Sunday, January 22, 2012

TV Series Review: Tinker, Tailor Soldier, Spy

I haven't had a chance to see the new movie adaption of John le Carré's book, which I've also never read, but I did find time to watch the 1979 BBC tv mini-series adaptation of the book since my dad actually had a copy of it. The American version, which I had, is six, one hour long episodes (apparently the original version was seven episodes long and some shortening/altering happened for the US version, no idea why they went to that trouble) which I watched over the course of a few days and has made me more curious than ever for how a two hour movie could hope to adapt this huge, detail heavy story.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Summary: The Cold War is on and the head (Control) of the upper division of British Intelligence (the Circus) believes that there is a mole in their midst. When a mission to collect more information about the hypothetical mole goes disastrously wrong this all but confirms it but nothing else is done to the case until George Smiley, who was forced into retirement after Control's death and remains bitter about that, is given the task to pick up where the investigation left off and figure out if it is the tinker, the tailor, the soldier, or the poorman who has turned turncoat. 

The Good: This is a very meticulously plotted series without a wasted minute and yes, it is possible to figure out the mole before the reveal (I actually did although I wasn't completely positive until the last minute). You don't need to know much about the Cold War to understand the movie, really just the basics, to understand the intrigue going on which is good since it's one less thing the viewer needs to keep track of. The series is well paced, there is always enough going on in each episode to keep it interesting and I always wanted to see the next one afterwords, but that doesn't mean that this series always made sense, see below.

The Bad: This may be due to the cuts but glancing through the Wikipedia article before I started writing I was surprised to see that some parts of the show were flashbacks since I hadn't picked up on that at all. Actually, this is a very plot dense story and if you don't have some kind of crib sheet with you (wikipedia, handy list of characters and terms that came with the DVD) then you're going to get lost fast, marathoning is not recommended for this series since that will only make it worse. That isn't a bad thing per say but you do need to be prepared to give your whole attention to this series and give yourself some time to watch it.

The Audio: Surprisingly enough this series does have distinct opening and ending themes (not 30 second clips of songs as they frantically scroll credits but proper little songs) and both of them grew on me, the image is actually a shot from the opening sequence. Other than that, the show was a bit quiet so I kept having to turn up the volume but that could've been a problem with the transfer to the DVD.

The Visuals: This series was shot in the 70s and it looks like it was (which isn't a good or bad thing, just a thing). There's not much to say about the visuals either, while they are necessary to this story it's also easy to see that this was originally a book and how this story could work in a text only environment as well.

Did I like this story? Well, honestly I'm not sure. It was well done and interesting, and I do wonder now if some of the problems I had were because of the US cut, but it just didn't grab me in the way that my favorite shows do. It didn't give me a burning desire to read the book or see this series again, although I am curious how a two hour movie version of this would work, but I still think it was a pretty good work.  

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