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Animal Farm
Screenplay by Alan James and Martin Burke, Story by George Orwell
Animal Farm
George Orwell
George Orwell was born Eric Hugh Blair in 1903 in Motihari, Bengal, an area in eastern India only about 300 miles from Burma, where Orwell was to serve 20 years later as a British civil servant. Orwell had a sister about 5 years old than he, and another 5 years younger, but he was never very close to them. In 1911, at a very early age, Orwell was sent back to England to begin his education. He graduated from Eton at 18, and rather unexpectedly, was to spend the next 5 years (1922-27) in Burma as an officer of the Indian Imperial Police. In 1945, Orwell's wife died as the result of a minor operation. He attributed her death to lowered physical resistance due to the war; both she and Orwell had consistently given up a part of their wartime food rations to feed children, and consequently had impaired their health. He remarried in 1949 to Sonia Brownell. On January 21, 1950, as he was about to leave for a sanitarium in Switzerland, he had a tubercular hemmorhage and died.
Ratings are based on Rick's four star system.
One star - the commercials are more entertaining than the viewing.
Two stars - watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars - good solid entertainment.
Four stars - you never dreamed viewing could be this good.
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rick Norwood

The idea of an Animal Farm(***) that is not shocking is a shocking idea. I am offended that television has produced such a tame Animal Farm, tamer than the 1955 animated version. This version is mildly amusing. The animatronics by Jim Henson's creature shop is entertaining. Amusing! Entertaining! Eric Blair wrote his novel to shock England's intellectuals out of their romanticized illusions about Stalin's communism. He would be deeply offended by a version of his work that is designed to amuse and entertain. His wildcat has been declawed, his skunk de-perfumed, to make suitable drawing room pets.

I do not, as some have, object to the happy ending. In the first place, the ending is not all that happy. The best that can be said is that some do survive. And that is nothing less than truth. Stalin's horror lies in ruins and some have survived.

spoiler warning

But heaven forfend that any viewer, comfy on their futon, should be shocked. Worse yet, offended. And so, the cynical donkey Benjamin is silent. The traitor Moses, the tame raven, has been reduced to a bit part. The complaisant cat is absent.

Many details of the plot are followed closely, but the edge is gone. The scene with the butchering of a hog has an impact -- we are not used to being emotionally involved with our meat. On the other hand, when the animals are said to be starving, they don't look at all emaciated. The suggestion of bestiality, when the capitalist's wife lays a hand on Napoleon's hoof, is worse than anything in Orwell. Sex has become a more acceptable sight than suffering.

I think the choice of the dog as a sympathetic viewpoint character was wise. And there are several clever moments, such as the rapid advance of time, as fifty human years go by during one animal year. The cars become more modern; the television advances from black and white to color. I like the hint at the end that Bill and Hillary Clinton are the new owners of Animal Farm.

What I miss most are the words. I have mentioned before that some of my favorite films of 1999 have no memorable, or even important, words in them. The Phantom Menace and Tarzan are all images and music, without any dialogue worth mentioning. Animal Farm has a similar sense that words are unimportant. The goose-stepping duck is a great image, but couldn't we also have such wonderful lines as Benjamin's remark that God had given him a tail to keep the flies off, but that he would sooner have no tail and no flies.

There may be no reason for modern audiences to know that Old Major is Marx, (or that Snowball is Trotsky and Napoleon is Stalin). But why turn Old Major into Winston Churchill? The point Orwell makes in Old Major's stirring speech is that lies can move people emotionally. The point of the tv movie seems to be that all public speakers are equally liars -- that there is no difference between the oratory of a Marx and the oratory of a Churchill. Orwell would not have agreed. Orwell knew that words are important. He wanted to win back to their original meaning the words that communism had turned into their opposites.

I have given a lot of thought over the last few days to the question of why the generally intelligent and well made television version of Animal Farm was not very interesting, and I have come to the conclusion that the problem is that it is general where Orwell is specific. The tv version is a satire on corruption in general. Orwell was attacking a particular example of corruption that actually existed in the real world.

All governments are evil. But some governments are more evil than others.

To miss that point is to misunderstand Orwell's warning.

Copyright © 1999 by Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.

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