Monday, April 29, 2013

In-Class Movie: The Hound of the Baskerville (1982)

“This is how it came about. I have said that the man was intelligent, and this very intelligence has caused his ruin, for it seems to have led to an insatiable curiosity about things which did not in the least concern him.”
--Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Musgrave Ritual”

Austin: It's pretty much impossible to talk about this miniseries without talking about Doctor Who. So I'm not even going to try. Tom Baker was without question the most popular Doctor during the sci-fi series. Even today, Baker's popularity rivals David Tennant and Matt Smith depending on who you're talking to. He played the mysterious Time Lord for over seven years, ending his tenure in 1981. Baker loved playing The Doctor but it was his ego that ultimately had him part ways after a very successful run.

So this was his first big project after Doctor Who. Since there are only 15 British actors and filmmakers, more Who names pop up including Caroline John who played the Third Doctor's (best) companion Liz Shaw and in this she plays Laura Lyons, the LL woman. Also this was produced by Barry Letts who was the major producer for most of the Third Doctor's run and was actually the man who hired Tom Baker after Jon Pertwee left.


We reviewed Doctor Who's Sherlock tribute a few months back with The Talons of Weng-Chaing where The Doctor donned a deerstalker to investigate a disturbing Victorian attraction. Now Tom Baker is fully in the role as Sherlock Holmes and the results are....frustrating. This was my first time seeing Tom Baker in something besides Doctor Who or interviews and I'm not sure he's a man with a lot of nuance. In this, he's basically playing The Doctor but as more of an asshole. There's still the way he can describe gibberish with gusto which is a major similarity between the characters. Yet when The Doctor did it, he was often spacey (PUN INTENDED) instead of condescending unless he foolishly belittling UNIT. There was a prankster attitude in that show that is missing here. It was like he was trying to be more "serious" and "dramatic" that he lost all the humanity.

There have been plenty of hard to like Sherlocks. Benedict Cumberbatch plays quite the jerk, but usually there can be charisma behind the attitude. When Sherlock is stuck in a sitting room, it's almost unbearable. But when the danger is afoot in the final segment, the joy returned to the performance. 

Is the production to blame for how stilted and, to use a professional term, un-fun Baker's performance was for majority of the miniseries or is it all on the actor?

Leigh: Before I started this one, my wonderful boyfriend asked me just how many Sherlock Holmes adaptations there were at which point I laughed and said, "You have no idea. Every successful British actor has played Holmes at some point." And while that might be hyperbole, I would say a good portion of the 15 British Actors have had some role in one Holmes adaptation or another. 

"Yawn......this guy better turn out to be a zygon."

Every actor has some direction from the director (hence the name) about how the role should be played. Should they be serious? Should they be playful? Should they be more fun? Can Baker's unfunness be blamed solely on him or is it partially the directors fault? We blamed shoddy directing in the first Plummer adaptation we watched but can we blame it here? I don't know much about Baker. I've only seen one serial with him as The Doctor and that's it. And there is such an overlap between Holmes and the Doctor that it is rumored that Cumberbatch originally auditioned for the Doctor and Moffat said, "You're not quite right but how about Holmes instead?" So logically this should be one of the easiest roles for the Doctor and yet... He just comes off as a jerk. Everyone he talks to is dumber than him, he knows it, they know it, so what's the point of being polite about it? Everyone who speaks to him is just wasting his time unless they are actively giving him information he needs. It's all of the jerkiness of Holmes without any of the fun of The Doctor. A smirk or a twinkle in the eye or a second sideways glance would immediately soften up his character. Cumberbatch gets away with it because in the end, the audience knows he is just playing a game and is having fun playing his game. Here Baker just seems annoyed by every little thing.

And now to Watson. Good lord, talk about a ridiculous accent. I honestly couldn't understand half of what he was saying because he was doing that posh mumble that incredibly posh British people tend to do. Nigel Bruce is almost to that point as this Watson but he enunciates just enough that I don't feel like I need subtitles. I almost feel like this Watson forgot most of the lines and was just mumbling in hopes to get away with it or was attempting to be Nigel Bruce and failed.

What do you think about all of this? Can you forget about The Doctor for a few? (Just pretend you're Donna Nobel.)

Austin: Don't even get me started on Donna Noble's ending! (I'll just pretend to be Jamie McCrimmon and go from there.)

"Ah, I'm sure ye moor is safe, Doctor..."

Watson was a complete wash. When Sherlock finally comes back into the story after being absent for about a half hour, Watson is over-joyed and then becomes whiney like a child who lost his toy train. It's so spineless I was confused on why any of this structure happened.

The problem is that it's because that's what happened in the book. We haven't reviewed "Hound" yet so I haven't revisited in a few years but Watson is sent to investigate some matters. According to our helpful YouTube uploader, they said this is one of the most faithful "Hound" adaptations but that doesn't mean it's a success. It's impossible to adapt a book line for line because the structure of the two mediums doesn't translate perfectly. One of the biggest fouls committed is forgetting that book readers are often willing to go down paths they're not quite sure where they're going or have long sections without our favorite characters, because the writing is so strong. Prose can do wonders, as we've noticed during certain Doyle short stories or when you're reading Bran portions in A Clash of Kings.

So this miniseries tries to do beat for beat the elements of the book but they didn't adapt the elements around the plot. There's a reason why this is, arguably, Doyle's most popular book because it has this addicting gothic horror tone. None of that is here, in fact it's insanely flat. During the first episode, I thought it could be due to budget but then once they finally get out of that sitting room we get to go to some cool locales...where everything else is flat. 

"What a surprise. I know more than The Doctor again. No wonder I keep getting brushed off screen."

 Most of the actors can't save it except for maybe Tom Baker in the final episode because they don't seem to know what kind of stakes are present. It's presented without any flavor to the point where the audience can forget that a giant dog is killing people! The one exception, I think, is Caroline John as Laura Lyons. She only has a few scenes but she can play upon the melodrama with skill. But then again, that could still be my Doctor Who love so who knows.

We adored the Peter Cushing version of Hound of the Baskerville. Aside from my adaptation annoyances, what else did that movie have that this miniseries just seems to be lacking?

Leigh: The complaint I hated most when the Harry Potter movies came out was about how much stuff they had to cut. I love Harry Potter. A lot. Possibly more than Star Wars (depends on the day of the week...). But having an 800 page book adapted to a movie, word for word, line by line, it's going to be long and boring and everyone will hate it, even that kid who wanted it in the first place who says he loves it even though it is 19 hours long, he secretly hates it. No one wants a line by line adaptation. That might be why this one fails so hard. 

I like to write. Let me correct myself: I like to read my own words. Even though I think I'm one of the greatest authors in the world (and modest too) I know that sometimes you need to cut things and that brevity is your friend. What makes Cushing's Hound so much better than this one? Brevity. It wasn't a miniseries, it was a movie. It took the important parts of the story and used them and cut any of the extraneous stuff. Brevity is our friend when it comes to adaptations. You don't want to cut so much stuff so that the story doesn't make sense (insert popular culture reference here...) but you don't need to include every line and every movement and every description. Even the most diehard fans are going to revolt if you do that. Unless we're talking Lord of the Rings because, let's face it, those fans are crazy. (Disclaimer: Leigh would like to recognize that all fans are crazy, not just LotR fans even though they are a special kind of crazy. Seriously, who needs an extended cut on an already 3 hour-long movie?)

Next time, we discuss a story that I know I've read before but I couldn't tell ya a damn thing about it! Should be fun!
And here is Austin with the final words…

Austin: The crime has been prepared for...

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