East of Eden

A few months ago I read East of Eden for the first time and loved it. I’ve been recommending it or giving it to lots of people since then and most of them have liked it too. A few people have suggested that I see the movie but having heard the movie is really just about the end of the book I decided to take a pass.

Then someone told me there was a mini-series of the story that was the whole ball of wax. Wendy and I sat down to start watching it last night (it’s more than 300 minutes long). It gets good reviews on Amazon and elsewhere so we had high hopes. It also had a pretty good cast. We made it through less than one disc. That’s how bad it was.

So what was bad about it? Let me run it down:

The actor playing Adam couldn’t have been worse if he’d meant to. There were several points when I laughed out loud. I don’t think it was meant to be funny though. It reminded me of a movie I like a lot (that is funny) – OSS 117: Lost in Rio. This terrific French spy spoof features Jean Dujardin as a wildly inappropriate yet surprisingly successful agent. Throughout the movie he dons absurd costumes. That was what Adam reminded me of – someone putting on silly costumes and barely able to contain themselves. Since Adam is one of the key characters it was a total problem.

The violence was super silly. There’s plenty of violence in East of Eden: wars, fights, attempted murders, etc. The violence in this version appeared to be choreographed by someone who cut their teeth staging fights in low-budget westerns. Swings miss their mark by miles as the actors tumble and grimace. They’re so bad they’re laughable. But . . . they’re not actually meant to be funny.

The production quality. Look, I realize that this wasn’t some big budget Hollywood blockbuster – but man, let me tell you – it looked like maybe some friends had done it over a weekend in their neighborhood. Just as low budget as you could wish for.

Lloyd Bridges. Sam Hamilton is another important character in East of Eden. Lloyd Bridges is the guy who chose the wrong day to quit smoking. Sam Hamilton (in my imagination) was a thoughtful man with a dry/wry sense of humor. Understated. Not a guffawing buffoon. This was the final straw and it was at this point that I turned it off.

There were things right with this version – Kate was terrific. The story was intact and that’s important. But seeing how far from the mark an intact story can be is a reminder of what makes a great novel great. It isn’t just the story – it’s the language that creates the space for the story to unfold and grants the freedom for the reader to fill in details. Movies take away that language and space and freedom. In some cases that’s not a big deal. In some cases it’s totally welcome and makes a story even more awesome. But it the case of East of Eden it was a disaster.

Read the book.

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