Crucially, on Victoria Wood they didn't direct the camera to wave aimlessly about, they used cameramen who knew how to operate a hand held camera. That's my main complaint about this mockumentary "Parks and Recreation". The content may be blisteringly funny but it should not look as if the poor camera operator is suffering from some terrible affliction of the central nervous system. This fake wobbliness not only pervades the mockumentary genre, it's sometimes seen in drama series that are directed in a pseudo-realistic style, e.g. "Law and Order".
But despite the distraction of the wobbly camera, Parks and Recreation is still brilliantly written and performed.
One type of documentary uses the subject matter as a loose way of pinning together all the sequences of transport problems / bad weather / officialdom faced by the personalities involved. In the production world it's called "jeopardy". An emerging documentary subtype is the "Wonders of the Universe" style, which seems to be mostly shots of an enraptured Professor Brian Cox gazing up at the heavens in awe.
My original point was that both before and after Hannibal's crossing of the area, Tarragona was of strategic importance; surely worth more of a mention than the rush to get to some football game.
If Mr Burton had called it "Not Alice In Wonderland" or perhaps "Alice in Wonderland 2" or perhaps "Alice Revisits Wonderland" or even, for as much as I care, "Alice meets Abbott and Costello in Wonderland" then maybe people would take the film on its merits and not on their ill-researched expectations.
I would have stopped there but apparently that is not enough.. so here goes: OK, it had its flaws and a few of the performances were rather derivative. I would be astonished if Helena Bonham Carter ever swore she had never seen Miranda Richardson doing Queenie in Blackadder before forming her characterisation of the Red Queen. Nevertheless she and Alan Rickman and Stephen Fry and Matt Lucas were all great. The only thing I hated was the stupid Futterwacken dance (what was THAT about?).
Thankfully, even the shakiest of hand-held camera work on a genuine documentary does not make it look as if the unfortunate camera operator has some terrible neurological disease.
If they wanted to make it look like a documentary then they could ditch the tripods by all means but at least they should have directed the operators to just do normal hand held camera work. What was done on the episode I saw looked totally phoney and contrived.
The performances are excellent as other reviewers have already said. The sound is too on-mike in places, which gives the game away a bit; my guess is that what we see and hear is a gluing together of material shot at one or more real live performances with a lot of extra material re-shot without an audience.
What makes this DVD poor is not what is happening on the stage but what is happening in the vision mixing department. Terrible camera directing; silly and contrived angles; poor transitions from closeups to wide shots; gimmicky and superfluous "multi-faceting lens" effects. If only it had been directed by a better director of televised operas (the excellent Brian Large springs to mind) then this would have been a wonderful record of a production that is still (2008) being staged in London. It is sad to think that when it eventually ceases to be performed the only video recording of it will be this visually flawed one.
The closest any dramatisation has come to capturing her philosophy was probably the BBC Radio 4 version. Sometimes radio has better pictures, because you create the visuals yourself.
This early TV version suffered visually from being studio-bound, presumably because that is how things were done in those days. It also suffered, visually at least, from being directed by Peter Hammond, who loved 'frames within frames' and getting sexual symbolism into every shot; perhaps fashionable at the time but now seen as cliché ridden and hackneyed. However, it has a good cast and although it is really creaky by today's standards it is worth seeing if only as an alternative to the later and in my opinion less interesting John Schlesinger version, which had a huge budget and played the script for its laughs, avoiding the point of the novel.
So what IS the point of the novel? Well, read it and see. We all know a Judith; we all know an Aunt Ada; we all know people who blame their current condition on something in their past, either real or imaginary; we all know many of the human traits and foibles satirised in the novel. What Stella Gibbons did, deliciously, was not just to parody the style of novels by D.H. Lawrence and Mary Webb ("fecund rain spears" and "bursting sheaths") but also to extol the benefits of leading a tidy life full of beauty and harmony. She encapsulates the characteristics of the entire human race into one farmhouse full of superficially dysfunctional people. Read the novel, but, above all: read between the lines.
For me the most poignant moment of drama was not the interminably drawn out suffering of the cops under their slabs of foam painted to look like concrete but the encounter towards the end between Maria Bello's character and the woman who was coming to terms with the loss of her (son ?). That moment did seem more real than any other.
Overall, the film left me thinking about how these films, even from the best directors, are generically about the triumph of human hope and endeavour. At least this one was only partly predictable. After all the agonising, everybody involved with the two rescued officers gave us an uplifting and happy dénouement but the immense suffering of thousands of others on that terrible day was confined to a few brief moments and a few "summing up" captions at the end. The officers were spared and so were we. Perhaps we should like the film for that very reason.
Anyone fortunate enough to see the English National Opera's London production of "Orpheus in the Underworld" will know what I mean. Taking a swipe at Mrs Thatcher by parodying her as Public Opinion did date it but nevertheless it was a snappy and witty production, done during the time when the ENO was at its peak and with wonderful sets by Gerald Scarfe. Snoo Wilson did a marvellous job on the book, making the songs witty, sexy and far more interesting and incisive than the subtitled translations of the plodding 1977 version under review here. It is possible to buy an audio CD of the ENO production; it is one of the tragedies of the Arts World that nobody ever recorded it on video.
Having said that; this production by the Theatre de la Monnaie in Brussels, although slow by comparison, does have some fine singing. It also has a nice theatrical device that draws its inspiration from a famous photograph of a railway accident at a Paris station. It probably has more international appeal than the ENO production I am comparing it with.
The usually wonderful Uma Thurman was terribly miscast in this film and so was Will Ferrell. Thurman just does not look right as Ulla and can't "belt" as well as Cady Huffman (who was Ulla in the original Broadway production). Ferrell is just too young looking for the role of Franz and he lacks menace. He really should not try to pull faces like Jim Carrey; one Jim Carrey in the movie world is quite enough. On the plus side, Gary Beach is wonderful as Roger and is probably the best reason to see this film.
Continuity freaks will love the various jumps in people's positions or expressions between shots and a few hairstyle variations too. I don't normally spot dodgy edits but there are quite a few in this film, even though I only saw it the once. Maybe the hairstyle variations were deliberate, in homage to Roger de Bris' wig jumps on the original 1968 film but I don't think so somehow.
Having not been fortunate enough to see the show on Broadway when it first opened then, without a doubt, for me the best version of this very funny musical is on the DVD documentary entitled "Recording the Producers" (2001) and I urge you to watch that even if you already have the resulting CD of the soundtrack from the Broadway show. It has a cast still fresh from the first opening of the musical on Broadway. Lane and Broderick give perfect performances too. OK, so they are singing the songs and not acting out very much more than a small part of the plot but you will see and *hear* far better performances in almost every role I can think of compared with those on the feature film version of the musical. Cady Huffman does a much better Ulla than poor old Uma and a few of the people who only played bit parts in Stroman's movie version (including Peter Marinos and Eric Gunhus) get a chance to shine on the DVD documentary.
Some of the acting is excellent, especially by the boy's mother but some is a bit hammy or maybe that was just the way the actors were directed. Technically there are flaws too, especially in the camera-work and in some fairly obvious use of strong lights outdoors. Furthermore a lot of the dialogue is post-dubbed which makes the sound track a bit too clean and lacking depth and perspective. However, I think it is a film worth watching, if only to see just how terrible and terrifying life in the Peruvian countryside was in the last part of the 20th century and - despite a big improvement in law and order recently - even in 2004 some people still live in fear. My Peruvian friends told me that although the film is a fictional story it represents almost a sanitised version of what really was happening; the reality must have been similar to some of the terrible atrocities of the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s.