What are the odds of finding a movie adaptation that surpasses the book? Let's see
one in a hundred maybe. Was it Randall Wallace's Pearle Harbor or was it one of Stephen King's creepy books that was made into a movie and outdid the book? No. So rarely do we see a movie that exceeds the novel from which it was adapted.
Zora Neale Hurston's timeless novel about the quest to find one's voice and ultimate independence comes to the small screen as a TV movie under Oprah Winfrey's production. And awful might be one word to describe it. Or maybe shallow is a more refined and scholarly term. Either way you put it, Hurston is not done justice by this film. And Oprah's so called effort to romanticize the film fails as a futile attempt that does nothing but leave the movie with major plot holes and a crippled screenplay written by a rather unknown writer named Suzan Lori Parks. (Who?)
"Their Eyes Were Watching God" is a movie version of the 1937 novel written by Z. N. Hurston. The film, made nearly a century later in 2005, was directed by Darnell Martin, and the teleplay to the television written by Suzan Lori Parks. The movie, being a TV movie, did not receive a PG PG13 or R rating and instead got a well deserved tv-14 rating. According to the FCC and of course the viewer, the film had mild and frequent sexual references. Although co-produced by Oprah's production company, Harpo Films, the movie was distributed under the American Broadcasting Corporation or as we all know it, ABC. It runs a good 113 minutes and features some renowned and some not very popular actors. Among them plays Halle Berry as the free spirited Janie Starks and Michael Ealy as her romantic companion Tea Cake. Terrence Howard plays the cynic Amos Hicks and does it perfect.
"Their Eyes Were Watching God" resembles the novel in some ways but falls short to deliver the same type of dynamic narration and heartwarming characters that were provided by Hurston in the novel. The movie focuses little on Janie's background and shows the viewer very little what Nanny's (Janie's Grandma) motives were in making Janie marry an old man like Logan Killicks (played by Ruben Santiago-Hudson) and from Oprah's introduction of the movie, one can foreshadow that the film was going to be a spineless and cheesy love story. Not that there is anything wrong with a love story, but the film focuses more on the French kisses and prolonged sensual scenes between Tea Cake and Janie and less on Janie's quest to find her voice and what her motives are in going in and out of marriages. The film also lags behind the novel because of a rubbish teleplay that left out major parts of the plot, such as Janie's background and characters such as Mrs. Turner.
The writer of the film, perhaps intentionally, left out Janie's background story, maybe because she thought in a love story like this one, bringing in additional characters might ruin the film or maybe because they thought the film was all about the love between Janie and her husbands. Well the writer was wrong. According to the book, Janie, most of the time, if not always got into a relationship for all the wrong reasons. She enters a relationship because she thinks the men can provide for her and that it is one step closer to finding her voice, but the film does not go into detail as to why she enters the relationships and that she is always looking to be independent. Also, Logan Killicks did not get enough screen time. This impeded the film from exploring Killicks in more details. This also prevents the viewer to contrast Killicks and the other men in Janie's life.
As far as the acting goes, Halle Berry did a mediocre job. This is not her best work, and she wasn't successful in showing that there was something hidden inside of her waiting to explode, like the character did in the book. For example, the last few scenes Janie is seen content with her achievements and the relations she has gone in and out of. But as far as the movie as a whole is concerned, the movie might be appropriate for sensitive girls whose emotions can easily be stirred by these kinds of cheesy romantic movies and are willing to accept its shallowness and emptiness.
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