“I think it's one of the most noble risks we have ever taken.” This comes from an executive at Twentieth Century Fox, the studio that gave us Sunrise, Shirley Temple, and The Robe. When a corporation has ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous, talk of nobility is often a warning sign of stupidity. So sane producers may have read Yann Martel’s 2001 novel, seen that it was selling 9 million copies across the world, and concluded that there was no need for a movie of Life of Pi—the same escape clause I raised a week ago in connection with the latest Anna Karenina.
The biggest film of the year opens this week, though you may be forgiven if you haven’t heard about it, as it has committed the unpardonable sin of being in Chinese. John Woo’s historical epic Red Cliff is the most expensive and highest-grossing film ever made in China, and that nation’s most emphatic statement to date that it intends to compete with Hollywood and Bollywood for a share of the global cinema market.
For fans and critics alike, Brokeback Mountain will forever be known as the "gay cowboy" movie. Almost invariably, the emphasis will be placed on the first half of that label--and understandably so: The love, briefly indulged and long inhibited, between Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist is the narrative and emotional core of the film and of the Annie Proulx short story on which it is based.
Ang Lee continues to astonish. In 1995, when his best-known film was Eat Drink Man Woman, set in his native Taiwan, the producers of Sense and Sensibility tapped him to direct their picture: an act of perception, of courage, for which all of us owe them thanks. Lee proceeded—incredibly—to make the best of the Jane Austen films.
By now it is a rule of thumb (well, my thumb, anyway) that a chief problem in filming a first-class novel is its prose. Other matters are much easier to deal with: extracting the plot, condensing it (usually necessary), and possibly rearranging it. But the better the novel, the less important is this plot-processing. The big trouble is in transmuting the very organism of a work in one art into another organism.