Two Substanceless Movies--One Good, One Bad

I'll get the bad out of the way first:


From Continuing Story: what viewers wanted to see
more of. 
I watched this shortly after it came out in 2000. I didn't care for it but recently decided to give it another chance. Maybe I was comparing it too closely to the other Anne movies?

So I rewatched it, and wow, this is a horrible film. It's not horrible the way 80's sitcoms are horrible--kind of silly and dumb and kitschy all at the same time.

It's just bad.

I should state at this point that I have not read any of Montgomery's books. I *might* have read the first one, but if so, I barely remember it. So I'm not speaking from the point of view of a purist who feels betrayed because Sullivan didn't use the later Montgomery books (although considering how awful this film is, I can understand why the purists were so upset).

The fundamental problem (and the tie-in to "substanceless") is that none of the issues raised by Sullivan's script are paid off, creating a movie that is ultimately NOT about becoming a doctor or writer in New York City; NOT about living on Prince Edward Island; NOT about a spy-network; NOT about getting married; NOT (even) about adoption (though it comes close).

It IS bizarrely enough about Anne almost having extramarital relationships with some writer guy, Diana's husband . . .

So much so, that I think Sullivan just couldn't drop his fantasy of all the men Anne might possibly end up with--in his hands, she becomes a sort of clean-living femme fatale. This week, she could end up with a German fighter pilot! Next week: the pool boy!

A bucolic female James Bond. 

Of course, this means that Sullivan utterly failed to understand why people liked his first two films to begin with. Imagine if Andrew Davies (of Pride & Prejudice, the series, fame) wrote a sequel in which Darcy nearly had an affair with Anne de Bourgh. Or Jane. Or Mary!

I will do Sullivan the courtesy of believing he was clueless when he produced Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story rather than cynically trading on the nostalgic wholesome aura he produced in the first two movies (just so he could make a film about WWI).


This film can be summed up in one line: "Man rescues his lover from danger--more than once."

Okay, that's it.

Yes, yes, there's a French & Indian War going on, and it probably is all very historically accurate. But the historical context is only as relevant as it creates conflict for rescuing man. The final scenes aren't determined by the historical events; they are determined by rescuing man's need to rescue.

Think Titanic, only The Last of the Mohicans is a way better movie.

It is a way better movie because (1) it doesn't try to convince viewers that it is anything other than what it is. "Man rescues his lover from danger" runs every part of the movie; we aren't asked to commiserate with those poor people dying from cold--sorry, being scalped by Indians. We are only asked to care about the main relationship. This doesn't make the movie unfeeling--quite the contrary. By caring about Hawkeye & Cora (and by extension for Alice, Uncas, Chingachgook, and even Heyward), we come to care deeply about their circumstances. Yet by not straying away from the main plot, the movie avoids being bogged down by its historical context (which is far more complex than Titanic's).

(2) Everything and everybody is so gosh darn beautiful.

I should state here that male actors who float my boat include Martin Freeman, Michael Emerson, Peter Falk, Ted Levine . . . I am impressed more by Daniel Day-Lewis's acting ability than by his admittedly stunning good lucks.

However, 1/3rd of the way through a recent rewatching of this movie, I said, "Good grief, these people are all gorgeous."

Seriously gorgeous. Everybody. Even when they are covered with grime and blood.

This is truly a big-screen, theater-worthy film--especially since I spent the remaining 2/3rds of the movie going, "Wow, wow, good grief, wow."

Plot? There's a plot? Whatever. Just look at that scenery!


Eugene said...

I'll give Sullivan the benefit of the doubt: he was trying to do with Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story what he did with Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel. In the latter, he combined the major plot points from the next three books, condensed the timeline, and adjusted the details to fit.

I thought it worked rather well (and dispensed with most of Anne of the Island, that I didn't much like).

For the former, however, the three books he chose are specifically about Anne's children. So he ended up with a mixed bag of story ideas written for an ensemble of younger characters but now played by single person whose own character was by then completely out of sync with the timeline of the original novels.

A narrative mess was the inevitable result.

Kate Woodbury said...

I had a thought: perhaps Sullivan should have waited until now. Megan Follows is currently 45; Jonathan Crombie is 47. They could play the parents of the next generation! (A young generation of teens, but still . . . ) I think combining stories about the children, and watching Anne and Gilbert react to those children, would be pretty interesting.

However, Sullivan may have made the film when he did precisely because Crombie and Follows were aging. There's the whole problem of "people love this because of Anne and Gilbert's courtship; therefore, I have to give them Anne and Gilbert courting" (on the other hand, television writers often make the mistake of giving the audience what the audience loves, only to discover that the audience didn't love it that much).

Eugene said...

That idea occurred to me too (more here).