Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Spoilers

The Fox Movie Channel aired Tora! Tora! Tora! this afternoon at lunch. It's a docudrama looking at both the US and Japanese sides of the run-up to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941....

Oh, dear -- I've just given the ending away. That's the one problem with historical fiction: you can have a backdrop, but you know what's going to happen in that backdrop. Just like the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor, you know the Titanic is going to hit the iceberg and sink, and you know that the Nazis are going to lose the war. Still, there are a lot of good historical dramas about well-known events. Having mentioned the Titanic, there are excellent movies on the subject such as A Night to Remember, or even the 1943 Nazi version, which I've already recommended.

I've also mentioned biographies, expressly in conjunction with composers, although there are lots of good biographies. The bigger problem with biographies, though, is that Hollywood has an even greater tendency to change the events than with historical dramas. Still, you know how the stories are going to end. In D.W. Griffiths' Abraham Lincoln, you know John Wilkes Booth is going to shoot Lincoln at Ford's Theater. Mahatma Gandhi is going to get stabbed by a Hindu fanatic in January 1948. Anne Boleyn is going to lose her head. And on it goes.

Perhaps more fun, however, are the stories we think we know, but that Hollywood butchers so badly as to change them into something unrecognizeable. The best example of this might be the 1930 version of Moby Dick, in which John Barrymore plays Captain Ahab. To be honest, it's a remake of a 1926 silent called The Sea Beast, but while it kept the same basic structure of the silent, the name got changed along the way -- which is a shame, because in this whale of a tale, not only does Ahab have a girlfriend (the lovely Joan Bennett) that isn't in the Melville novel; more importantly, Ahab kills the whale and returns home a hero!

Oh, dear -- I've just given away the ending of a movie you probably don't know.

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