Friday, April 18, 2014

Jane Eyre Watch-a-thon: Jane Eyre (1997)

While it's nice to do book reviews I decided this week to take a break and return to my Jane Eyre Watch-a-thon. I figured it has been a while since I've reviewed a Jane Eyre adaption and reading The Turn of the Screw really made me want to return to the story I love so much. Since I'm all about relaxing this week to de-stress from finals week and to prepare for a conference I will be presenting a paper at, I decided to choose one of the shorter adaptions. Without further ado I present:

Jane Eyre (1997)
Ciarán Hinds as Mr. Rochester
Samantha Morton as Jane Eyre
This version has a 1 hour and 48 minute runtime (rather short in my opinion)
Here is the link to the IMDb page if you would like to know a few more details about the adaption:

I've found that this version is aired quite frequently on tv, particularly if you get the Ovation channel. Consequently, I've seen bits and pieces of it a number of times, but for the review I actually sat down and watched the movie from start to finish. 

Normally this is the part where I would list out the pros of the adaption, but sadly there is only one small positive aspect to the movie. In fact, I'll be candid and say this is one of the worst adaptions of Jane Eyre out there. 
A little dramatic? Maybe, but just watch the movie and you'll see what I mean...or you could stick around and read the rest of my review. 

The one positive to this adaption is the fact that they seriously address the Typhus outbreak at Lowood. Many adaptions tend to skim over the outbreak or neglect to mention it altogether. Here we actually see the teachers and nurses rushing to care for everyone and the numerous coffins slapped together to bury the bodies of all of the dying children.

That being said there is really so much wrong with the 1997 adaption that I'm not even sure where to start, so why not with the main characters.

  • Ciarán Hinds as Mr. Rochester and Samantha Morton as Jane Eyre: Neither of them managed to perfectly capture their characters in my opinion. Their performances were a strange mixture of overacting and underacting that always left me confused and unsatisfied. While Rochester's character is meant to be a little cruel and surly, Hinds takes those character traits to the extreme. He likes to scream deliver his emotionally fraught lines, which just made me feel uncomfortable. Other times his lines are so wooden and robotic. In my notes I actually wrote that this Rochester sounds like a cranky 70 year old man and looks like a pedophiliac uncle. Morton's Jane fluctuates between a stupefied, doe-eyed look, intense crying, or creepy orgasm face (don't believe me? You should skip to the proposal scene). The two of them also lack any sort of chemistry and the kissing scenes are really hard to watch. I've never felt more like a voyeur than in those weird kissing scenes. I'm not exactly sure what went wrong with the acting since I've seen Hinds play some great roles in other movies. He just isn't the right actor to play Rochester and Morton isn't right for Jane either. 

  • The beginning of the movie was incredibly vague and disorienting. Whenever I approach a new adaption I like to look at it from two different perspectives: the book lover and the first-time movie goer who knows nothing about the story. I found the intro scenes to be insufficient from both perspectives. The movie starts right off with the red room scene without any background explanation. The hyped up gothic scene is interspersed with the credits and some strange uplifting oboe music that makes no sense at all (sidenote why do the theme songs for all of these Jane Eyre adaptions heavily feature the oboe?) The audience really has no idea about the significance of the room or why Jane is even being punished. Then one requisite Brocklehurst scene later and 4 minutes into the movie Jane is already headed to Lowood. We never get any sense of Jane's troubled childhood and the terrible character of Mrs. Reed and her spoiled children. 

  • That incessant voice-over.

  • I subscribe to the adage that when creating stories you should "Show, not tell", but in the case of this adaption everything is told to the audience through the voice-over. Much of the plot is skimmed over in a few lines of narration, particularly Jane's childhood and her time spent as a teacher at Lowood School. The voice-over also cuts in at the worst possible moments. One example that left me screaming at my computer screen was when St. John proposes to Jane. Rather than allow him to have his say and then have Jane appropriately react to him, the voice-over precedes to talk over St. John, revealing Jane's inner feelings on the matter. Audiences are also supposed to believe that Jane and Rochester are in love, but there are insufficient scenes to support that idea. Instead, we get numerous inner monologues/voice-overs where Jane proclaims just how much she loves Rochester. I have a theory that if all of the voice-overs were cut out, the story would fail to make any sense. The last comment I want to make on the subject is if I wanted to get all of the details of the story through a voice-over, I would have just listened to an audiobook version of Jane Eyre.

    • So much for an independent and strong-willed Jane right? The movie stomps on this beloved version of Jane and leaves you with a sad shell of a character. The whole point of Jane Eyre is that she struggles with her emotions and essentially indecorous feelings for Mr. Rochester in a constrained society, while managing to figure out who she is and what she really wants out of life. Morton's Jane meanders around Thornfield like a love sick puppy hoping that Rochester will notice her and her passionate feelings for him. The movie also cuts out many of the events that help to build Jane's independent character. The movie addresses that Jane must leave to see her dying Aunt Reed, but audiences never get any of those scenes where she rises above her cruel aunt and sets aside her resentment for her treatment as a child. Rather, Jane leaves Thornfield and like two seconds later she's back and Rochester scream chides her about being away for a month. Additionally, Jane is miraculously rescued on the moors when she runs away from Thornfield, so yet another missed opportunity for character building. This movie even cuts out Jane's uncle and the money he wills to her upon his death. So essentially Jane returns to Rochester as the same exact person, not his equal, but as the love-sick woman who can't live without her domineering love. What a shame.
    I think I've covered the major faults that I found with this particular adaption, so I'll just quickly list some other aspects of the movie that made me dislike it so much.
    • The award for the worst scene transition in the movie has to be during Jane's childhood. In one frame Jane and Helen are happily smiling at each other and the next is a close-up of a dead girl's face in a coffin. I personally freaked out a little because at first I thought that the girl in the coffin was Helen, but it turned out not to be.
    • The slow motion during the Rochester horse scene was so tacky and contrived that I couldn't take the scene seriously
    • There is no mention of Miss Temple at all and Mary, one of the Rivers sisters, is cut out as well
    • The actress who plays Adele was a little too old for the part. Her innocent, often saccharine sweet dialogue didn't not fit her person
    •  Mr. Rochester's singing voice was so obviously dubbed it almost rivaled the ridiculousness of the dub done to Leslie Caron's character in the movie Gigi
    • The gipsy scene is also cut out (I expected that to happen through)
    • Rochester's injuries are inaccurately represented
    At the end of my watching session I was disappointed in general with this particular adaption. While I can understand cutting out scenes in order to fit the run time, there was just so much more wrong with the movie. It also completely lacked any aspect unique enough to add to the Jane Eyre canon. I wouldn't recommend this adaption to anyone, even my worst enemy.

    There are still plenty of other Jane Eyre adaptions to watch and review, so stay tuned for another Watch-a-thon post. If you're curious about which adaption is next on my watch list, my only hint to you is that there might be some black and white cinema in the future. Best Wishes!    
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