzer prize winning novel written by Annie Proulx, is in my top five books that I've ever read and I read alot.
And why not be excited? The film was to be directed by Lasse Hallstrom, who only a year prior had turned a book that is in my top 25 - Cider House Rules and did what so few have been able to do satisfactorily - take a John Irving novel and make a good movie out of it. For someone who's read Cider House well over 20 times it was far from perfect, but a worthy Oscar Nominee, Hallstrom had finally done it.
(In all fairness, at this juncture I should point out that the combination of director George Roy Hill and screenwriter Steve Tesich did a very good job of bringing The World According to Garp to the screen. Yet aside from these two winners - translating Irving's work to the screen has not only been problematic, but it's also a the subject of an entire novel written by Irving. Irving's greatest novel A Prayer For Owen Meany wound up as Simon Birch and bore little resemblance to the book even though a few notable performances made it a watchable film, despite only a scant resemblance to the novel.
I'm getting to the point, trust me. Which is that upon hearing that they were planning on making a film based upon the best book written since 1978 was exciting, yet I couldn't help but feel the panic of apprehension. I've read the Shipping News between 20 and 25 times and being a writer myself it would sometimes cross my mind if a book such as the Shipping News could be written into a movie and the answer was always swift and decisive - hell no. This is a book that hides it's enormous heart between the lines, and there would just be way too much story to possibly do it any kind of justice.
Alas my hopes were immeasurably buoyed when I learned of the cast they'd assembled Quoyle the protagonist and sometime narrator of the story was to be tackled by Kevin Spacey in the lead, Julianne Moore as his love-interest Wavey, Cate Blanchette as Quoyle's nightmarish ex-wife Petal. And the supporting players were allstars in their own right and seemingly perfect for their respective roles Judi Dench, Pete Postlethwaite, Rhys Ifans. Is it possible to make The Shipping News and not turn it into a disaster on par with the Exxon Valdez?
I followed the shoot and production for signs either positive or negative - and the most encouraging bit of news was that Proulx herself had seen a rough cut of the film and had given it an enthusiastic thumbs up - this news I got from Kevin Spacey on Letterman. To give you an idea how much all this meant to me - it would be about the equivalent of a Packers fan getting the nod to quarterback after Favre suffered and injury and you step in and masterfully orchestrate a two-minute drive and dive over the end zone yourself as the clock expires. This is how much seeing this film come to the screen in a form that would allow me to share this love of mine with the entire world.
Goodness how I worried. There's just too much story to tell in two hours. I imagined their strategy would be to concentrate on the more salient aspects that involved the main characters and leave the side-stories to color things up here and there as they bumped into the main gist. It seemed like the only possibility. It's pretty much what he did with Cider House Rules, but by the same token, Cider House Rules is a streamlined story by comparison.
Well, so as not to keep you on pins and needles any longer, it was a disaster. I barely made it through and the whole time I felt like I was wiping down ducks and geese that were victims of the Valdez oil-spill. What went wrong. First of all, Hallstrom tried to tell the entire story and include every character. Which in terms of story and character was about the equivalent of having each actor introduced have them trot out for a bow and then on to the next. The acting was fine and the dialogue passable - but they tried to cram 30 hours of story into 2 hours and it was excruciating to witness. It was almost as if Hallstrom was purposely trying to miss the point of each scene.
Hallstrom learned from the spanking he suffered by botching this in such monumental form - his next three films are not adapted from beloved novels. In the end everyone connected with this film wished to God they'd never trampled upon this sacred ground - no amount of facial expression or camera trickery can match prose of this caliber. All in all however, there are some good things that came of it. Not everyone who went to see the movie came away sick and embittered, that's because they hadn't read the book, which explains why the film was received with at least luke-warm critical appraisal, (also people who hadn't read the book). So for those who came away with at least a somewhat favorable opinion will perhaps be inspired to read the book. Which is why I bothered to write this review in the first place, which is to urge people to read this book. With the exception of The Corrections it is the best book written since Rabbit is Rich.
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