Ernest Hemingway's classic novella, The Old Man and the Sea, was something that I had to read for school. It was a pretty good book, and I was kept entertained and compelled throughout it. I was therefore looking forward to this film. The 1958 movie, however, did not meet my expectations.
This movie, a word-for-word adaptation of the novella, tells the tale of Santiago (Spencer Tracy), an aging, struggling Cuban fisherman who, after many weeks of not catching anything, engages in an intense battle with a great Marlin he has wrangled. The novella was a story of perseverance in the face of hopelessness. This movie is sort of that as well, except that it's absolutely, numbingly droll.
The thing about the novella was that we were able to get into Santiago's head, in third person narration no less, and understand everything from his unique viewpoint. This movie seeks to accomplish the same thing through pervasive and unnecessary narration, or else when Santiago is talking to himself. The only time he ever interacts with somebody else is either via flashback, or when he's talking to "the boy," some random kid who can barely act.
Now, for those of you out there who have seen this movie and read the book, you might be saying, "But Levi! What about the emotion, and the cinematography, and the tension?" I admit, there was some pretty good emotion in this film, and the music was nice, and when there is action, it's pretty riveting, and don't get me wrong, Spencer Tracy is a phenomenal actor here, but all of that is for about fifteen percent of the film. The central problem, I think, is that this movie is an artsy, poetical film. It's not designed to be particularly compelling, just nice to look at. Mind you, Holes was able to do the same thing and still be immensely compelling, but I suppose one could argue that that's a totally different film. Finally, I must declare that the effects are terribly cheesy, but hey, it's the fifties, so I'll give the film a pass there.
Bottom line, The Old Man and the Sea is a quick study in how not to do an adaptation. It sticks too close to the book, seemingly afraid to branch out and be it's own thing. As a result, it feels like it will never end, even though it's only 86 minutes long. If you want a film with all the things The Old Man and the Sea got right, and is actually entertaining, and from the same time period, check out Swiss Family Robinson, a very fun film which I enjoyed when I was younger, even if it goes overboard the other way when it comes to adaptations. As much as I wanted to like this movie, I can't in all honesty give it a high mark.
Image courtesy imdb.com