Friday, June 7, 2013

Period Drama Challenge Review #3: Lassie Come Home (1943) and Lassie (2005)

One question that many people are asked when they are little is "What do you want to be when you grow up?".  My answer to that question was always changing.  One time I wanted to be a fire fighter and another I wanted to be a picture book illustrator.  Eventually, I had thought up a list of possible future careers.  The more I grew up, the longer my list became.  One of the things I most wanted to be was a movie director.  Every time I was not satisfied with a movie, I dreamt of directing my own version.  This brings me to Lassie, the 2005 remake of Lassie Come Home (1943), based on the 1940 novel by Eric Knight.

Lassie (2005).
Lassie Come-Home tells the tale of Lassie, a loyal and highly prized Rough Collie strong of heart, grace, and intelligence, who journeys over hundreds of miles in Scotland to reunite with her family in Yorkshire, England.  Her family had sold her to the Duke of Rudling after Joe's father lost his job, when the coal-mine was shut down.  Lassie Come-Home is a classic story and a childhood favorite of mine, one that I hold in great esteem.  It's an emotional and timeless story about loyalty, hope, and perseverance to the very last.

Lassie Come Home (1943) and Lassie (2005) are movies that compliment each other exceedingly well in certain ways.  The faults of one movie are not present in the other; each movie does well at what the other movie does poorly, and vice-versa.  For example, the 1943 film had perfect casting, beautiful acting, and a beautiful spirit; it was like the book by Eric Knight had been brought to life.

Lassie meets Joe Carraclough (played by Roddy McDowall)
after school as she does every day.
However, one of its worst flaws almost completely destroyed my suspension of disbelief.  It is painfully obvious that the scenes in which Lassie journeys through Scotland are North American landscapes.  The Californian scenery is breathtakingly beautiful, but it is not Scotland.

Filming took place in Monterey, California and Washington state.

This is where the 2005 film excels.  There is stunning scenery and cinematography in Lassie (2005), which was filmed in Scotland, Ireland, and on the Isle of Man.

The heart of Lassie Come-Home is the relationship between Lassie and Joe Carraclough.  Their friendship guides the storytelling and sends an endearing message of faith, loyalty, and love, three incredibly human feelings.  In this way Lassie Come-Home is very much a story that speaks to the humanity present in all of us.  In Lassie Come Home (1943), Lassie and Joe's friendship is strong and the movie doesn't lose focus of that.  This is where, in my opinion, the 2005 remake goes wrong.  First of all, I have nothing against the actor (Jonathan Mason) chosen to play Joe, but he seems a little too young to me.  I picture Joe as a boy in the midst of his childhood, and not as young as Jonathan Mason's Joe seems.  I just don't feel that Jonathan Mason fits the part.

Lassie waits patiently outside of Joe's schoolhouse.
Joe meets Lassie after school.
My main issue with the 2005 version is the lack of focus on Lassie and Joe's relationship.  It wasn't developed enough or built upon enough.  There was far too much attention on the Duke and his granddaughter.

Peter O'Toole as the Duke (right) and Hester Odgers as his granddaughter, Cilla (left).
Don't get me wrong, I love Peter O'Toole.  I consider him to be one of the greatest actors of all time.  I thoroughly enjoyed his performance as the Duke of Rudling.  Hester Odgers, who plays Cilla, the Duke's granddaughter, was wonderful in her part as well, but I felt like the story had become about Cilla and her grandfather.  It was as though the focus had turned from Joe and Lassie to Cilla and Lassie.  Which is fine, I suppose, but it seems the movie spends far more time with Cilla than with Joe.  Maybe the title should be changed to "The Adventures of Cilla and Lassie".  I know I'm starting to sound a bit irritated, but truthfully, this issue really does irritate me.

I just didn't feel that the bond between Joe and Lassie was very strong, and it was not embellished upon enough.  I feel that if this movie had taken more time to develop the characters and create more atmosphere, it could have strengthened the bond between Lassie and Joe that is supposed to make up such a vital part of the story.  This brings me to yet another issue I had with the 2005 version; it felt rushed.  Everything seemed to go by so quickly.  I watched this movie twice and each time when I reached the ending, I felt it had come too soon.

Lassie lies exhausted and in pain after her long journey home.
I don't think this is how a movie should go about it; it needs to take its time and breath, and let the film meditate on scenes in order to create a feeling.  Scenes in Lassie (2005) were cut more like a normal movie, but in my view, a story like Lassie Come-Home should take its time and develop plenty of atmosphere.  I am never satisfied with a film when I feel that it has gone by too quickly.  This is why I wish that I could combine the best aspects of Lassie Come Home (1943) with those of Lassie (2005) and create a version of my own.  Both versions are good, but neither are quite right from my perspective.

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