‘Star Trek Beyond’ boldly goes where the first two should’ve started

It isn’t Star Trek if Captain Kirk doesn’t “accidentally” rip his uniform shirt.

It isn’t a Star Trek film if the Enterprise doesn’t blow up at least once.

Luckily for Trek fans everywhere, the third reboot series installment, Star Trek Beyond, features both these attributes. Ultimately, as a new-ish Trekker, I was more impressed with this film than I was with the first two combined. What sets apart Star Trek Beyond from its predecessors, fundamentally, is its focus on the Enterprise crew–which is where the series’ focus should have been all along.

Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) both received mixed reviews (largely negative in the latter’s case) by critics and die-hard fans alike. I can’t say much about that, because it was Into Darkness that got me into Trek in the first place. Now that I’ve seen the original series, all the original films, and almost all the spinoff shows, I, too, have many bones to pick with the reboot movies (no pun intended). Beyond was far from perfect, but it was a step in the right direction in terms of bringing Gene Roddenberry’s vision to the 21st century. (Finally.)

For one, I found there to be a marked difference in characterization this time around. The Jim Kirk who opens the film is very much like he of the original series. Yes, Jim is cocky and rash–the first two films do a solid job establishing that–but he’s also quick on his feet, a true leader, and a very good speech-maker. The opening scene, wherein Kirk attempts to talk his way through negotiating peace between two squabbling species, establishes all of these things. It feels very Trek right from the start, which is a relief and a joy to see.

And as Kirk himself says in the film, “It wasn’t just me. It never is.” Beyond finally establishes that the Enterprise is a collective group of people, that Star Trek is not the Captain Kirk Show, or even the Spock Show. Rebooting this series was an opportunity to let other characters shine, and finally, director Justin Lin and writers Simon Pegg (who plays Scotty) and Doug Jung take advantage of that. Sulu has a husband and daughter. Uhura exists outside her relationship with Spock (gasp!) and stands her ground against Krall in believing, unwaveringly, in her crew. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) had probably more lines in this film than he did in the first two combined–and it’s about damn time, because Bones is a crucial part of what makes Trek special. He is the heart behind Spock’s logic and Kirk’s courage. The newest addition to our band of space heroes and heroines, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), is a force to be reckoned with. Though her backstory is a bit predictable, she comes in guns blazing to help the crew and develops an immediate rapport with Scotty that actually doesn’t result in a romantic relationship–a rarity for dynamics between men and women in mainstream film.

Beyond is also sprinkled with subtle little treats for hardcore fans. However, the references to the original series are tasteful choices–they are vague enough to amuse a wide audience but specific enough that Trek fans will pick them out in seconds. “Did you know,” asks Pavel Chekov toward the end of the film, “that scotch was actually invented by a little old lady in Russia?” – a line almost directly taken from the original Chekov’s speech in the original series classic, “The Trouble with Tribbles”. Laughing at the reference, and hearing the rest of the audience laugh with me whether they understood its origins or not, was a great feeling.

The film’s weaknesses lie in (a) a generic storyline, and (b) lazy characterization of Idris Elba’s role as Krall, this film’s adversary. Both these qualms are related–Krall’s anger toward the Federation drives the plot forward, but this anger is unfounded until almost the very end of the movie. Without revealing spoilers, I’ll say his motives are a bit contrived and cliche; furthermore, the actions he takes because of those motives are entirely over-the-top. Idris Elba is a very talented actor, and I wish more had been done with his character to expand and develop him and showcase Elba’s talents. I’m also more partial to character-driven films, so the gratuitous fight scenes and explosions, while necessary to appeal to a mainstream audience, lulled me into distracted boredom every so often. (Pretty sure that’s just a “me” thing, though. As soon as the weapons come out, I start planning what’s for dinner.)

Despite all that, I’m a bit more forgiving with Beyond in terms of plot since, as I mentioned, it was so much more character-driven than the first two films. It might not seem like it to action movie-goers or casual Trek fans, but to those of us who hold the characters dear to our hearts, a new set of writers and directors who actually care about Star Trek made all the difference. Essentially, what Beyond has that the others don’t is heartStar Trek ’09 was too bogged down with establishing an alternate universe to do justice to the lore upon which it was based. Into Darkness forced us to care about a Kirk/Spock dynamic that wasn’t  grounded in the trust and inspiration and love that characterized it for decades.  Instead of floundering for fanservice or trying too hard to march to its own drum, this installment finds balance in staying faithful to the original and holding its own.

