Captain John Yossarian, a World War II bombardier, is stationed on the island of Pianosa. He is an individualist who seeks to protect his own life by fleeing to the hospital, since a "catch-22" in the Air Force regulations prevents him from being grounded for illness or obtaining a leave.
Catch-22 fans unlikely to be fulfilled by this wasted opportunity...
If you were apprehensive about how well this was going to turn out, you were justified.
The good: As an adaptation, it's not too bad. Scenery and props look authentic. A couple of the scenes (particularly combat in the bombers) are well realised and tense. It's MUCH better than Mike Nichols' abortive film attempt of 1970.
The less-good: This is definitely NOT Catch-22. This is 'Catch-22 Lite' - a much simpler version in easy-to-understand and easy-to-digest morsels. Nothing too bitter, sharp, complicated or controversial here. Key satirical targets of the book (incompetence - of government administration, security forces, army commanders - the blindness of capitalism, gung-ho patriotism, systemic racism, etc.) are either watered down or omitted. Several key characters are conflated, so they lose their individual characteristics and become bland stereotypes. Other important characters are simply missing. So many story strands are left out that if this was a sock someone would be constantly darning it. The key storyline of Yossarian's significant journey is weakened in places by the lack of those supporting strands.
The book is a blazing and merciless satire filled with devices to make the reader empathise with the emotional and psychological trauma Yossarian is going through (temporal displacement; juxtaposed but dissimilar scenes linked by common dialogue; frighteningly indifferent rules, regulations, administrators; people in positions of corrupting power whose main concern is their own welfare; Kafka-esque terror at the surrender of personal control to unseen powers). This series jettisons most of that and replaces it with a simple chronological story using some of Heller's material where it suits and making up new things where it doesn't (witness the weak but perhaps more socially acceptable revised ending. Ouch!)
Casting, directing and screenplay opt for some poor choices here which don't help. Clooney is too old to play Scheisskopf. Laurie could never be the intimidating Major __ de Coverley. Cathcart, Korn, Aarfy, Major Major, McWatt, Nately, Orr and several others neither look nor act like their literary counterparts, weakening the story still further and making them into filler parts.
Summary: Catch-22 will always be a major challenge to film, its scope making it all but impossible to realise in a 90-minute movie. However, this is nearly 4.5 hours of TV which dragged in places because the pace was too slow and the story too tightly focused and limiting. In serial form like this it should be much easier to realise something similar in scope, message and power to Heller's extraordinary book. As such, it's rather a wasted opportunity.
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