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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Literature > Hemingway (Mini-Series)

Hemingway (1988 Mini-Series)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: D     Episodes: B-



Mini-series in general can sometimes be a mixed bag, and sometimes hard to distinguish the really great ones, from the really horrid ones if you are not familiar with them, making it tough to decide while standing there at your local video retail store wandering if it’s worth the bucks to own since these are hard to find at rental stores.  Now and then a good mini-series comes along, but not as often as one would like.  


Hemingway falls into the so-so category and would be a risky buy for just about anyone.  Yes, it has better acting and performances than most of your run of the mill TV programs and the material is interesting, but it would probably take a really well produced feature film to truly capture the essence of Ernest Hemingway and his life.  The problem with trying this as a feature film would be marketing it and also the problem of keeping the length within a 2-3 hour range, which might be difficult given all the material. 


This is not the first attempt to capture the fascinating and complex writers life, but in this case the 4-part series does it’s best at unraveling the charismatic character.  The films core is Hemingway’s relationships with four wives during his lifetime and creates an interesting angle for presenting the overall story.  The acting of Stacy Keach as Hemingway is top-notch as is most of the performances with Marisa Berenson (as Pauline Pfeiffer) being my favorite overall.  Her ability here as an actress most likely stemmed from her incredible, yet reserved performance as Lady Lyndon in Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece Barry Lyndon, shot a little over 10 years prior to this mini-series. 


It’s really hard to say if you will find this story interesting if you know little about Hemingway in general.  Personally, I think he is one of the greatest common-language communicators of all time and ranks as one of the best writers of the 20th Century.  Think also of all the great films that have used Hemingway’s material in some amazing ways.  That list would include, but not be limited to, A Farewell to Arms, To Have and Have Not, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, and one of my all-time favorites The Killers.  Both of those film adaptations are included in a terrific 2-Disc set from The Criterion Collection.  The 1946 black and white Noir-ish version as well as the 1964 color version starring a brilliant Lee Marvin, which also contains one of the greatest film moments of all time.  Not only is this the film that inspired the suits worn in Reservoir Dogs as well as the hit-men in Pulp Fiction, but Ronald Reagan stars as a crime boss/pseudo pimp who’s dame (Angie Dickinson) has also caught the eye of hot shot John Cassavetes character Johnny North and the three of them do some verbal war prior to Reagan’s character flat out slapping the crap out of her in one of the funniest moments ever caught on celluloid.  If Hemingway only knew how funny that scene would be and especially once Reagan would be president, he may not have shot himself 3 years prior to that film. 


Koch’s DVD efforts here are good, but not necessarily superb.  The 1.33 X 1 image looks fairly good and a step-up from watching it on TV, but still has a bit of softness that makes the material seem more dated than necessary.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is sufficient, considering mono is the original mix.  Dialogue seems clear and distinct for non-mainstream standards.


Extras are fairly light including a piece called Keach on Hemingway, some bios and that’s it for this issue.  Definitely a recommended program to catch and compare at some point, this DVD makes that a bit more accessible.



-   Nate Goss


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