It’s always been clear that this cast has fun with each other, but never more so than when their characters are actually talking to each other instead of yelling over phaser fire. The film does a great job grounding and establishing relationships, especially those between our favorite triumvirate: Jim and Bones have a great scene together early in the film where Bones sees right through Jim’s apparent ambivalence toward his approaching birthday; Spock and Bones spend a significant amount of time stranded together and do more than just banter; and of course, Kirk and Spock spend the movie realizing for the umpteenth time that they have no idea what they’d do without each other. It’s kind of beautiful, and it’s what made me fall in love with Trek to begin with. However many explosions or dramatic fight scenes there are, I’m in it for the characters. Beyond delivered in that regard, and I wish the first two films had taken the time to do so early on.

But Beyond proves it’s never too late to save a franchise. With an 85% on RottenTomatoes so far, I have a feeling this one will soar at warp speed toward being named a classic in Trek film history.

In short: Dear Justin Lin & Co,

Thanks for caring. It makes a difference.

Love,

The Trek Fandom

Biased Trekkie review: 4/5
Overall review: 3.5/5

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‘Civil War’ is a More-Than-Solid Action Film–and Has More Heart than I Expected

[SPOILERS AHEAD.]

If my pre-Civil War rant was any indication, I decided a while ago to go warily into Captain America: Civil War. This approach was based on my knowledge that (a) the film could never match  Iron Man and Captain America’s intense dynamic as it stood before and during the comics’ Civil War arc, and (b) no Marvel film could live up to Captain America: The Winter Soldier in my opinion (this still stands). Plus, the last time we saw our favorite Marvel squad, they were inconsistent and messy characters in an inconsistent and messy Avengers: Age of Ultron.

But I’ll say one thing about the Russo brothers: They bring the magic. Consistently. I left this film totally energized, emotional, and, frankly, satisfied–because I reminded myself that the Marvel Cinematic Universe tells a different story. And the Russo brothers, in tandem with writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, did a damn good job telling it.

Here’s My Consensus…

Action and Effects
Civil War does not want for action. Each sequence was meticulously laid out and executed like a choreographed dance. Black Widow’s fight sequences were my favorite in particular; their detail emphasized the kind of fighter she is–quick, slick, operating as if multi-legged–like a spider. The climactic confrontation between Team Cap and Team Iron Man was phenomenal, showcasing each character’s personality, motivations, and style with every move. Overall, the film was paced very well (despite its whopping 146-minute runtime), and, of course, shot brilliantly. I can’t wait until everyone on Tumblr screencaps the daylights out of this film after its DVD release. Every frame has something to say.

As usual, the SFX are off the charts, with the exception of Spider-Man’s costume animation–what is that? I’m no CGI expert, but if there’s little to no observable detail of his suit despite its redness, there might be an issue there. Otherwise, the film is visually stunning. There is a particular iconic shot of Cap and Iron Man in their final fight; comics fans will know to what I’m referring, but even if you haven’t read them, it’s an amazing shot of a well-crafted scene.

Characterization
The film isn’t just an action movie. Bringing together more superheroes than ever is not an easy feat, but Markus and McFeely pull off effective characterization really well (an aspect which faltered significantly in the last Avengers film). Indeed, this movie is a Cap film in name but really is an ensemble effort. And the great thing is, the writers manage to do justice to each character’s motivations and choices throughout the film. They expand upon previous relationships and dynamics (i.e., Natasha’s conflicted loyalty to Steve and empathy for Tony, the Vision’s gradually humanizing nature when it comes to Wanda) while forging new ones–I think my favorite part of the entire film was Bucky and Sam sitting in Steve’s poor excuse for a getaway car, emphasizing their newfound friend-hate-ship:

BUCKY, in the back seat: Can you move your seat up?
SAM: [deadpan] No.

Plusthey flesh out new characters who will get their own movies soon. I’m looking at you, Black Panther. Each character serves a purpose–isn’t just thrown in to say (s)he’s there–with the exception of Spider-Man and Ant-Man who exist essentially for comic relief. They did get their big moments, though, and contributed significantly to the fight. It was interesting–and slightly jarring–to see a Peter Parker who looked and talked his age. (Tobey Maguire, where art thou? Miss you, boo.) Even in the case of these two, though, the writers are unafraid to be self-referential–the amount of times other Avengers and Scott Lang himself question his relevance to the story are enough to breach subtlety: “Thinks for thanking of me!”

Overall Adaptation
Ultimately, yes–the details surrounding the cause for “civil war” in this film differ from those in the original comics. After all, the comics took a whole book and a ton of world-building and at least twice the characters to tell the story. But the film writers both take from and create a cinematic universe where these changes make sense.

Perhaps most important to me are the alterations to Cap and Iron Man’s motivations for the sake of continuity with the rest of the films. As I said in my last entry about this storyline, the “Civil War” comic arc is so effective mainly because Steve and Tony’s strong bond comes crashing down around them. In this film, that bond is different–it’s newer with a touch of a resentment, and frankly, that resentment only grows. They don’t want to fight, necessarily, but they do. Their opposing views on the Superhero Registration Act are based on Steve’s passion for his ideals (and for Bucky, the only remaining connection to his past) and Tony’s wracking guilt, respectively. The film does a great job building up this conflict.

Because there are consistencies. For example, in both instances, I am glad to say, Tony Stark is not portrayed as the villain some fans paint him to be. His position, given all that he’s lost and all the guilt he’s built up over the last near decade, makes sense for his character. There is no real “right” or “wrong” side to this war–yes, Cap physically “beats” Tony in the end, but that doesn’t change the fact that they ultimately strive for the same goal–to keep the world safe. And Cap recognizes that. Both men truly believe they are right and are blinded by these beliefs. And the gaps and ambiguities in both their arguments lead not only other Avengers but Steve and Tony themselves to question their beliefs. If college ethics class taught me anything, it’s that right and wrong are pretty damn subjective. The film does not shy away from this idea. Civil War isn’t just a fight for the sake of fighting–there is emotion and passion and heart behind every decision each man makes, whether or not those come from a good or bad place.

But if you’re like me, waving my Steve/Tony flag in the air for all eternity, the resolution to their conflict in the film–or lack thereof–isn’t exactly neat and pretty. It’s more like a “you go your way, I’ll go mine” kind of break-up. I think that’s exactly what I expected. And it’s okay. Plus, we all know they’ll hook back up for the next Avengers film. I hope by that point they can put aside their differences or at least find a compromise. But that compromise, that forgiveness, will inevitably be attained differently than it is in the comics:

I’m not half as good at–at anything as I am when I’m doing it next to you. And that’s the truth. (Avengers Prime #5. God, just get married already.)
I just hope that reconciliation, whatever it is, at the very least does justice to the characters the MCU has created. Movie-Steve-and-Tony deserve at least that consistency.

Etc
I’ll say that plot wise, there was a lot happening. The film jumped to and from many locations. The ending in which Zemo’s motives are revealed seemed a bit rushed, but I enjoyed that this film very much focused on the civilian perspective (which superhero films rarely do). That said, the film did try to accomplish quite a bit–and while it didn’t fall into chaos as did Age of Ultron, I would’ve appreciated more of a focus on the title protagonist. When Robert Downey Jr is signed onto a film, though, there’s bound to be a battle for screen time. (I love him, so I’m not actively complaining.) I also would’ve appreciated a more consolidated film, one that was less overwhelming to keep up with–but again, the comics were no picnic read. All things considered, the film adapted a complex story and made it unique.

Consensus
Captain America: Civil War definitely entertains, providing a well-stirred combination of action and humor. It also effectively maintained and forged character dynamics that shaped the tone of the film. It could have stuck more closely to a consistent storyline and setting to avoid confusing or overwhelming its audience, but overall, it does a great job executing a new take on a rising classic Marvel story.

Rating: 3.5/5

Review: Mr. Holmes (2015)

It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Victorian literature. This affinity, in tandem with being swept up in the phenomenon that was BBC Sherlock in 2010, led me to become quite the Sherlockian. I visited the “real” 221B Baker Street in London–twice–and have read and re-read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s old tales dozens of times. Naturally, I was very excited to watch Mr. Holmes as a nice entry back into Sherlock Holmes’ complicated mind. Overall, I was very impressed.

The bulk of the action takes place almost entirely along the shores of Sussex, England (an emotional component for me, as I studied abroad there) at Mr. Sherlock Holmes’ burrowed little cottage. The film opens following Holmes off the train after a visit to Japan for a plant known as prickly ash–which is meant to increase one’s cognitive abilities. Holmes is elderly, hidden away, and, of all things, minding bees in his yard. The film takes on a very personal, homey feel as opposed to a highly-charged speed race through London as Holmes rushes to solve the latest murder. Almost immediately, the viewer understands she is in for a completely different experience than that of any previous visual adaptations of Sherlockian lore.

