The 1847 classic English novel, Jane Eyre, has been the subject of scores of movies, television mini-series, and other adaptations, including a Broadway musical. Just four years ago, the BBC screened a four-hour television version. That wasn’t enough, though, so director Cary Fukunaga has put together yet another version, now out on DVD. How is it? Well, pretty good if you like that sort of thing.
It didn’t all start with Twilight. That’s the one thing you can take away from Jane Eyre, the most recent adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s beloved novel. Bella pining after the brooding Edward is firmly rooted in the story of orphan Jane pining after her employer, Mr. Rochester (ironically, also named Edward). Jane is a spirited girl who intrigues Rochester by speaking her mind, but he has a dark secret that keeps them from sealing the deal (in those days, marriage). The dark secret? He’s a vampire, of course. Okay, not really, but still, anyone who loves Twilight will probably dig this story.
They will especially dig the Cary Fukunaga version. The director of Sin Nombre pushes the brooding and gothic tone of the film with effective use of costumes, light, noise, and music. It’s not dull, but it does have tons of atmosphere to improve the usual romantic-drama boredom (at least to guys like me who don’t care much for romantic dramas). Mia Wasikowska as Jane is almost perfect casting. When she states that she is plain and lowly, you don’t have to smirk the way you would if Anne Hathaway had been cast. Her face is pretty plain, but also full of emotion that tells the story of her life and feelings for Rochester (Michael Fassbender).
Fassbender, so good in Inglourious Basterds, is great here as well. Alternately pursuing Jane, governess to his possible bastard daughter with a French opera dancer, and drawing away due to some unstated issue that forms the heart of the mystery, Fassbender is complicated without being silly or annoying. It’s not as easy as it seems (see: Twilight). The supporting cast, which includes Judi Dench, Jamie Bell, Sally Hawkins, and the very good Amelia Clarkson as the young Jane, is impressive. The film strikes the right note in setting up the core story of the relationship between Jane and Rochester and things that go bump in the night.
Jane Eyre is often considered to have some gothic horror elements, but this is putting it on too much of pedestrian level. Rather than focus on cheap thrills, Fukunaga uses the mystery of Rochester’s house and reluctance to pursue Jane fully as a way to bring some chills to the romance. There does seem to be something sinister and at times other-worldly that ratchets up the tension while Jane and Rochester have their own tension.
It’s not like this will turn those who don’t think much of period romances. I’m really one of those; it’s just not a genre that warms my heart. But anyone can appreciate a good story, great acting, a spooky atmosphere, and attention to detail that draws you into a different world. While there are scores of these adaptations, it’s not like you can’t make another good one, and Cary Fukunaga has made one that is pretty good.
The DVD for Jane Eyre doesn’t work too hard to stand out from the crowd or give you a reason for a purchase if you aren’t already entranced by the movie. It does present the at times dark cinematography in a sharp format that allows for clear understanding of what is going on. However, the effort put into the extras was mediocre at best.
The one set of extras that might be of interest to fans of the book are the deleted scenes. Likely for pacing reasons and to keep the whole under two hours, there is quite a bit cut out from the book, apparently. I only know this because my wife kept pointing out things that weren’t in the movie that should have been. I think she wanted it to be about nine hours long. When we watched the 15 minutes of deleted scenes, she kept saying, “Why did they cut this out, this is important,” and would explain why. It made sense to me, but I’m not sure the movie needed more. Still, it does give some further explanation to characters' actions later if you watch the deleted scenes. If you haven’t read the book, you don’t know what you are missing anyway.
In addition to the deleted scenes, there is a commentary by Cary Fukunaga. He’s a nerd. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but he talks a lot about the technical aspects of making the movie and that’s sorta nerdy. If you like that sort of commentary, then he is your guy. If you want to hear how great someone is to work with, then it’s not going to be your cup of tea. Overall, it’s not a great commentary but it’s horrible either.
There are three featurettes and they form the disappointing part of the disc. They total to less than 10 minutes altogether and are very surface-y. Although one is supposed to be about the music and the other about the lighting (two key technical areas for this film), they are given only the most cursory information. The featurette called “A Look Inside Jane Eyre” is not a look inside the movie at all, it’s basically a trailer with some interviews tossed in. Like something you'd see in the movie theater if you show up 15 minutes before the previews start and they tell you about an upcoming movie and the next cop show on television.
It’s hard to get too excited about a DVD that has no real featurettes, an average commentary, and a few deleted scenes. There’s nothing bad in the group, but it’s nothing exciting either. Some in-depth effort would have paid off, as the fans of the movie are likely passionate and would love to see more in-depth info about the making of the film. Still, it’s a good movie and is well presented.