Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Books Turned Into Movies: Pillars of the Earth on Starz

You may have remembered my unbridled enthusiasm when I heard that that Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth was being turned into an eight hour miniseries for Starz starting, among others, Donald Sutherland and Ian McShane. The series is set to debut in the next couple of days but early reports of the series' quality have been less than glowing.

Mo Ryan of the Chicago Tribune's "The Watcher" certainly didn't mince her words when she wrote that the series had "made Ian McShane (temporarily) uninteresting." Before reading too much into her critique of the series it is important to note that Ryan doesn't sound like much of a fan of the novel, a novel that has been a critical and popular success for more than twenty years. She writes that the characters are sometimes wooden, that readers may find that the book contains more than enough information about the building of a cathedral in the 13th century but concedes that the book "gets the job done". This last bit is the nicest thing she says about both the book and the movie.

Ryan writes: "If you read "The Pillars of the Earth," don't expect a masterpiece, but you will get a reasonably decent yarn and you'll learn how and why these towering monuments to faith came to be built. If you watch the miniseries, you'll see precious raw materials wasted and shoddy construction everywhere you look. The fact that good scenes and character moments from the book are poorly executed or changed beyond recognition in the miniseries just adds insult to injury."

Golden Globe winner Ian McShane as Waleran Bigod.
Of the cast Ryan writres: "The cast looks positively stranded, almost off-balance, as if they were never allowed a chance to get their bearings and dig into their characterizations." The biggest crime, according the Ryan is the fact that Ian McShane as the devious Waleran Bigod. It is this critique that leaves me the most fearful of the quality of the series. McShane is magic in a bottle and if he's been rendered ineffective the series' hopes for success may be short-lived.

To be completely fair, Ryan's is hardly alone in her feelings about the Pillars of the Earth series. Entertainment Weekly, among others, has commented that the series is perhaps too dense and fails to tie plots together.

My hope is that if you've read the book and are a fan that there will be some redeeming qualities to be found. I enjoyed the book (although I found the sequel-esque World Without End to have followed the formula of the first novel far too closely) I have seen the sets and interviews with the actors who have touted the authenticity of the research and work that went into creating medieval England. As a fan of the novel I'll be tuning in this week looking for authenticity and any entertainment I can get - it has to be better than a night of America's Got Talent, right?

Related Links:

Loaded Questions: Pillars of the Earth Starts Filming! 
Loaded Questions: Our Interview with Author Ken Follett for the release of World Without End



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