The 1997 version of the Hunchback confounds me a lot. You pretty have the right actors for the characters and they do a fairly competent job with material they are given but the material given to them is so wrong for a Hunchback adaptation. It’s clear that this movie was emulating the 1939 Laughton version with the printing press and a very sympathetic Quasimodo but it fails to measure up became the execution is miserable.
It’s like if you have all the ingredients to make a simple chocolate cake but half through you decide that you want to make it your own except you have no concept of cooking so you just start throwing whatever you want in there like Bacon, Walnuts, Cherries, whatever. Then you’re surprise when it doesn’t cook right and no one likes it.
Quasimodo and Esmeralda are the least offensively bad but to be fair these types of versions of the characters that they are portraying are common. Humanize and sympathetic Quasimodos are the norm with film adaptions because the audience has to like Quasimodo despite his looks.
Same goes for Esmeralda. Having a shallow immature girl is not the way to win over an audience. Having a strong confidence yet kind beautiful women works perfectly. Both of these character choices reflects an easy out. A Quasimodo and Esmeralda with a character arc would be hard to write. On could argue that Quasimodo’s arc would be realizing Frollo is a mean jerk face but since he is a villain that’s easy. THe real issue is with Esmeralda is that she doesn’t do anything in this movie outside of looking attractive . She gives Quasimodo water for feelings of guilt but that it. Her importance is just being there for Quasimodo and Frollo to react to and not doing anything.
Then there is colossal fail that is Frollo in this movie. The biggest issue with Frollo in this movie is that is obsession for Esmeralda is the result of feeling weak with regard to the king’s attitude on the printing press. His lust for Esmeralda feels like an afterthought and that shouldn’t be. The plot revolves around that. Once that decision was made other integral parts of the plot suffered like why would Esmeralda get the blame for the minster’s murder? Who saw the knife and knew it was her’s when it’s only in one scene? No Phoebus and Gringoire does nothing.
The 1997 Hunchback fails as Hunchback adaptation because Frollo’s lust set the story in motion. A failure to understand what drives the story is the reason why this version even with good castings fails.
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