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Pride and Prejudice (1980)
Still stands as the best
The introduction of a new movie version of P&P triggered me to go back and look at my DVDs of both this 1979 version and the much-loved 1995 version (I'll ignore the 1940 MGM version, which so badly misrepresents Lady Catherine de Bourgh, played brilliantly here by Judy Parfitt, and in which both leads are obviously too old). No question that this one is the truest to the characters as conceived by Jane Austin -- and the best-cast too.
I'm amazed that anyone would believe someone like Keira Knightly or Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth. Can someone really imagine Darcy not finding either of them "not handsome enough to suit me"? Yet it is possible to imagine someone saying that about Elizabeth Garvie, who is pretty but definitely overshadowed in looks by her older sister Jane (Sabina Franklyn). However, as in the book, it's Elizabeth's spirit that makes her shine so brightly in an age when marriages are arranged with no thought of romantic love (as Charlotte Lucas (Irene Richards) reminds Lizzie).
Similarly, David Rintoul's reserved, stuffy, not particularly attractive albeit still handsome Darcy may not be as romantic as Colin Firth's -- but Firth often seemed more like the smoldering Heathcliff from "Wuthering Heights" than Darcy. And Firth's "cooling off" dip in the pond seemed more ludicrous than sexy to me (but women obviously have a different take).
Yes, the 1995 version gets out of the confining indoor settings in a way that the 1979 version does not. However, the characters in the 1979 version simply are truer to the way they were written bu Jane Austin. Perhaps 1979 screenwriter Fay Weldon's previous experiences in writing for the high-class British soap "Upstairs, Downstairs" gave her an edge in this comedy of manners; some of the scene-bridging techniques used in this adaptation seem to be borrowed directly from it. Anyway, this is still the best of the P&P versions out there.
Spy Kids 3: Game Over (2003)
Despite clever use of 3-D, only a mediocre effort
Before this movie was released, Robert Rodriguez announced that it would be the last "Spy Kids" movie. He's made a wise choice, because "Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over" is the least successful movie in the franchise, with its strong elements undone by a tacked-on ending that brings the series to a much less glorious conclusion than it deserved.
The basic plot of the movie is simple enough to state, and it picks up where the prior movie ended: Juni (Daryl Sabara) has renounced his job as a "spy kid" in the top-secret OSS, only to learn that his sister Carmen (Alexa Vega) is trapped on Level 4 of a virtual-reality video game created by the evil Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone). Juni agrees to "enter" the game in an effort to rescue his sister, but he must succeed within the 12 hours before the game is commercially released. With the help of his grandfather Valentin (Ricardo Montalban), three beta testers (who think Juni is "The Guy" described in the users' manual who can take you to Level 5 of the game if you stick with him), and a somewhat mysterious girl named Demetra (Courtney Jines), Juni succeeds in rescuing Carmen and reaching Level 5, where everyone may end up trapped by the Toymaker. Ultimately, of course, Juni and Carmen save the day, and all is right with the world, even if there isn't a winner or a loser.
The movie actually works very well until the characters exit the video game, although it is a little reminiscent of "Tron." Despite Roger Ebert's much-publicized aversion to 3D, the gaming scenes are quite impressive, without the "headaches" that used to come from old-style 3D. Kudos to James Cameron for the new 3D system. Also, Rodriguez does a great job pulling good performances from actors stuck on the artificial blank backgrounds of the 3D soundstage. His video game sequences capture the gaming feel without getting bogged down in game details -- and contain plenty of action as well. Oh, and his special effects look great, as usual.
Unfortunately, it feels as if Rodriguez only wrote enough movie to get the characters into Level 5 and then ran out of time, energy, money or willpower to give them the ending that they deserved. Instead, he tacks on a nonsensical ending that gives him a chance to get cameos from most of the stars of the first two films, including Carmen and Juni's parents, but brings the movie to a disappointing conclusion better reserved for Saturday-morning TV.
Daryl Sabara does a decent job of carrying the film, but the surprise of the movie is Courtney Jines. My daughter, who saw the movie before I did, came home raving about the girl Juni meets, and I understood her reaction when I saw the movie myself. Alexa Vega is only in a small portion, but she does get to sing two songs in the extended end credits. One small treat: if you stay to the very end, after the neverending credits, you get to see snippets of Daryl and Alexa's original audition tapes from 1999 ... and you can see for yourself that it's hard for Daryl and Alexa to be spy "kids" much longer.