TNT's "Don Quixote" fails in trying to bring the Man of La Mancha's fantasies to life. 

The Search for Meaning

Miguel de Cervantes' "Don Quixote" might well be just the story for us. Although it was first published in Spain in two volumes in 1605 and 1615, it's a story about looking back to gentler, more civilized times, and with the beginning of the 21st century, its relevance today will assuredly strike those familiar with its theme.

Said to be the first novel ever written, "Don Quixote" is the tale of an elderly country gentleman, Alonso Quixada, from the little Spanish village of La Mancha, whose extensive library is full of accounts of knights and their ladies, chivalry, romance and valiant deeds done by gallant men. Losing himself in his books as his days grow short in number and his mind grows more addled, he longs for times past when — he believes — people had more of a sense of mission in their lives.

Thus he rechristens himself Don Quixote and recruits his friend and neighbor, Sancho Panza, to accompany him on his idealistic search for adventure and meaning. Mounted on his white horse, wearing rusty armor retrieved from the stable and carrying a wooden stick for a lance, Don Quixote and Sancho (riding a mule) embark on Quixote's quest. Although Sancho is in it for the money, Quixote's dream is of glory and honor.

Early on, Quixote finds his lady fair to whom he will dedicate his mission. Sancho sees a peasant woman hanging wet wash in the sun to dry. But Quixote sees the beautiful Dulcinea. And so it goes. When Quixote stumbles upon giants to be tamed, Sancho sees only windmills. Where Quixote sees a towering castle, Sancho sees merely a rustic inn. Practicality meets idealism, and who's to say which view should prevail as reality? And when the story draws to a close, it's the reader who must decide whether Alonso Quixada's quest was foolish or full of persuasive meaning.

More than a dozen mediocre movies have been made from Cervantes' novel, and a successful Broadway production, "The Man of La Mancha," rose to hit status on the strength of its music.

TNT's made-for-TV version of the story, which offers a classic illustration of why the story is meant to be read and not seen, is ... well ... hokey. And much, much too long at two-and-a-half hours.

The new TV version stars John Lithgow as Quixote and Bob Hoskins as Sancho Panza, with Isabella Rossellini as The Duchess and Vanessa Williams as Dulcinea. The script is by the brilliant John Mortimer ("Brideshead Revisited"). Each of the actors in turn offers up a performance brimming with talent, and Mortimer's words fairly sing. But the end product is a failure for the inevitable and insurmountable reason.

"Don Quixote" is meant to be conjured in the mind of the reader. Its fantasy world — and its deeper meaning — is the stuff of dreams, and whimsy, and, ultimately, of hope.

By nature, film, theater and television must make the ineffable into something concrete. With "Don Quixote," TNT merely succeeds once again in turning gold into


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