An artist's vision has never been as well-appointed -- or as tastefully, stultifyingly academic -- as it is in Girl With a Pearl Earring, director Peter Webber's dramatization of the process behind one of painting's most enigmatic, enduring portraits. The production design can't be faulted: Webber and cinematographer Eduardo Serra have bathed their minutely detailed sets in sepia and amber tones, and cast a dull, dusty light over even the most insignificant exterior scenes. Adapting Tracy Chevalier's novel, screenwriter Olivia Hetreed also doesn't shy away from the realities of everyday life in 17th century Netherlands, allowing her heroine Griet's lowly, grimy housekeeping tasks to provide a much-needed counterpoint to Vermeer's cushy, commission-based existence. But, careful not to ratchet up any historically inaccurate sexual tension between the painter and his subject, Webber and Hetreed achieve the opposite effect: a passionless artist movie. The central relationship in Pearl Earring is all subtext and symbol, which makes it even more baffling that the filmmakers should choose to exaggerate the evil forces that conspire to keep Vermeer from realizing his vision (namely, Tom Wilkinson's lecherous benefactor, Van Ruijven). Leads Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson may well be capable of portraying the inspiration and chemistry necessary for the creation of a masterpiece, but with direction this muted, it's hard to tell.