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Reviewed July 9th, 2003 by Brian White


Falling firmly into the “love it” or “hate it” category is Adaptation. Your reviewer is of the “love it” camp because Adaptation boasts perhaps the most brilliant and original script seen in a long time. If you are the least bit interested in the structure of a movie, or how things can come together in a fresh way, you’ll love Adaptation.

The premise sees writer Charles Kaufman, who wrote Being John Malkovich, hired to adapt a The Orchid Thief, by Susan Orlean, into a movie. This book is an expansion of a piece that Orlean did for the New Yorker about a botanist in Florida. The Orchid Thief is a real book and Susan Orlean is a real person, as is her subject John Laroche. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work terribly well as a movie, so Kaufman puts his own struggles into the screen play, making up a twin brother, and also making up things about Susan Orlean, and John Laroche. Basically, the movie is about Charles Kaufman trying to write a screenplay about a book. It is fantastic.

There is so much going on in the screenplay, with so many winks to the audience about the narrative that it would be a great disservice to give any of it away. This is a deep script that will open up like a flower with repeat viewings. This is a stronger effort on the part of both the writer and director than Being John Malkovich.

Spike Jonze directs Adaptation in a pretty straightforward style. There is no reason to make this film weird, as it is already quite weird. The literal treatment of the script serves it quite well. Perhaps the only flourish is the “ping ping” of the seatbelt signal when a character opens a car door. This is actually used to great effect. Both Kaufman’s story and the Orchid Thief material are cut together seamlessly, and the parallel stories are quite easy to follow.

Nicholas Cage is great as Charles and Donald Kaufman. The twin writers are quite opposite, with Charles being quite self-loathing and talented, while Donald is happy-go-lucky, and writes crap. Meryl Streep turns in her usual fantastic performance as Orlean, and Chris Cooper disappears into Laroche. All three were nominated for Oscars.

The transfer of the film, like the vast majority of recent releases, is very good. The video is slightly grainy, in that serious film grainy way. However, it is quite clear and detailed. Color is also good. The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic.

The audio on the DVD, available in both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1, is mostly geared toward the front for most of this dialog-driven film. However, when the film changes tone toward the end, the surrounds become more active. The swamp footage is accompanied quite effectively by some great nature sounds throughout the surrounds. For the most part, surrounds are used for environmental atmosphere. If a character is at a party, then there are crowd sounds in the mix.

Nothing much is included for extras, as this is a Super Bit release. There is a trailer and some filmographies, but that is it. Thus, a collector’s edition is inevitable.


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