Last month, director Roman Polanski gave us the 22nd version of Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist." It was a competently made movie that did absolutely nothing new or different with the story and came and went at the box office.
Today sees the release of director Joe Wright's "Pride & Prejudice," the 11th version of the Jane Austen novel about a group of sisters and an unexpected arrival. It too is competently made, does absolutely nothing new or different with the story and will likely do the same kind of box office numbers as Polanski's film.
These two books by Austen and Dickens are easily two of the best novels of all time, but really - how is making multiple, carbon-copy movies serving anyone? The only rock-solid demographics for this version are Austen devotees and lovers of period dramas. Counting on the mostly teen fan base of leading lady Keira Knightley to check it out (especially after her D.O.A. "Domino") is a shaky bet.
Wright does everything any director could with the material, all of the actors turn in decent performances, the set and costumes designs are right on the nose ... and no one cares. As good as Austen's and Dickens' books are, they come off feeling stuffy and dated. The same can be said for most Shakespeare plays. The stories themselves are timeless classics, but the language used to convey the message falls on mostly deaf ears. All of the proper, frilly Old English banter bores most of us to death.
As cheesy and tacky as it was, last year's Bollywood fiasco "Bride & Prejudice" at least had the gumption to give the story a little snap. Almost as tacky was Baz Luhrmann's punk-rock take on "Romeo & Juliet." Automatic weapons and glam costumes were more than enough to make people overlook Shakespeare's iambic pentameter.
Though few of its fans know it, "Clueless" was based on Austen's "Emma," and it was one of those rare teenage chick flicks that made big bucks, snared a considerable male following and wowed the critics. "Pride & Prejudice" is a prime candidate for a "Clueless" style make-over. Snobbery, class warfare, wanting what you can't have, sibling rivalry - it still goes on. Times may change, but people's often petty motivations never go out of style.
The problem here isn't the message, it's the all too familiar messenger. Give that old jalopy an overhaul. Slap a fresh coat of paint on that crusty mansion. Give us something new! (Focus Features)