Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Not Too Shabby

Last night, Lifetime aired the first of what will be four made-for-television movie adaptations of best selling Nora Roberts titles. Following last night's Angels Fall, the next three consecutive Monday nights will feature Montana Sky, Blue Smoke, and Carolina Moon.

I not only tuned in, I watched with rapt interest. I couldn't wait to see how good/bad/ugly this whole enterprise would turn out. I've seen adaptations of romance novels before, and the word cheesy usually suffices in summing up the results. But since this is La Nora we are talking about - and you don't mess with La Nora - and MFTV movie quality has been taken up several notches in the past few years, I figured things might turn out not too bad.

Oddly enough, I have pretty much universally enjoyed the screen adaptations of popular chick lit titles. Bridget Jones's Diary, The Devil Wears Prada, and Under the Tuscan Sun in their movie incarnations gave me lots of big smiles even though I had (and still have) no desire to read the books that inspired them. (Time out to say that Under the Tuscan Sun isn't, technically, chick lit, but I did love the movie and have no desire to read the book, so it applies.) I think chick lit can make the jump to movies and actually improve because much of the internal whinging gets jettisoned in the translation. Plus, you know, you get to actually see the shoes.

As for Lifetime's stab at romancelandia, my final verdict is a very solid...promising.

The production values were excellent. The movie definitely had the feeling of a bigger-budget picture, as far as MFTV movies go. I haven't read the book and can only assume that its overall tone was something kind of dark, moody and generally gloomy based on the vast quantity of overcast, misty, mysterious shots of the Wyoming mountains. The scenery was gorgeous, to be sure, just not exactly bright and happy. Lifetime certainly didn't skimp on the location shoots.

Too, I thought the casting was top notch. Heather Locklear was beautiful but in such a pleasant, non-sex symbol way I could honestly believe her as the heroine of a romance novel. She's aging very gracefully. And it was refreshing to see her in a role that wasn't Evil She-Bitch From Hell. Johnathon Schaech was well slated to play the dark and handsome male love interest, Brody. Again, since I didn't read the book I have no idea how these two matched up physically to their written counterparts, nor do I know if they acted on par with the people Roberts imagined as she wrote them. Standing on their own without benefit of pre-reading, I found them very believable as characters in a romance novel, so I was satisfied.

As for the story itself, this was a bit more meh for me. Some of the dialogue was a bit clunky, and the resolution of the murder mystery came too much from out in left field for my taste. I'm not a big fan of victims by virtue of being in the wrong place at the wrong time type stories, and this one was that in spades. Without giving the story away, I'm not really sure that the heroine overcame her demons enough for me to believe in an HEA (I'm not giving anything away by saying that there is an HEA; this is a Nora Roberts, for cripe's sake). And did I mention the overall gloominess? A lot about this story creeped me out - pretty much the entire population of Angels Fall - so if I was supposed to understand what Reese (the heroine) found appealing about the town enough to stick around, I missed the boat.

In the end, however, I was so pleasantly surprised by the overall quality of the production that I now have some pretty high hopes that other romance novels - ones that I absolutely loved as books - will maybe make it to the small screen. If anyone at Lifetime is reading, I would actually pay to see the heroes of the Black Dagger Brotherhood in the two-dimensional flesh. Actual cash, as in more than one figure! Or at the very, very least, swear to watch every single commercial and even buy some of the products advertised.

And I will probably tune in to see the other three Nora Roberts movies over the following weeks. Despite the fact that my husband told me I'd sunk to a new low and only needed half a dozen cats climbing on my lap to complete the stereotype (he walked in and said "You're watching a Lifetime movie?! While crocheting?!?"), I want to see how other stories play out. I admit I'm reserving a hefty amount of skepticism over the idea of John Corbett succeeding as the hero in a romance novel (he's come a long way since his Northern Exposure days, and I wouldn't say for the betterl), but I'll hold my tongue for now.

Besides dissing my choice of evening entertainment, my husband did make one astute comment. When I told him that the "writer" of these movies was the Stephen King of romance novels, he kept making "cha-ching" noises the rest of the night. Yeah. Cha-ching, indeed.

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