It is inevitable that when any classic novel (Oscar Wilde's being no exception) is adapted for the screen, certain liberties will be taken to make it an engaging story to an audience present for 2 1/2 hours. In this 21st century execution, Oliver Parker includes an interesting theme certainly real in Wilde's Victorian era and widely discussed on the social AND artistic scene today: the failure of paternal figures. The longing for an admirable father figure serving as Dorian's ultimate Achilles' heel is a fascinating theory to draw from. It could've certainly presented itself as a unique theme to distinguish the film from Albert Lewin's 1945 version.
Unfortunately, this is all completely drowned in gaudy pornographic material (not dissimilar to the undoing of "Caligula"), overdone special effects, and terrible performances.
Ben Barnes is arguably a very promising actor who could've effectively played the role within a few years of performative maturity and growth. In this film, the lack of the aforementioned makes his acting painful to watch. At this stage, he simply lacks the severity and command of the famous character's evil to be believable. Barnes is weakly tossed from scene to scene and presents very little to persuade the viewer.
The most appalling performance comes from Rachel Hurd-Wood as Sybil Vane. It is perplexing as to why a more mature, capable actress couldn't be chosen to play the role instead. Hurd-Wood, probably due to lack of experience and performative maturity, is simply incapable of convincing anyone watching that it is a winsome, naive theater girl we're seeing. One of the first rules of acting is to live and be the role, NOT anticipate from line to line (which she does obnoxiously every moment she's on-screen) Mercifully, she's only present for 15 minutes of the film, but it's enough to be among the greatest of the film's flaws.
Not even the remarkable Colin Firth can save this travesty of a film, as his Henry Wotton fails to emit convincing sinisterness that his mere words will corrupt the young Dorian. When he illogically changes his tune in the film's final 15 minutes, it only leaves awkward confusion and embarrassment. Understandably, this could mostly be the fault of the director drowning character study in favor of saccharine visuals, yet Firth is certainly capable of doing better even when his characters have limited screen time.
Granted, a film discussing the theme of self-indulgent hedonism will depict occasional free love, just enough to get the point across as to what the central character is up to. Pornography running at the rate of every other scene, however, is too much. Parker has made the mistake assuming that this is necessary to appeal to a 21st century audience, figuring the vast majority lack the intelligence to have understood long ago that this is among Dorian's long list of vices. A few scenes of the character smoking opium in a burlesque was already serving this purpose. The theme then plunges into the annoying with unnecessary (and terribly performed) scenes of mid-ball rendevouxs and orgies that smack of pathetic attempts at convincing eroticism.
Another item to note: Wilde's novel was notably controversial during its time for its homeoerotic overtones. In this more tolerant age, the visual beauty of male characters and settings is enough to represent this very theme Wilde presented. The addition of an absurd snog between two characters (which not only strays from the plot's logic but also glaringly from the relationship dynamics depicted in the novel) once again betrays Parker's belief that audiences are too stupid to gather the homeoerotic elements already present.
A portrait that moans and emits maggots like a hungover zombie might frighten those who've been spared years of horror movie parodies. In watching this film, the scenes with the ever changing picture provide an embarrassing orientation to this, enough to have Wilde spinning in his grave. No sooner are syrupy pornographic scenes temporarily not on-screen than the film is dragged down again by overdone special effects that have been the undoing of many, many movies in recent years. A director of Parker's caliber should've been aware of this long ago. Thus, there is absolutely no excuse for this to be present in a film that is intended to carry a theme deeper than late 90's movie era eye-candy.
There are no words to describe how utterly ridiculous, even border-line laughable, the ending to this film is. In brief, it competes with the over-the-top, embarrassing ends of various characters depicted in "Van Helsing". Once again, visually (already mentioned as ruining this film). If Parker was attempting to end this picture with a bang distinguishable from previous versions, he renders it a complete joke.
There is certainly pornography available that costs less than the price of a movie ticket. Corny special effects 101 can even be obtained for free in many places. That said, anyone interested in this rendition of Wilde's work should save his money.
Oliver Parker has directed some exceptional films. This one, disappointingly, is greatly under par having resorted to cliche special effects reminiscent of cheap horror flicks and squanders artistic talent.
What a shame.
Drama / Fantasy
Drama / Fantasy
A naïve young man. A lovelorn artist. A corruptible Lord. A deal with the Devil. It all paints a dark picture of a Victorian London and how the rich and infamous party at their peril. Here, the telling of time and its consequence of experience for life's treasures' takes its toll on the body, mind and soul. The haunting and bleak tale of power, greed, vanity and inevitable self-destruction is ever present amongst the deceit, opium dens and sin.
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September 23, 2012 at 2:47 pm