If you are expecting to go into Mr. Holmes to find the quips and quirks of Benedict Cumberbatch’s stoic Sherlock, you won’t find them. Sir Ian McKellan’s Sherlock Holmes is quiet and contemplative; this film very well serves as Holmes’ “last bow” in a way many modern adaptations haven’t. The tone of the entire film is reflective and emotive, which might be hard for Sherlockians to grasp. We know Sherlock to be calculated, logical and sometimes quite cold for the sake of solving a mystery. In Mr. Holmes, however, the mystery to be solved is Sherlock himself. As a viewer and a fan of Sherlock Holmes as a character, I did not find this change in his demeanor disconcerting–rather, I found it necessary and effective in rounding out his character. As he approaches the end of his life, Holmes finds in order to feel truly complete and accomplished in all he has done, he must come to terms with feelings he’d locked away years ago.

I’m sure you are wondering where Dr. Watson might fit into this picture. On the contrary, Watson is almost entirely absent from the film. His absence is felt, however, and addressed; the moments he is referenced or shown are very subtle and poignant, reflecting the long, complicated history between him and Holmes. But the human component Watson brought to Holmes is certainly not cast aside. Instead, we have Holmes’ housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and her son Roger (Milo Parker) who act as foils in different ways to Sherlock. Mrs. Munro is not an “educated” woman, but has the common sense and open tenderness Holmes lacks–or thinks he lacks–in himself. Roger is inquisitive and quick on his feet. The latter in particular functions as a Watson-esque someone off whom Holmes can bounce off his musings and ideas while also inspiring intellectual stimulation. Holmes and Roger’s friendship is portrayed brilliantly by McKellan and Parker respectively; indeed, Roger is a catalyst in Holmes coming to recognize his very human emotions. The very “homey” feeling of the film is emphasized by the fact that we mostly follow only these three characters in the whole course of the story.

Sherlock Holmes’ final “case,” then, is about humanity. It is about finding humanity within himself, appreciating it within others, and learning to let go of logic and calculations when necessary. We see a very vulnerable, human side of Sherlock Holmes in this movie that I would have never expected. In the same respect, though, particularly in flashbacks to Holmes’ final case before he quit the profession, we see a lot of his brilliance and uncanny knack for finding clues in the seemingly mundane. This is definitely the Holmes we know and love–but one who has loved and felt and lost, too; a fact with which in this film he is slowly coming to terms.

Mr. Holmes is very character-heavy, often using extreme close-ups and long bouts of conversational dialogue which can sometimes be tedious. But again, it is a personal film, about The Great Detective’s personal journey. Bill Condon does a wonderful job conveying all this, and the acting by all performers is superb especially in relating to the audience the key relationships in the film. Mr. Holmes takes viewers on an intimate journey and leaves you teary-eyed in the best (if most irrational) of ways.

Overall rating: 4/5

Review: Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita (1962)

Having just finished the novel of the same name, I delved headfirst into what was described by fans of the book as Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 “masterpiece” adaptation. This review will mostly consist of an analysis of both versions of the story through comparisons between the book and the film, since both are so fresh in my mind.

First and foremost, one can’t quite consider oneself a “fan” of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita without receiving a few questioning glances in return. The novel is told from the perspective of a pedophile, H. Humbert, and his love-lust-desire for his landlady’s preteen daughter, Dolores Haze. It isn’t that Lolita ranks so high among literary classics because of its likability. Rather, its harsh, disturbing subject matter combined with Nabokov’s detailed, often flowery prose creates a contrast that keeps readers enthralled and engaged from start to finish. And it’s not that we as readers necessarily feel for Humbert–we just experience his feelings, his self-hatred, his passion firsthand as it all unfolds for us throughout the novel. Nabokov weaves a deplorable yet unforgettable tale that has shocked readers since its publication in 1952.

So upon reading the final page of the book, I wondered just how any film adaptation could do this book justice. Humbert’s narration is so painstakingly wrought that it seemed to me impossible to replicate in any other medium. The 1962 Lolita (in comparison to the ’97 adaptation which I’ve yet to see) features a script partially written by Nabokov himself.

