First I must confess that A Separate Peace is my favorite book. So of course, I have some bias against any attempt at adapting it for a feature film or television movie. But as I began to watch this film, I was more than willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. The original version from the early 1970s, though shot at Phillips Exeter Academy where the book's author attended school, and though it stayed as faithful as it could to the book, lacked any real depth of feeling and failed to capture the essence of the characters. The original seemed to simply go through the motions. Reading the trivia about the movie, you discover that it was cast mostly with non-actors. Thus, the original has an amateurish feel to it and it ultimately fails.
This new version, though I will grant that it captures the look of the period better than the original, seems to have thrown the book out all together. Scenes are rearranged, characters imposed where they don't belong, characters created that were not in the book, and no attempt was made to delve into the deeper conflicts that make the book so compelling. And the cardinal sin of all: the tree is not treated as the vital, almost central character it is in the book. This is an inexcusable oversight on the part of the film makers. How could they downplay the role of the tree? Why was it not introduced immediately? Why the Dead Poet-esque beginning? And what in God's name was up with Gene's accent? This film is, to be blunt, garbage. A Separate Peace should not be a difficult book to adapt for the stage or screen. John Knowles wrote it in a perfectly fine, linear style. The film makers should have trusted the story as it was already written; make changes, sure; embellish here and there, sure; take some mild dramatic license, sure. But destroy one of the pearls of American literature in the process? What were they thinking? In their corruption of the story line, they cut any possibility of suspense or drama. The whole movie falls flat and fails miserably.
If you are a high school or college student assigned to read this book and you are thinking of skimping and just watching the movie...don't even think about it. This film will be of no help to you.
Alas, we shall have to wait even longer before a version of this story comes to the screen that truly does it justice.
27 of 34 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?