review for The Scarlet Letter on AllMovie

The Scarlet Letter (1995)
by Karl Williams review

A positively fall-down funny adaptation of the classic Nathaniel Hawthorne novel that is, unfortunately, not intended to be a comedy. When one is faced with what can only be deemed one of the worst adaptations of classic literature ever presented, the question must be begged, "What went wrong?" Particularly since the film is the result of participation from such talented artists as actors Gary Oldman and Robert Duvall, director Roland Joffe, composer John Barry, and many others. As in most cases of a film's success or failure, it starts with the script, and this botch job is no exception. Screenwriter Douglas Day Stewart has fumbled from the get-go by emphasizing the story's "erotic" possibilities. That might work fine for an episode of a Zalman King late-night cable TV series, but in a major production of an important literary work, it's a significant blunder. As a novel, The Scarlet Letter is not about sex apart from notions of sexual politics (more specifically it's about the inherent hypocrisy of endorsing political freedom in a strictly regimented and repressive patriarchal society). That's pretty rich fodder for a motion picture and as relevant as ever today, but everyone from Stewart up seems more concerned about opportunities to offer glimpses of lead actress Demi Moore's nude physique and surgically enhanced bosom. Famously, Moore remarked upon the release of this film that changing its ending was not a problem because not many people had read the book. Such is the mentality that results in The Scarlet Letter (1995), a film that might well have been truer to its own vision and more entertaining if it had been a musical-comedy written and directed by the Farrelly brothers.