Despite Nabokov’s involvement in the film, translating this book from page to screen inevitably had to allow for some changes. What surprised me about the film was its very immediately apparent change in tone from that of the book. There are various little plot changes–for example, Lolita’s initial age is changed from 12 to 14, though I think this was to make the film easier to stomach for viewers; and Mona is written as the daughter of Jean and John Farlow–but I think what struck me most having just put the book down was how much more open the film is to other character perspectives. It’s a bit jarring to those only familiar with the book, because we as readers are exposed to only Humbert’s claustrophobic thoughts, ideas, and fantasies. As viewers we see a much fuller picture of Humbert’s marriage to Charlotte, and a much more in-depth depiction of Clare Quilty, our main antagonist (if you don’t count Humbert as the antagonist, though that is a debate for another time). Kubrick doesn’t only make changes, but creates his own dynamics between characters and components of the original Lolita story. This takes a bit to get used to if you were expecting a direct adaptation (as I was). The film takes on an almost comic tone at times–not necessarily in regard to the disturbing feelings European Humbert has for Lo, but in Humbert’s maneuvering of the various strange American idiosyncrasies by which he’s surrounded, as well as his over-the-top interactions with others in his attempt to achieve his lofty and disturbing goals.

What Kubrick hits perfectly in his film is characterization. Charlotte Haze is portrayed near flawlessly by Shelley Winters; both her dialogue and her mannerisms truly emphasize her need to be “in” with the cultured “it” crowd (“Is it my fault if I feel young?”). Her dynamic with Lo is great as well, snippy and changing feeling constantly. James Mason’s Professor Humbert is perfectly awkward (the dancing scene between him and Charlotte is exactly how I would imagine him attempting to dance) and subtly creepy (i.e. in his longing stare at Lolita’s picture as he fondles his wife). Kubrick cast the film very effectively; the chemistry and dynamics between all the actors is brilliantly executed. For those who haven’t read the book, this film definitely gives one a sense of what the characters are like.

Kubrick’s direction, too, is unparalleled, creating sympathy for even the nastiest, most attention-seeking of characters in long-held close-ups and erratic fade-outs. He treats Lolita with the innocent softglow Humbert eternally sees her in. And he uses lighting to depict Quilty’s ever-lurking nature very effectively. What Kubrick chooses to show is just as effective as what he leaves out. The intimate scene on the cot between Lolita and Humbert ends with a fade-out on her face, and we as viewers are left to imagine what transpired between them. One of my favorite moments is, actually, the opening credits scene depicting Lolita’s small, childlike foot getting a pedicure. It’s simple, but knowing the story oddly disturbing especially as the image comes up again later in the film.

It is important to understand there’s no true way to adapt Lolita word-for-word. It is an experience that can only be done justice in Humbert’s own original words. Kubrick’s film, though, is a worthy companion to Nabokov’s original work. The 1960s could only go so far in movie-making without censors blaring at every turn, but Kubrick maneuvers around these to allow Lolita to stand on its own, separate from the novel, as a tribute to Nabokov’s ideas about the perils, joys, and contradictions in sex, youth and love.

Rating: 4/5

Review: Inside Out (2015)

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If you want a film that speaks successfully to kids about mental instability, look no further than Inside Out. A fun-filled, hilariously wild ride, the film takes audiences on a journey through the eyes of the personified emotions Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear in their quest to make 11-year-old Riley Anderson happy again. Most importantly, it touches upon issues of depression and mental illness, and what it takes to combat them.

As someone with clinical depression, I can tell you right off the bat that Inside Out isn’t any kind of gritty, dark look into what it means to be depressed. Rather, it is a film about mental imbalance, which comes in many forms, and it is executed in a way that is equally accessible to children and adults. In personifying the emotions within Riley’s brain, we see exacerbated versions of every primary emotion we experiences as humans. Our main protagonist is, of course, Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), whose goal is to keep Riley the bouncy, happy girl she’s always been. A predicament arises, though, when Joy is no longer in control of Riley’s emotions, and has to work with her complete opposite–Sadness–to get back to her. Sadness (Phyllis Smith of The Office) is exactly her namesake; she can do nothing but bring a situation down–or so it appears. Over the course of the film, Joy realizes that perhaps sadness, which can lead to empathy and greater understanding between people, might not always be so terrible to feel after all.

But what happens to someone when some of their key emotions are “missing”? Inside Out explores this in Riley’s transformation. With Joy missing, she is taken over by Fear, Anger and Disgust and loses interest in the things she loves, like hockey. She even burns bridges with family and friends. What does that sound like? Depression. Depression is literally a chemical imbalance within the brain, portrayed here as a positive emotion–Joy–quite literally gone missing. It creates a physicality behind depression that arguably helps children grasp the concept of mental imbalance.

