The novel “Great Expectation” by Charles Dickens is considered to be one of the classics of the English literary heritage. Even though it was written in the nineteenth century, its message is still relevant, and people still enjoy the story. This story allows people to escape the world that they live in and takes them to another era, via Dickens’ effective story telling. Numerous film adaptations of this novel have been made throughout the years, some as effective as the book and others not so effective.
I am going to focus on the 1944 black and white film version of the novel directed by David Lean and the more recent colour film 1997 directed by Alfonso Cuaron, featuring Ethan Hawk, Gwynneth Paltrow, Anne Bancroft and Robert De Niro. I will compare the opening chapter of the book and how this was portrayed in the two films. In this opening chapter, young Philip Pirrip (Pip), the main character encounters a rough convict who is a vision of terror in his eyes. Later on this convict proves to be a very significant figure in Pip’s life.
This first chapter of the book which is the opening of the film is of outmost importance as it prepares the readers and the viewers for later events. The David Lean version closely follows the original text in terms of action, dialogue, and location whereas the 1997 version, although it follows a chronological structure, deviates in a number of other ways. In both films the credits are at the start of the movie, even though the background music differs greatly. In the 1944 version, the music had many themes, which demonstrated the many moods and twists that were to come in the film.
These included the lone jumpy notes of a solo flute, which reminded one of the skipping gait of a young child and the same flute accompanied by other instruments but less jumpy and gloomier, which suggested sad events. There was a full orchestra, with a suggestion of romance and a happy ending. But the orchestra suddenly changes mood and the music suggests something fearsome. As for the colour version, the background music of the credits stays the same throughout; the mood of it is very dark and portrays danger.
The credits are written in a very strange font, and indeed it seems as though the person writing them was not very well educated, especially as the names are all written in small letters. These credits are accompanied by drawings of cobwebs, which gives a very sinister effect. The music that accompanies the credits is very chilling. The credits also appear to be undulating and as though they are under a rippling current of water which indicates how insubstantial the pace of the movie is.
It also has the effect of the back ground music in David Leans version which foretells of many twists and turns in the story. By the time the credits are finished and the film is started seeds of apprehension would have been sown in the audience. Both films start with the voice of an adult Pip reflecting back on his childhood memories. In the 1944 version, the film starts with a book being blown open by the wind and the adult Pip narrating the story. The camera zooms into the book, which then fades into a landscape.
At the time this was one of the latest special effects techniques but nowadays this effect is used in nearly every film made and has become a sort of clichi??. Even though many might disagree I personally think that the effect is still successful. In this landscape everything seems horizontal, then enters young Pip who seems to be the only vertical figure in that landscape along with the gibbet, which is not the most auspicious sign. The camera shot is from a distance, which clearly shows how small Pip is compared to his surroundings. All the while there is a strong ominous sound of wind in the background.
When the camera zooms in on Pip, there is a rising mist in the background, that and the howling of the wind add together to build up a wall of tension and strengthens the impression of mystery and intrigues the audience. There is a close up of Pip who is climbing into a most horrendous and unkempt graveyard which is enough to inspire terror in anyone. We have a shot from Pips point of view who looks up at a tree, which is dancing quite wildly at the wind’s will, and accompanied by the eerie music of the background I felt very apprehensive indeed of what is to come as the tree seemed to want to make a grab for Pip.
I also felt pity for Pip as he had brought a small bunch of flowers for the graves of his family. In the 1997 version the director chose to change Pip’s name to Finn Bell, which is one of the changes made to the storyline to modernize the movie. This movie begins with the adult voice of the main character, in this case Fin, as well, but the whole scenery is changed. Instead of a grey miserable day and a dreary location, Finn is rowing a boat at the sea in a fine, glorious morning. He is not visiting a lost relative’s tombstone but is looking for an isolated spot to do some drawing.