Although I am not a novel or book purist, I do expect screenwriters to keep to the basic outline of the medium from which they are adapting. “The Last Templar,” an obviously made-for-television production of the bestselling novel by Raymond Khoury, stars Oscar-winner Mira Sorvino (“Mighty Aphrodite”) and Scott Foley (CBS’ “The Unit”), has enough digressions from the novel within the first ten minutes of the movie that it simply becomes unbearable. And that’s not even considering the melodramatic scenes and the campy acting.
And NBC has to wonder why they’re consistently last in the Nielsen Ratings?
Mira Sorvino plays Tess Chaykin, an archaeologist who happens to be at a gala event at the New York Metropolitan Museum when four horsemen dressed in Crusaders garments enter and steal an ancient artifact from an exhibit case. In the novel, Chaykin hides from the horsemen, all the time fearing for the safety of her mother and daughter (who had just went in search of a restroom), and watches one of them take a strange device from its display case. After the horsemen leave with a hostage, disappearing into Central Park, Chaykin later does some internet sleuthing to find out what the device was that was stolen.
The device is the centerpiece of the story.
In the NBC adaptation, Mira Sorvino knows what the device is from the onset. She is so outraged at the audacious heist, she grabs a gold shepherd’s hook and gives chase to the horsemen. On foot, she breaks a heel and chases down one of the horsemen, knocking him from his horse. She becomes the heroine of the moment and the night, trading sarcasm and witty remarks with Scott Foley, playing FBI agent Sean Daley (Sean Reilly in the novel), who comes onto the scene after Sorvino’s character has unhorsed one of the bandits.
In the novel, all four horsemen get away. The first horsemen isn’t found for some time and then only when he attempts to fence a stolen artifact.
The differences between the novel and the movie adaptation are glaring and, from this writer’s point of view, quite unnecessary. Just the unbelievably ridiculous chase scene in Central Park was more than enough to prompt a search for entertainment elsewhere.
Although it is typical of filmmakers, directors, and screenwriters to alter certain aspects of the storyline to be more visually appealing or to make some kind of statement to the audience, it is another thing altogether to just butcher a novel in just its first 26 pages to make the movie more exciting or dramatic. And then accomplish neither…
Originally shown in January, the first installment of the NBC mini-series was rebroadcast Sunday evening, the second to follow on Monday, Memorial Day. Although I made it through to the first commercial the first time around with “The Last Templar,” attempting to give Mira Sorvino a fighting chance (so to speak), I channel-surfed right on by it on its second run.
For those who are interested, “The Last Templar” is now on DVD as well. For those who want to forego one of the worst opening sequences in recent memory, a great feature of DVDs is that you can jump entire segments. Of course, one might wish to watch it just to see how poorly written the first few minutes of the movie actually are.
For those with more time and willing to forego the entire “The Last Templar” visual experience, the book is available at bookstores and the local library. Raymond Khoury will no doubt be appreciative.
“The Last Templar,” NBC Television
Raymond Khoury, The Last Templar (Dutton, 2005)