Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Catch-22: DVD Review

After the resounding success of 1967’s The Graduate, it wasn’t surprising that Mike Nichols felt encouraged to take on Catch-22, one of the most celebrated American novels of 20th century. It seemed like a good fit as well - Joseph Heller’s novel about a bombardier named Yossarian who is increasingly frustrated in his attempts to escape the war has a blackly comic outlook that seemed allied to Nichols’ sensibilities. The shoot that followed, however, was anything but smooth.

The all-star cast (Alan Arkin, Martin Sheen, Jon Voight, Anthony Perkins, Orson Welles) spent six frustrating months on an island with Nichols trying to recreate World War II and cinematographer David Watkin insisting that they only shoot between 2 and 3 in the afternoon because of the quality of light there. One AD leaned out too far from his helicopter and fell to his death while shooting one of the aerial sequences. Heller’s novel also proved stubbornly resistant to transfer. Key characters were dropped, back stories condensed. The end result, pitched somewhere between broad comedy and graphic depictions of war, was possible to follow if one had read the novel, but only just.

Despite its distinctive blanched look and convincing turns from Alan Arkin as Yossarian and Jon Voight as Milo Minderbinder, Catch-22 today appears too anxious to live up to its famous source and ends up looking like an uncertain shadow. Film lovers and Nichols enthusiasts though, should consider buying this for the illuminating audio commentary, conducted as a conversation between Nichols and director Steven Soderbergh. Besides being a fascinating look into the nuts and bolts of making a major studio movie, it is also a lesson in humility, with Nichols admitting, “I could have scored it, I could have used a warmer actor for Yossarian, and most of all, I could have made it for half what it cost…there was a certain arrogance in all that.”

A version of this review appeared in Time Out Delhi.

No comments: