30 July 2015 | StarDragyn
Comparison with the book and the 1998 version
I read the book and then watched this version and the 1998 version, all within the span of a couple months, so it is all quite fresh in my mind. My immediate response is that I did not like this version of the movie nearly as well as the 1998 version. The filming quality is rather better, because 10 years newer, and there are subtitles on the DVD, which are advantages. Also this version is an hour longer, so there are a few additional scenes that the other one didn't have. But even for all that, I feel that it's an inferior production.
I think hands down the cast in the 1998 version was better, EXCEPT for Alec D'Urberville, who seems closer to what I pictured him as in the book. The 2008 Tess's voice and mannerisms actually got on my nerves. Her look, voice, movements, and acting style all reminded me extremely of Jennifer Garner; she could easily pass for her little sister. Now, I think Jennifer Garner is great in a romantic comedy, but I would never cast her in a time-period drama. That style just does not work in a piece like this. I thought at first that maybe they were having the actress act very immature and use a babyish voice on purpose early in the film, so that it could alter as she grew up, but even after everything Tess goes through and all the growing up she does, the actress comes off extremely juvenile. I just had trouble taking her seriously. The 1998 Tess is way more convincing in the role. The 2008 Angel, I had read previously several complaints about his acting being rather flat, and I pretty much have to agree (though I had hoped to find him otherwise). He also has the problem of coming across simply too young. The actor was in fact the same age as Angel is said to be (26), but he looks very young for his age and again it is difficult to take him seriously. Granted that people got married young, but these two actors look too much like highschoolers with a crush on each other, rather than a convincing romance.
Even though there was more material, and therefore a few more scenes, there were more inaccuracies (altering the material rather than simply cutting it) in what it had than in the 1998 version. In general I'd say it followed the book quite closely, considering, but not as closely as the other one. There were several times I just cringed with "But that's not how it happened..." A few things they did treat more accurately, like the last few minutes of the movie.
I'm a big fan of soundtracks on time period films, so I think this is important to a good movie. This soundtrack was very prettily recorded, and I think on its own might make good music, but I frequently felt like the music did not really match up with the scene very well, which can be more distracting than cheaply budgeted music. The 1998 music is less impressive in quality, in my opinion, but worked better for the most part. The costumes and the scenery are beautiful, however.
Also, as a warning, there are 2 rather vivid sex scenes in this film. This and some of the subject matter may make this movie inappropriate for young children.
I came away from the 1998 version liking the book/story better than I had; and I came away from the 2008 version liking it less. This version simply did not carry as much power with it, and I never felt myself feeling for the characters as much as I did in the other one. Still, if you're into this genre or like comparing different versions (as I do), I wouldn't say not to watch it. But I don't recommend this being your only exposure to this intriguing and intense story. It's one that I had mixed feelings about as I read it, but has rather grown on me as it has sunk in more. And perhaps this version will grow on me as well, as I get more used to it.