Saturday, 14 March 2009

Movie Review - Shogun

The film version of Shogun was made from splicing together bits of the mini series (about 9 hours). Sadly, the splicing is not all that great, and because of the incredibly complex nature of the book (which the mini-series captured almost perfectly, although even 9 hours wasn’t really enough) it has a piecemeal feel about it – it’s more of a collage than a complete picture, if you like. Watching it for the first time feels less like watching a film and more like a selection of highlights from a long-running show.

The story is basically that of an English Pilot (navigator) whose ship crashes off the coast of Japan sometime in the 18th century. Through a series of events he becomes a Samuri, and gets involved in the biggest political scheme in Japan – that of one of the Lords trying to rise to become Shogun, a position of more power even than the Emperor. Along the way he accumulates a set of powerful friends – along with some very powerful enemies. Among these enemies are the Portuguese Jesuits, and Lord Ishido, one of the rival Lords and one of the most powerful men in Japan. He also finds love and his love is returned, but the object of his desire belongs to someone else, and in Japan, honour is everything…

The main problem with this movie version is that it’s just too short to make any sense if you’ve never read the book or seen the mini-series – you’ll probably be completely lost in the tide of events, and even if you can understand what goes on in the film, it would only be about a tenth of the book’s actual plot. Richard Chamberlain stars as John Blackthorne and is superb, and the rest of the cast are fine (I’d forgotten in my review of the mini-series that John Rhys-Davies plays Rodriguez, the Portuguese Captain of the Black Ship, which will be the ultimate prize of all Blackthorne’s adventures… or so he thinks…). But it still doesn’t help – watching this instead of the mini-series is like trying to coax a rusty, misfiring Ford Escort with 3 flat tires and an exhaust that’s about to drop off through the worst rush-hour traffic when you could be driving a brand new top of the range Porsche on an open road.

Even if the splicing had been exceptional the storyline wouldn’t have hung together too well. It’s simply a case of too much story, not enough time. I know why the producers have done it – trying to make it appeal to people with less time or a short attention span – but it just doesn’t work for the simple fact that Shogun is not a story that can be told in under 2 hours. (Can you imagine if Peter Jackson had been forced to try to condense the entire Lord of the Rings series into 2 hours?!!??)

I make no apology for a shorter than usual review, I’ve told you everything you need to know here. In my opinion the mini-series is infinitely better than this – if you want to see a great adaptation and the 9-hour total playing time doesn’t put you off, see:

No comments: