MTV fails to reach great 'Heights'


By Matthew Gilbert, Globe Staff, 9/13/2003

Music videos are short for a reason. Shallow story lines and visual swiftness can be amusing and provocative in bits, but they wear on the eyes and the brain and the soul in large doses. That's why MTV, the pioneer of all things fast-edited and dialogue-free, has had consistent difficulty coming up with good full-length features. It's operative style doesn't jibe with sustained narrative.

MTV's musical adaptation of Emily Bronte's ''Wuthering Heights,'' which premieres tomorrow night at 8, plays like a two-hour video, and it's a two-hour test of patience. After 10 minutes of watching the beautiful young lovers ride a motorcycle, run side by side along the shore, and kiss in the waves, you'll be ready for a new set of images, a new ''plot,'' a new soundtrack. But no, it's time for our doomed couple to move from the happy montages to the sad montages, as Cate (Erika Christensen) graduates to more ''sober'' outfits and Heath (Mike Vogel) changes from a Kurt Cobain clone into a Kurt Cobain clone with dirt makeup on his face. It's strange that something moving so briskly can feel so static.

The thing is, the idea of MTV adapting and contemporizing ''Wuthering Heights'' isn't crazy. The adult classic about passion is also a high schooler's fantasy, an opus for that age when a cafeteria snub is the epitome of doomed love, providing at least a year's worth of trauma. The novel captures a precious teen emotionality and innocence that rarely survives the 20s. Also, it's not impossible to imagine Bronte's feeling prose style translating into the operatic maneuvers of video.

But the novel has been adapted to the present day with no imagination by director Suri Krishnamma and executive producer and songwriter Jim Steinman, who composed Meat Loaf's biggest hits. The romantic arc loosely follows the central Cathy-Heathcliff arc in the novel, but without any shadings or flourishes. Cate's father brings home a scrappy, moody boy named Heath, the kids fall obsessively in love as teens, and finally they are torn apart forever. (As in the 1939 movie, the MTV production does not go into the second generation story). Heath becomes a hugely successful rock star, but that subplot is not fleshed out enough to rise above its ridiculousness.

The T-shirt-and-jeans costuming and the songs are bland as can be, and the acting is all pose and pout, particularly by Vogel, who hides behind his hair. No Laurence Olivier, he. Even Christensen, who had her moment as Michael Douglas's daughter in ''Traffic,'' is unaffecting. Not that even a great actor could do much with the script, which is chaotic and shallow, especially when it comes to secondary characters such as Cate's angry brother Hendrix (Johnny Whitworth). Hendrix is just another a cypher, even if his beat-up Mustang is kind of cool.



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