Sunday, September 21, 2008

Finishing John Adams

Five months after it aired on HBO we finally finished its seven-part John Adams miniseries, from David McCullough's book. Despite some inevitable speechy longueurs in the later chapters--then as now, our representatives loved to hear themselves talk, but how refreshing it was to share an infatuation with ideas rather than positions--the production earned its 23 Emmy nominations. Look for a cantankerous Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney in a Katharine Hepburn-ish turn to be elected, and if I had to choose between the three supporting actor nominees, I'd pick Stephen Dillane's wryly opaque Thomas Jefferson, though David Morse's staunch Washington (the best of several finely detailed, award-nominated makeup tasks) and Tom Wilkinson's foxy Benjamin Franklin are not far out of the running. We love this kind of historical recreation, and the show will always occupy a small part of our hearts as the last program we watched before the birth of our daughter, and the first we tuned into after she was born.

But I would impeach one nominee. The director, Tom Hooper, won an Emmy for HBO/BBC's engaging Elizabeth I miniseries with Helen Mirren, and gets full credit for successfully marshaling cast and crew through a lengthy period shoot and keeping up the pace over several hours. But he did the elegant Emmy-nominated cinematography (by the great Tak Fujimoto, and Danny Cohen) a terrible disservice by constantly forcing the DPs into tilted Dutch angles, which works for a stylized suspense piece like The Third Man but not a straightforward drama. Some of the choices, including overhead shots listing to one side, were truly peculiar (and repeating a move from Gladiator, in the last hour, plain lazy). Did Hooper think this was "modern," with-it? Distracting, to say, the least, and we suspect Adams would be disturbed by all the fuss.

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