By Steve Greene | Criticwire August 6, 2013 at 3:00PM
There's a built-in challenge when adapting any written work for the screen. When that particular work is considered by many to be a cultural touchstone, it's almost guaranteed that comparisons to the source material will lead (or be prominently featured) in most film reviews.
The latest example, hitting shelves on DVD today, is Walter Salles' attempt at taming the literary behemoth that is "On the Road," Jack Kerouac's 1957 Beat classic. Co-starring Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund and Kristen Stewart, the film premiered at Cannes in 2012 and has played to a wide array of reviews ever since. Critics seem split on the effectiveness of everything from the supporting cast, the central trio, the evocation of a bygone era and, of course, the extent to which the film captures the essence of Kerouac's novel.
In the 15 months since first audiences saw it, a quarter of the Criticwire Members who've graded the film have given it a "D+" or lower. Looking at the "On the Road" film page, readers are a bit more forgiving of the final product, giving it an overall "B" average. These splits are available on every film page and in the bottom right-hand corner of the Criticwire grades homepage, under the Critics Split banner. Once gain, ideal fodder for another Pull Quote Matching Game.
We've done this before with reviews for "Killing Them Softly" and "The Impossible," taking select clips from the effusive praise and the outright rejection. How easy is it to spot which is which? This time, every quote corresponds to a different grade from "A" to "D-." The answers are on the next page.
The Pull Quotes:
"The book’s Dean Moriarity writes a big check for any actor to cash, but Hedlund succeeds. Ultimately, though, it’s an impressive performance in the service of a film that never quite nails its itinerary. Audiences may find reliving their own travel experiences during 'On the Road,' enjoying the pretty scenery between the occasional nap and restroom break."
"These supporting players all add color and dimension to an otherwise sterile piece, not unlike interesting footnotes found peppering the pages of a dull college textbook."
"To tell a beloved story without completely screwing it up is actually a pretty admirable achievement. While Salles's film may not be transcendent, it is a rather enjoyable time at the movies."
"Like the rambling drunk father Dean searches for throughout the film, 'On the Road' feels perpetually lost, unaware of how important it could have been. Even worse, the film’s trite look at sexual liberation and creative freedom only glosses the surface of what it means to gain life experience in sudden, strong bursts of time."
"The handling of the period and the music are both excellent, and what seems to be the main departure from the original--an elaboration of the treatment of sex and sexuality which amounts to a critique from a contemporary perspective--seems entirely justified."
"But the movie’s real strength is in evoking the feel of the road in a now-vanished America. If there were an award for location scouting, along with production design, this film would be a prime candidate."
"Indeed, in the scenes introducing our myriad characters, the written-with-hindsight line that seems to make the most impact is 'most of the time it was boring.' Not that the film is boring. It's just very safe."
"Salles' 'On the Road' fails to illustrate the spiritual message behind Kerouac's sprawling text. Instead, it functions as a one-dimensional celebration of a modern literary classic, with neither the seductive pull nor emotional connection required to make it anything other a wistful glance back to a more alluring time."
"The odd thing about the movie, which is set in the late '40s and '50s, is that even as we're observing all of this mad sensual activity, it's staged with a kind of museum-piece diligence."
"The overarching chaos of Kerouac's narrative, with its multiple unfinished trips splintering their participants a little more each time, registers merely as pedantic structural crowding here, its stops and starts too closely sequential for the characters' building anguish to make itself felt."
"Salles’ film may not be a masterpiece — honestly, how could it be when stacked up against the book’s legacy? — but it is an earnest effort. This screen version of 'On the Road' may disappoint fans of the novel — not to mention enraging purists — but it offers some very fine moments reconjuring the restless spirit of Kerouac’s classic."
Got your guesses ready? The answers are on the next page.