Saturday, August 15, 2009

Reasons to be Fearful: Dorian Gray

After writing about the upcoming adaptation of a noth [articularly good yesterday, today I will be writing about the forthcoming new adaptation of Oscar Wilde's classic tale of vanity and moral turpitude, Dorian Gray.

On the face of it, I should be excited about the prospect of this film, there's a lot on display that should appeal to me. The director, Oliver Parker, has previously directed two pretty solid adaptations of Wilde's plays, An Ideal Husband in 1995 and The Importance of Being Earnest in 2002, though he did also direct the St Trinian's remake and its forthcoming sequel (and, fans of Clive Barker will be glad to hear, he played Workman 2 in both Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser 2, a mighty pedigree indeed) but for the purposes of this article I'll ignore them to focus on the fact that he has directed some genuinely good flms in the past and it is clear that he has some genuinely affection and affinty for the work of Oscar Wilde.

The cast also has me interested. Mr. Gray himself is being portrayed by Ben Barnes, who despite not being in anything in which he has had to act all that much, most notably as the titular Prince Caspian in the second Narnia film, has received good notices and shows potential. It also stars the lovely, lovely, lovely Rebecca Hall, who is one of my favourite young British actresses.

The most intriguing piece of casting is that of Colin Firth as Lord Henry Wotton, the man who introduces Dorian to the hedonistic pleasures of London, setting in motion the events that will lead to him becoming eternally young and monstrous. Firth has become typecast as the cuddly character in romantic comedies, so seeing him play something with a bit of edge to him will make a nice change from his usual fare.

And finally, I love the book. The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of my very favourite novels and is a watershed moment in British literature. It's a novel that manages to be funny and witty, as Wilde's best work is, yet pioses pointed questions about life and the pursuit of pleasure as one's sole purpose. It's an amazing novel.

Which is my main problem with prospects of the film version. The novel is so rich and funny and complex that I just don't think that a decent version can be made, regardless of how good the cast are. If the belief that it is easy to make a good film out of a bad book holds true, then the reverse is just as, if not more true. With great works of literature, film-makers are often unwilling to make changes or to truly adapt the story for the new medium, venerating it too much to make substantial changes. This approach is often counter-productive since it fails to take advantage of the techniques that are uniquely cinematic, instead using editing, performances and music as garnish for the text, when all the aspects should be interwoven. Parker's work has been good in the past because he has been adapting plays, which as an artform is much closer to film-making than the novel is.

Maybe the strength of the source will win out, but I am dubious, to say the least.