After seeing the trailer that “Winter’s Tale” by Mark Helprin has become a movie, I got goose bumps from watching the scenes that I read as a teenager in the early 1980’s. Alas, I saw the movie and it was a disappointment. The novel itself might be “unfilmable,” a special category that “The Lord of The Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien had for many years until Peter Jackson brought it to life in three movies, as two-thirds of the novel was left out of this movie adaptation.
The novel was about the turn of the century (1899-1900) and the coming of the millennium (1999-2000), the struggles between good and evil, love and death, past and future, and the city of justice known as New York City. A host of different characters occupies each time period, a few transcended both time periods, and several were immortal.
The first thing the movie does was toss out the coming of the millennium theme. Since the real-life millennium came and went without a herald of angels proclaiming the second coming of Christ, and even the Y2K computer disaster went out with whimper, it’s understandable that the movie would shift the timeline forward to 1916 and 2014.
Without the millennium being the implicit theme for good and evil, the film had the devil (Will Smith) in a Jimmie Hendrix t-shirt and the villain, Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), being the demonic mastermind of a criminal enterprise. Their job is to prevent miracles from happening in New York City in general, and by Peter Lake (Collin Farrell) in particular. This explicit “angels and demons” theme was a somewhat unnecessary distraction.
The movie focuses on the brief and tragic romance between Peter Lake and Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay) as star-crossed lovers from opposite ends of society. He’s a thief who got caught cracking her father’s safe and she’s the dying daughter of a newspaper magnate. All scenes concerning these two were faithful to the novel for the most part, enough so that I broke out in goose bumps and/or tears.
The latter half of the movie where Peter find himself in present day New York City goes by in a star-sparkled flash, which this movie has too many as a nod to the “city of light” theme from the novel, rushing to the final battle between good and evil that the miracle Peter does perform in bringing the dead back to life is almost an afterthought.
The script fell short of expectations from having read the novel despite the superb acting of a talented cast. A faithful adaptation would have required a longer movie—perhaps a trilogy of movies—to capture the sweeping themes and the characters from the rest of the novel. Since I can’t separate myself from the novel, I’m not sure how the movie would work for someone who has never read the novel.