In this 1997 television adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic 1831 novel Notre Dame de Paris, Mandy Patinkin warms up Charles Laughton's 1939 film interpretation of hunchback Quasimodo with Salma Hayek in the role of Esmeralda. Like Laughton before him, Patinkin lards himself with makeup, then sets to work unscrewing the soul of the humpbacked Quasimodo to release it from its hideous encasement. What he reveals is a human being superior in sensitivity and insight to the men who bedevil him. Patinkin is good, to be sure, but hardly inventive. He is Laughton portraying Quasimodo, not Patinkin portraying Quasimodo. Imitation may be admiration, but it isn't necessarily art -- at least not the kind requiring a performer to infuse originality into his role. Hayek's stunning beauty makes her an ideal Esmeralda physically, for it is the Gypsy woman's looks that drive the action in the story. But her acting, though passable, is not exceptional. Richard Harris is compelling as the villainous archdeacon of Notre Dame, Claude Frollo. However, at times he allows Frollo's obsession with Esmeralda to degenerate into uninspired shouting and raving, and, for good measure, bloody self-flagellation. The makeup artists blundered when touching him up for his role. With his shaved head, peaked ears, and shoulder-to-toe cassock, he looks more like a Star Trek Vulcan than a priest. Although filmed in Budapest, Prague, and Rouen, the set has the look and feel of medieval Paris, and the colorful costumes and foreboding cathedral interior enhance the atmosphere. The Hunchback is a good production, but not a great one.
by Mike Cummings review