2020 minus 05: Multiple iterations

Posted: 27 December 2019 in 2020 minus
Tags: ,

When my lad Philip was very young, he enjoyed the animated Spider-Man tv series. Fair enough, lots of people did. But as a young child he had the choice of more than one Spider-Man animated series; he had several.

There was the original 1960s version; also, the Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (Spider-Man, Iceman and Firestar) one, and – of course – the version that was aimed at him and his generation. However, and the same applies to many who watch Doctor Who, again like many children he had ‘his’ version and the others were… lesser somehow. I mean, he didn’t actively dislike the other versions, but they were definitely not enjoyed anywhere nearly as much. Indeed, they were somehow… wrong.

Flip forward a couple of years to 2004, and the live action Thunderbirds film. I take him to see it, more than aware of his preference for the original. I’m eager to reassure him that even if he doesn’t like the movie… the puppet show is still there for him, he still has them. They’re still there for him.

A couple of hours later, we leave the cinema and sure enough, the words “it doesn’t matter, the puppet show is still there for you…” are spoken.

But it’s Phil saying the words to me.

He’s reassuring me.

Yeah, you can take it that I was less than impressed by the movie. Well, you can take it as soon as you stop mocking me for the above.

Oh, and Phil thoroughly enjoyed the movie, by the way.

I thought of the above both last night, and again today, when watching Evil Under The Sun, in which Peter Ustinov played Hercule Poirot in the classic Agatha Christie story.

I’ve warmed to Ustinov as Poirot over the years. At one point, I wasn’t a fan; while he got the arrogance and self-belief of the character, I couldn’t get past his undoubted lack of physical resemblance to Poirot as very clearly laid out in the books.

But yeah, I’ve mellowed towards the half a dozen movies in which Ustinov portrayed Poirot. They’re fun movies; Ustinov is having a blast playing them, as are the guest stars. I’ve yet to see a better Lady Edgware than Faye Dunaway, and with all due respect to Martin Shaw in Three Act Murder, Tony Curtis gets the role in a way Shaw never quite did. (Arguably, though, Shaw is the only weakness in the Suchet/Poirot Three Act Murder.)

Oh, before I forget, the reason I thought of the ‘multiple versions’ thing yesterday; Brian Blessed came up in conversation, and I remembered his beautiful performance as Augustus in I, CLAVDIVS. The BBC television series is rightly regarded as one of the best things the BBC has ever made, but I also really, really, like the Radio 4 version in which Harriet Walter is at least as good a Livia – perhaps better – as the wonderful Sian Philips is in the tv series. And Jacobi in the role of Augustus is almost as good as Blessed, while playing the role quite, quite differently.

Multiple versions.

Sometimes it’s merely the right actor for the right time. I enjoy Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, more than any other version of the character, but there’s no denying it’s a very different character from how the character was originally written. And thats” very deliberate. Enough of the character to be recognisable, but dispensing with the rest.

For many, Jeremy Brett’s is the best ‘classic’ Sherlock Holmes there’s ever been, and I’d hesitate before ever suggesting that anyone else comes close. However, I’d not hesitate too long, because I think both Douglas Wilmer and Peter Cushing were superb in the role, and I dearly wish I’d seen some of Vasily Livanov’s Holmes, as I’ve been reliably informed that it rivals Brett’s work in the role.

When it comes to Poirot and Miss Marple, David Suchet and Joan Hickson stand tall for me as the very best, in my opinion… but for their entire work, not for individual episodes.

I’ve seen several versions of Murder On The Orient Express, but Suchet’s version is far, far from the best. I mean, it’s not the worst; Alfred Molina’s ‘brought up to date’ version takes that less than wanted prize. And wow, it’s not only not even close, the rest are on a different continent, if not planet. It’s an abysmal movie.

I haven’t seen the Kenneth Branagh version but I understand it’s… ok.

But the 1974 Albert Finney version? Ah, that’s a masterclass in how to do the story, and it’s almost unique in that while the towering vanity of Poirot is there (most versions include that), the fact that he’s not someone you’d like is to the fore. No, really; often in the Christie stories, someone makes reference to his oddness, and how there’s something offputing about him. Suchet’s version plays that for mild humour quite regularly. Ustinov’s appearances show it as his vanity being… impolite. But Finney’s Poirot lets you into the secret: Poirot may be a superb investigator, but unless you’re a personal friend… you wouldn’t like him in person, not at all. And maybe even if you are a personal friend as well.

Similarly, I’ve seen and heard (on the radio) several versions of A Caribbean Mystery, the Miss Marple story, and with due respect to Joan Hickson and Julia McKenzie, as an enjoyable murder mystery, I much prefer the Helen Hayes version, despite its faults. Hayes made two television movies as Miss Marple and I dearly wish she’d have made more. (Sometimes the common wisdom is best, by the way; Joan Hickson’s The Mirror Crack’d is so superior to any other versions, including the Angela Lansbury version, that no other versions should even be made.)

It’s perfectly proper that classic tales, or just very good stories, are remade, are reinterpreted, for a different time, for a different generation, for a different style or storytelling.

And sometimes, just telling the story in a different way changes the quality of the tale’s telling. I’ve never read Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, but I quite liked the movie with Sean Connery and Christian Slater. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the recent tv series with John Turturro in the role taken by Connery in the movie. The extra length of the miniseries gave the story space to breathe, and any doubts I had… evaporated by the start of episode 5, and disappeared entirely by the end of that episode.

And for every remake that exceeds the original (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is far superior to Bedtime Story, no matter how good the latter was) you have an Alfred Molina Murder On The Orient Express.

Disclaimer at this point: I watched all of the recent War Of The Worlds on the BBC. Hmmm. I didn’t make that mistake with this week’s A Christmas Carol. Which is fine; not every adaptation is for everyone. Both of those, most definitely, were not [made] for me. Maybe I’m too set in my ways, maybe it’s just that they changed too much. Either way, I have my own preferred versions of the stories, and although I’m open to versions I’ve not seen… (I recently saw the 1935 version of A Christmas Carol for the first time, and despite its faults, thoroughly enjoyed it)… no, there are some versions that… that… that… well, they’re not for me.

Huh… maybe this should have been a Ten Things, post… Ten remakes I really like, Ten remakes I really didn’t.

I’ll have a ponder…

Something else tomorrow… the final Saturday Smile of the year.

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