And no, I'm not referring to the Wisconsin protestors, who by all accounts have been very civil. It's a movie: The Eagle, based on Rosemary Sutcliff's YA novel The Eagle of the Ninth. I've always liked the book, and the trailer for the movie looked okay, so Steve and I went to see it the other day.
And oh, dear Lord, what a lousy job they made of it; replacing virtually every element of the plot with a cartoonish exaggeration. The opening was actually pretty good, but after that...what were they thinking?
Book: young Roman who's been invalided out of the army and who speaks some British wants to go north of the Wall with his British slave, disguised as a traveling eye doctor, to find out what happened to his father's legion - the Ninth Legion that disappeared ten years ago.
Movie: "Hey, let's have him speak absolutely no British, and let's not give him a cover story, and let's not give him a better plan than just heading north at random, and let's have him and his slave arguing loudly in Latin for weeks before anybody notices!"
Book: they find the lost Eagle of the legion and devise a sneaky way to get out of the village and disarm suspicion. (I don't want to spoil the book for anybody)
Movie: they snatch the Eagle and get the hell out of Dodge at dawn, because it's going to be so much fun to be chased the length of Scotland by furious British tribes.
Book: they encounter one soldier from the lost legion who survived by surrendering and marrying into a British tribe.
Movie: There's not just one survivor from the lost legion, there are forty of them! And none of them have really bad rheumatism yet! And they show up just in time to help our heroes fight off the furious British tribes! They couldn't do that ten years ago when they had a whole legion, but they can do it now because they really, really care! And they're not the least bit worried about what this will do to their relationship with the tribes once our heroes have gone their way!
Okay, for the end of my rant I'm going to reverse the order, and give you a quotation from the book first. This is how Rosemary Sutcliff illustrated the cultural divide between British and Romans:
"Esca thought for a while, staring straight before him. 'Look at the pattern embossed here on your dagger-sheath,' he said at last. 'See, here is a tight curve, and here is another facing the other way to balance it, and here between them is a little round stiff flower; and then it is all repeated here, and here, and here again. It is beautiful, yes, but to me it is as meaningless as an unlit lamp.'
Marcus nodded as the other glanced up at him. 'Go on."
Esca took up the shield which had been laid aside...'Look now at this shield-boss. See the bulging curves that flow from each other as water flows from water and wind from wind, as the stars turn in the heaven and blown sand drifts into dunes. These are the curves of life; and the man who traced them had in him knowledge of things that your people have lost the key to - if they ever had it.' He looked up at Marcus again very earnestly. 'You cannot expect the man who made this shield to live easily under the rule of the man who worked the sheath of this dagger.'"
Movie: I HATE YOU ROMANS! I WANT TO KILL ALL ROMANS!