George Clooney has directed an epic War story both with remarkable talent and brilliant cinematography. Every frame is a portrait delightfully sculpting an Airman’s life during the American occupation of Italy in WWII. While not completely book accurate, it is clear that a great deal of attention is paid to every detail of the performance, and cherishes both the author’s intent, the audience, and the American fighting men who lost their lives. All the scenes have a golden gloss which gives us that touch of contemporary war stories such as Dunkirk, Band of Brothers, or Flags of our Fathers. In true modern day fashion, each episode ends on a well-built cliffhanger, driving the viewer into a brilliant, beautiful, binge-watching frenzy.
And… it’s pretty safe to say that Joseph Heller, the author of Catch 22 would have hated it. Heller passed away in 1999, but spent most of his lifetime having to explain and defend his best known creation. The real catch to Catch 22 is that Heller didn’t see it so much as an anti-war piece, but instead focused on capitalism and the twisted relationships between a bureaucracy and its subordinates. The book just happened to take place in a setting that Heller found familiar, having lived on an Italian air base in 1944. The US Military was (pun intended) an easy target for the former bomber.
The narrative focuses on John Yossarian as he faces an ever rising number of bombing missions. He must complete the assigned number before returning home. But, every mission results in a massively catastrophe outcome.
Progressively Yossarian becomes convinced that it is the insane military bureaucracy that is out to kill him. Each time he tries to act according to reason something goes horribly wrong. This forces him to go along with the insanity, or watch everyone die.
Catch 22 itself is an Air Force provision that in summary states, “Due to the insane nature of each bombing run all active participants are by nature insane. In order for anyone to be discharged for insanity, all they have to do is ask. However once they ask, they have shown a desire for self preservation that proves their sanity, which makes them no longer eligible for discharge.”
The book judges all the characters by only their words and actions. It rarely slips into their minds or motives. Eventually the logical fallacies of each character become darker and more self-serving. Yossarian begins to disconnect from the people around him. Paranoia takes over after Yossarian loses a number of friends.
Clooney’s team nails the anti-war and even some of the anti-capitalism elements. They successfully establish a concrete timeline, which the book lacks. There are a lot of powerful moments in each episode, and a good deal of added subtle references to drive home the horrors of war. For example, when flying with Yossarian we clearly see the small German town he is bombing. For that brief moment both and the viewer and the character becomes aware all soldiers are party to mutual mass murder, but they must continue killing to go back home. It’s a brief easily missed moment, still if you catch it, it sends shivers up the spine.
But… many of the directorial additions to the work it feels as though Clooney tries and fails. He touches on the darkness and fear of the latter chapters of the book, but the need to express his own “more human” tale within the story removes the terrifying impact of the original work. It is not a stretch to view this series as “the Disney” version of Catch 22.”
While there are nude scenes, they are forced and unnecessary. Many of the female roles are expanded and have a greater weight to their characters. But it’s kind of a waste when you expand a female role just to make sure she appears naked in all of her scenes – as happened for one actress who never appears wearing clothes. There’s a lot of male butts and torsos in this as well, which is “sort of” book accurate. Again, these scenes feel forced and unnecessary. Still the guys being half naked through most of show has added a lot of numbers from the girls demographics age 13-18. (So, what do I know.) On that note, All three of the main females finish the series with story arch’s that are at best, unfinished. Clooney’s team activity tried to decrease the sexism in the script by developing these women’s parts but then they just abandoned them. It’s hard to tell which version was worse.
On the other side, there are some truly horrific moments in the script, but each time the violence and gore are more implied than shown. While this is a good general rule of both theater and filmmaking, in this case, it takes a lot away from the darker parts of the story. Heller had a way of mixing both humor and horror, as if he was waiting to make sure you were laughing with your whole body before he punched you in the gut, a skill Clooney seems to lack.
The humor also feels very weak. Most of the laughs in the text are situational or based on circular reasoning, which is hit or miss. Some of the jokes are dated and some added context dialogue has a “Punched up” feel. Unfortunately, the added humor has the air of the locker room. Everyone keeps the cheap laughs going or they might stop long enough to realize everyone is standing around with their balls out. The humor is the most important element in Heller’s original work. The sequences that do work and work well are pulled straight from the novel without additional input. Heller realized if the audience is not laughing with the characters they won’t cry with them either.
Despite incredible performances by all members of the cast ( and crew), the drama also feels sadly over done. Unfortunately, It’s very obvious that a lot of heart and soul went into this production, and that should be both recognized and praised. But those moments when the viewer could have been invited into all the humor, the heartbreak, and the horror just weren’t there.
The Bottom Line:
So if you’ve been a fan of Catch 22 ever since reading it to pass the time in the detention trailer way back in 1996, are you going to be let down by this? No, Not at all. Compared to the 1970 movie this really is the best adaptation out there. Is it everything you know it could be? No, it’s ( sigh) it’s probably not. Anyway, this entire review can really be summed up in a sentence. Read the book. Watch this series if you want to, but Yes, You, read the book. Catch 22 is the most relevant novel in modern times. And if we don’t find our postcards out, frighteningly it may be that way for a long time. Unfortunately, this miniseries adaptation, much like with all great literature, just doesn’t translate very well into film. As they say, second rate novels make first rate movies, and first rate novels make flops. – 5.0/10
Staff Writer: Nerd Nation Magazine