Friday, March 16, 2012

Great Expectations: The Book, the Miniseries, and the Movie

Here's where the science-y side of me goes away. I'm a double major, so besides going for a BS in biology, I'm also trying for a BA in English. People ask me all the time how I can study both the physical sciences and the social sciences. They're polar opposites. Really, I don't know, and sometimes I wish I wasn't in love with both biology and English. You don't know how strange it is to go from a class teaching cell biology to one teaching about Victorian Literature in the 19th century.

Anyway, over break my assignment for the above literature class was to finish Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. It's not like we want to relax or anything over the break, right?
I "read" the book for an English Honors class my sophomore year of high school. "Read" as in I got to about page fifty, didn't understand a thing, and did a combination of skimming/Sparknoting to get through the rest. I didn't remember any of it. So, honestly, I didn't have high expectations for this book (see what I did there?) Even the cover looks dull.

I don't know how after four measly years, I can suddenly understand this book and actually enjoy it. Is this what college did to me? Did it turn me into one of those prudes who yearns for the classics and says that Pride and Prejudice is the best book ever written? (LIES...everyone knows its Harry Potter). Did I sell my soul to this major?

But no, something must've changed because I raced through this book. It's hard to describe: mostly its a coming-of-age story of a boy named Pip who inherits a vast amount of fortune. I imagine that this is one of the first books that showcases the problems that material wealth can bring with it, as Pip starts longing for the times when he was a poor blacksmith's apprentice. Therefore, the theme seemed a little overdone, but I'm sure that at the time it was fresh. We learned in my Victorian Literature class that material wealth was first talked about in books in the 19th century. Before then, people were too proud to brag to others about how much they owned. Just think of such a different society we live in today!

Like I said, I enjoyed the book but it wasn't as good as other books we've read in the class. What I find interesting is how this book is adapted over and over again into TV series and movies. There's two, two versions of the book hitting the US screens this year. That's too much Pip for anyone to handle.

Here's the trailer for the first adaption, the miniseries, which is on PBS April 1st and 8th. I don't care if you have no interest at all in Great Expectations, but you have to watch the trailer. It was just weird. There's no talking at all in the whole thing, just some weird hipster/new age/indie song wailing in the back. Now, I like indie songs, but they weren't around in the 1800s, people. I just want to hear these characters talk. Which makes me think they might not have the greatest acting abilities, and the good folk at PBS are just trying to hide it...

Watch Great Expectations Preview on PBS. See more from Masterpiece.

Now the second adaption seems a little more legit. It's coming out at the end of the year, so there's almost no information on it but the cast list at IMDB. It's got some heavy-hitter names. Ralph Fiennes (i.e. Voldemort), Helena Bonham Carter (i.e. scary lady in every British/Tim Burton movie), Jeremy Irvine (i.e. the boy crying over his horse in "War Horse). Strangely of all, even Robbie Coltrane, HAGRID, is in it. HAGRID. So we got Voldemort, Bellatrix, and Hagrid. What is this, the Potter family reunion?

Even though we know nothing else than the cast list, I can tell by the caliber of these actors that the movie will be something special. I'll probably watch it just because I love to watch movie adaptations of books and then complain about everything they cut out. The miniseries on PBS? I'm giving that a maybe.

I'm glad that the classic book is getting exposure to a new generation, but why two adaptations in one year? Perhaps it's just bad timing. But I almost wish that instead of doing the 18th adaptation of Great Expectations (seriously, it's the 18th according to Wikipedia), they'd reinvent a different old classic. Like Villette. Or Mary Barton.

Or just let these books sleep peacefully--perhaps they were never meant for the big screen at all.


  1. I'm in exactly the same boat! I'm studying science (biomed) but really miss studying English :( in my opinion there is nothing better than taking a break from writing a stressful lab report to read a piece of classic literature - love it! Great Expectations is deidnitely on my reading list. Awesome post :)

    1. Thanks Belle! I agree: sometimes it can get stressful, but I love taking a break from studying organic chemistry to read a book for my English class. And you definitely have to read Great Expectations. It's a classic :)

  2. I am planning to study English, so I know what you mean. Two years ago internet was my main source of information while reading books, but now I am able to appreciate good writing. I am working on Pride and prejudice, and it is amazing (next to Harry Potter, like you said. I am a die hard HP fan.) And I can finally appreciate Toni Morrison's works.

    1. Be an English major! It's great being able to study at length the classics. Through studying the works of a certain time period, you can learn a lot about the people living then.

      And I LOVE Pride and Prejudice! The movies don't do it justice.

  3. I've been in your shoes a few years ago, I wanted to study Architecture, Psychology and Maths :) But I decided to go for one and do it well - how it goes... not really that well but I'm trying :D
    By the way, I tagged you on my blog for the Versatile Blogger Award and I hope you'll answer:)

    1. Oh my gosh, thank you so much! I've never been tagged for a blogger award, so I really appreciate it :) :) I'll answer back ASAP. Now I just have to think of seven interesting things about myself...


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