Let’s not forget Sadness is missing too. From a very black-and-white perspective, it would appear that’s a good thing. But where are we without sadness to counteract happiness? How can we come to understand one another fully, without knowing what makes us sad as well as joyful? Sadness is inevitably part of life. It’s in all of us. Some of us just…have a little more joy missing. And Inside Out teaches us that the best way we can strive to live, is in balance with our emotions. Joy’s journey culminates in her understanding that she and Sadness work best for Riley as a unit, not apart. We can take this understanding and apply it to how we might focus on helping our friends and family who deal with depression, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses. As sufferers of those disorders, we might take the idea of balance in the film as a reminder of what to strive for. Inside Out speaks to us with depression and mental instability in showing us we’re not alone; it speaks to our friends and family to show them the best ways to reach out and help and understand.

Jam-packed with humor, quirky references (I see you, Chinatown) and a talented group of voice actors, Inside Out is a thrill to watch. More than that, however, it is a film that embraces mental instability and treats it not as a flaw, but as a part of being human. We all need to find balance in our lives–achieving balance of mind is no different.

Overall rating: 4/5

Review: Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)

Though I haven’t read the Thomas Hardy novel on which this film was based, I have read his Tess of the D’urbervilles–so it’s safe to say I expected two hours of depression, death and woe in Far from the Madding Crowd. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the story was far less bleak than I anticipated, performed brilliantly by a talented set of actors, and translated to screen very effectively by Thomas Vinterberg. Perhaps most importantly, the film illuminates a woman who transcends the Victorian age in her tenacity and strength.

Carey Mulligan (The Great Gatsby, Doctor Who) shines as the main character, Miss Bathsheba Everdene (not to be confused with “the girl on fire” who is probably her descendant, Katniss Everdeen) who recently inherited her uncle’s farm. Mulligan plays Bathsheba honestly and openly, making her relatable despite what an average audience member might brush off as a typical Victorian woman with typical Victorian sentiments. But Bathsheba is certainly anything but. She spends most of the film warding off the advances of shepherd Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), farmer William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), and soldier Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge). Schoenaerts plays a subdued, sincere character; Sheen is an older bachelor who makes one’s heart ache, and Sturridge does a fantastic job of playing a very emotionally unstable, yet dangerously charming sergeant. Mulligan’s chemistry with each of these actors is unique from the others, but she stands on her own just as well, portraying an independent, fierce spirit. Vinterberg’s direction really allowed for the audience to get an in-depth look at these characters and their dynamics with one another. The use of ECUs during particularly emotionally charged moments was very effective, and the use of shadows and dark colors added to the Romantic feel of the film.

I saw the film with my mother, who kept commenting throughout that Bathsheba should “just make up her mind.” And I think her reaction is exactly why a film like this needed to be made. It wasn’t that Bathsheba couldn’t decide between all her potential suitors–it’s that she wanted to have control of when she was ready to commit herself to someone. In the Victorian age, women were married off in their early teens a lot of the time, to men usually chosen by their fathers. Bathsheba displays a kind of agency that was not often publicly seen or advocated in 19th-century England, or anywhere. The fact that she couldn’t “just choose” was indicative of the idea–far-fetched for her time–that women should have been able to make up their own minds as to when they were ready to marry, and to whom. The fact that my mom couldn’t understand that was a bit off-putting–but perhaps her opinion was tied in with her expectations of what a proper Victorian woman should be and how she should act. Bathsheba defies all those stereotypes, which is what I think makes Far from the Madding Crowd such a fascinating film, based on a novel that was clearly ahead of its time, not unlike Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Bathsheba wanted to wait until she was ready for, felt deserving of, and felt her given suitor deserved, marriage. Being partial to all things Victorian, Bathsheba’s characterization is a breath of fresh air to me. Some people–men and women alike–might consider her flippant or inconsistent. Rather, it might be said Bathsheba is a woman ahead of her time in her understanding of the necessity–or lack thereof–of a husband to complete her.

The film ran a bit long, and oftentimes dealt a bit cyclically with Bathsheba’s engagement problem–but overall, it is a great trip back in time that does away with the conventionality of the typical shy, subdued, repressed Victorian woman.

Overall rating: 3.5/5