Originally posted 11 January 2000
Movies: The Talented Mr. Ripley, Galaxy Quest
First, an announcement: If you are looking to comment on Girl, Interrupted, please be aware that I am not planning to see that film (I didn't like the book or the preview), but several of you have asked about it, and I encourage you to start a discussion about it under today's review. Okay, here's the SMO you've been waiting for all week:
Once a year, I forget how much I detest the Clearview Olympia Cinemas on 107th and Broadway. It has two theaters, the larger of which is an insult to the moviegoer who has paid a slightly discounted $8.50 to get in. Its worst offenses are that the screen is the size of a roadmap and the sound in the theater seems to emanate from one small speaker with bad wiring somewhere to the right of the roadmap. But this decrepit building gives you lots of reasons to complain. The seats in the theater are lumpy, and the floor is sticky (but not angled). The bathroom is a converted attic. The carpeting is terrible. Every year upon entering the theater, its deficiencies immediately stagger my senses and send me into a fit of depression. I vow never to patronize this dump again. 12 months later, I forget how much I dislike the venue, and, like a swallow to San Juan Capistrano, I return.
For this year's unfortunate viewing at 107th Street, I meet my friend Laurie B. to see The Talented Mr. Ripley. As you likely know, the movie is based on the book by Patricia Highsmith. This novel is a favorite with my friends Erik and Stephanie, and in November, they lend me a copy. I like the book, but I don't love it, mostly because it is creepy and it makes me uncomfortable when I am reading it in the middle of the night. (Thank heaven for the big, perfect dog who likes to sleep in my bed.) So my experience of the movie--once I get over the endless commercials before the previews, the sub-standard audio-visual experience and the decidedly adhesive floor--is one of comparing the movie to the book. It seems a decent film, but I never really get inside it.
The Talented Mr. Ripley, which has unusually inspired opening credits, is a less successful book-to-film adaptation than The English Patient (both directed by Anthony Minghella). Superfluous extra characters are introduced in the film to move the story along and change it somewhat. Ripley's sexuality is both simplified and amplified for the movie, undermining one of the most compelling aspects of the book. The ending is altered substantially, which is curious because the book wraps up very nicely and the movie does not. Laurie, who has not read Ripley, also finds the end of the movie to be disappointing. We agree that Phillip Seymour Hoffman gives an outstanding portrayal of Freddie Miles, and Jude Law is convincing as Dickie. Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow are both a lot better than I expected them to be, but neither is wonderful.
Here's how The Talented Mr. Ripley scores on a scale of 1 - 10 in my categories of analysis:
*Gender: 4. The book does a beautiful job of depicting its young characters' malleable sexuality and the relationships they negotiate. In the novel, Ripley's shifting desires are part and parcel of his chameleon abilities. The movie does away with this subtlety and pretty much leaves us with another homicidal Hollywood homo.
*Race: 1. There are one or two black jazz musicians seen onscreen.
*Shoes: 6. The men in this movie have rather good shoes, especially Dickie.
*Dogs: 0. Am I forgetting a dog shot?
*Do things blow up? 0. (Erik has suggested I institute a "not applicable" or "N/A" category. If I were to adopt such a rating, this would be the right place to use it.)
After the movie, Laurie and I trudge upstairs to the bathroom. It is weirdly shaped, and to wedge into a stall, I practically have to stand on the toilet seat. Coming out of the stall, I crush my fingers in the door. There are no paper towels. I swear, I am never going to that theater again.
A few nights later, I go to see Galaxy Quest with my neighbors Amy and Ilene. For the record, I would like to note that when we agree at noon to see a 7:30pm show at the Sony on 68th Street, I suggest we buy our tickets post haste through Moviefone. Amy and Ilene reject the idea, certain that Galaxy Quest isn't that popular. At 5pm, they leave me a message reporting that the 7:30 showing is sold out--do I want to see an 8:30pm show at the Sony on East 86th Street? I have never been to that particular theater. I agree to go.
God forbid I should ever have to return to that Sony. It is under renovation, but that still does not excuse the following breaches of basic movie-going convenience and comfort: 1) the Moviefone machines are broken, so we must stand in line to get our tickets; 2) it's impossible to discern a clear path through the lobby, and I am nearly trampled by other patrons anxious to get to their seats and, no doubt, cause disruptions once they're seated; 3) there is no concession stand, so the craving for Snocaps that I have developed on the way to the theater must go unfulfilled; 4) there are Dumpsters filled with dangerous-looking debris lining the hallways; 5) there is a large hole in the floor of the lower level lobby; 6) the specific theater showing Galaxy Quest has an aisle down the middle, which I abhor because such a layout prevents you from actually siting in the middle; and 7) adding insult to injury, the seats down front don't come up to the aisle--they stop two or three seats short of the center and there's just a lot of extra gluey concrete making you crabby--so if you're going to sit anywhere near the screen, you're going to be way off on the side. By the time we accept that Snocaps are not going to be an option and we get down to the front third of the theater, the place is filled. Our only seating option leaves us rammed up against the wall in the second row.
Our necks are poised to ache and we can barely see the screen this close up. But the situation improves when there are about thirty previews before the movie, affording us the opportunity to make snide comments about the state of filmmaking in Hollywood. The situation nosedives when a child two rows behind us starts screeching and is not removed by its attending adults. Throughout the first third of the film, this child wails at an ear-splitting pitch, causing people all around to yell and throw popcorn in its direction. A man who is evidently the child's father responds to these admonishments by screaming to no one in particular, "He's just a child, for Christ's sake!" I vow never to attend an early evening screening again.
Galaxy Quest, even under the best of viewing circumstances, is not going to make anyone's list of Top Ten Films of the Millennium. It isn't bad, but it has all the heft and comedic impact of a middling sitcom. I snort appreciatively a few times during it, but Amy really guffaws. Most of the audience seems to enjoy it more than I.
Here's how Galaxy Quest scores on a scale of 1 - 10 in my categories of analysis:
*Gender: 2. There are basically two female characters in the movie. Both harbor crushes on men, and these crushes are the major facets of the women's personalities. Sigourney Weaver spends the last third of the movie seriously falling out of her Wonderbra long after the action makes this seem a reasonable state of dishabille.
*Race: 6. One of the main six or so characters is black.
*Shoes: 2. Cheesy space boots rule the day.
*Dogs: 1. A mangy hound is seen briefly.
*Do things blow up? 5. Of course things blow up-this movie takes place mostly in space, after all.
After the movie, Amy and I cannot agree on whether Galaxy Quest was genuinely funny or not. She asks what, besides Rushmore (which she hated), has been funnier lately. I say that the 1998 French film Un Air de Famille was quite hilarious. She says that doesn't count. I say that American Pie was pretty funny. She says that was a different kind of humor. I venture American Beauty. She ignores me. We are at a conversational impasse. As we ride up the creaky escalator, Ilene points out that no amount of renovation is going to make this theater pleasant. We all concur. I don't see myself returning there anytime soon.