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Thursday, October 27, 2011

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 60 - The Scarlet Letter (1995)

Yep.  It’s here.  The Razzie-winning Scarlet Letter.  Roland Joffé’s introspective, challenging re-imagining of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Purtian-era drama about a woman who is marked for life and ostracized by society for having an affair and subsequently giving birth to a child in the mid-17th century.  Oh, who am I kidding, this is a piece of garbage.

The Scarlet Letter stars the talented Gary Oldman and the okay Demi Moore as the two lovers who are the center of the controversy in this dramatic, erotic thriller (yeah, you read that right).  This telling of the story tries to follow the trend of steamy dramatic thrillers that permeated the late 80’s and early 90’s.  This includes the silly and so-bad-it’s-good film Disclosure and the famously awful Showgirls.  While most of the films in this trend were essentially designed to bring two actors together for a number of “sexy” scenes, the Scarlet Letter mixes the cliches of the genre with the events in the story and in execution this is one overacted, over-dramatic piece of crap.  From start to finish (and boy is there a finish!), this is a dreadful, dismal experience.

There isn’t much that can be said about this movie.  Forget the R-rated and uncomfortably-shot “love scene”, the happy ending, the attack by Native Americans, the flaming cart hurdling through the town square, and the ending where Hester, Arthur and Pearl ride off during sundown while the town burns around them.  Forget about the fact that this film has absolutely nothing to do with the original story.  This is bad movie on its own merit.  It is so melodramatic, filled with countless scenes where the actors pose “artistically”, there are tons of shots that are meant to be “pretty” but are so pretentious you want to just punch yourself in the face, and the speech is a little anachronistic while it tries to convince the audience that it is following the source material.  The writing is really, really bad too.  I can’t convey the pain that comes from the dialogue in this movie, all I can say is imagine one of the untalented writers of the many, many dreadful Lifetime Original Movies and then have that writer try to channel Nathaniel Hawthrone without ever actually reading his work.  Yeah.  It’s like that.  

I hated this film.  It’s been some time since I’ve seen it, but I did refresh my memory on it before writing this mini-review and I can say, “Yep!  It still sucks!”  While some movies are bad despite obvious effort (2009’s Watchmen, for example), it’s hard to find any effort at all in this film.  Everybody is doing their best soap opera acting and the whole period element is sucked right out of the film when we are bashed over the head with not-so-subtle symbolism and painful stylization.  Hell, even the poster looks like the cover of a bad Harlequin Romance.

Now, this film is famous for how it changed the ending to fit the trend it was following, but for me, it’s the dialogue.  Staying true to the original ending would not have negated the fact that ever word spoken in this movie sounds like it was written by a third-rate writer who spent his career up to this point writing really bad melodramatic episodes of One Life To Live.  Now, the screenwriter, Douglas Day Stewart, did write An Officer and a Gentlemen (for which he won and Oscar) but I direct your attention to a film he wrote back in 1980 called The Blue Lagoon and you’ll understand exactly what is wrong with this movie.  This screenplay is so ostentatious that I can actually imagine Stewart typing that last period at the end of the last line of dialogue and smiling to himself pompously, as though he created some masterwork that will cement him in history as a truly great screenwriter.  Alas, he got nothing out of this screenplay except a nice big fat Razzie nomination.

Now, I hate bad comedies because they are usually infuriatingly annoying, but bad dramas..?  Well, to me it doesn’t really get much worse than a drama that is so proud of itself yet so, so terrible.  It’s both sad and obnoxious.  This is made even worse when good actors and directors are involved.  I like Gary Oldman and Roland Joffé was nominated for multiple Oscars.  However, this is one of those great Hollywood tragedies and, in the right hands, a retelling of the Scarlet Letter could work, but with this screenplay, this version was D.O.A.

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