Deadening of a novel: 'The Sun Also Rises' sinks as a miniseries
Ernest Hemingway's ''The Sun Also Rises'' is a minor literary classic, which has now been turned into a major miniseries disaster. The stylized and romanticized little book about the post-World War I ''lost generation'' of American expatriates requires delicate handling in any other medium, since it is merely a series of personality sketches held together with the Elmer's glue of Ernest's stripped-down dialogue.
But the TV version of The Sun Also Rises (NBC, Sunday, Dec. 9, 9-11 p.m. and Monday, Dec. 10, 9-11 p.m.) is a pedestrian job, which captures the flavor of the costumes and the locations but very little of the essential flavor of the people who inhabit them. The austere Hemingway dialogue sounds false and pretentious in the mouths of faltering actors.
''Sun'' is basically the love story of Jake Barnes (played with awkward charm by Hart Bochner) and Lady Brett Ashley (played with determined charm by Jane Seymour). Bochner looks like Paul Newman and acts like Tab Hunter; Seymour acts better than Tab Hunter. Everybody acts better than Robert Carradine, who plays Robert Cohn with an adolescent fervor bordering on mature ineptness. It is a love story without sex since, well, you know, Jake's war injury has left him, well you know. . . .
''I can't fly, I can't kill a bull, what do I do?'' he asks. ''You live, Jake , you live,'' his buddy replies.
Lady Brett makes up for her restlessness by flitting from man to man. ''You can't pout and flirt and dance and dazzle all your life,'' Jake tells her as he introduces her to still another beau. ''I count on you to pick up the pieces when they scatter,'' she implores, meanwhile making cow eyes at a bullfighter.
While Jane Seymour is lovely, as Brett she simply doesn't scintillate enough to make her the femme fatale she is supposed to be. Jake and all the other adolescent men in her life look so much alike that a casual viewer may have to keep a scorecard to tell them apart. Not true of Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock with rounded ears), who is miscast as a Polish count - he was much better when his ears were pointed.
When the good Count threatens to kill Lady Brett, poor Jane Seymour has to read the most impossible line of dialogue in a show filled with authentic but still impossible dialogue, right out of early Hemingway: ''You don't know me well enough to kill me,'' she taunts as he draws his dagger.
Emmy award winner James Goldstone directed from a self-consciously literate teleplay by producer Robert L. Joseph. It is a joyless script fraught with deep meaningful pauses and forced gaiety, which manifests itself mostly in clumsy street dancing.
''The Sun Also Rises'' is a slender, stylized novel, which has been lobotomized into a heavy-handed melodrama. Instead of four hours, a 90-minute made-for-TV movie would have sufficed. What should have been a brief encounter, has been so extended that it seems to last a lifetime. The major reason for watching the miniseries is curiosity to see what ''they'' have done to the book.
''If nothing had happened, we could have had such a good time together,''says Brett as they ride off into the sunset.
''Isn't it nice to think so,'' says Jake ruefully.
Yes, sometimes what could have been is more pleasant to contemplate than what actually happens. It's as true of TV miniseries as it is of life.