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Welcome to my movie blog, containing reviews and articles. I've been writing since 2004 - with a short break during 2009.

Adaptation...


...is felgercarb. I think I've got a handle on what it should be now; all the same, it's an impossible subject, and one currently much on my mind. As indeed is "felgercarb", a nice piece of swearing from original Battlestar Galactica. Oh how times have changed.

It is possible to make a perfectly true adaptation, but usually only of very slim books. Age of Innocence - still, believe it or not, my favourite Scorcese - is a word for word transfer. Even descriptive passages are lovingly transferred; even the scene where our hero imagines his love interest walking up behind him. Another one that comes to mind is Brideshead Revisited, the TV show. You'd be hard pressed to find a line missing from that adaptation (well, I can, but only because they had the misfortune to cut my favourite line...).

It's also a good 17 hours long, and herein lies the rub. Cuts have to be made. Books are not films, films are not books - it's part of the excitement. If you don't, then you end up with something like Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet, nicknamed "the Eternity version" for good reason. And the film still managed to waltz off with a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, despite the fact he'd done nothing to the script but choose one Folio over another, and juggle the odd soliloquy.


I actually handle cuts with some equanimity. As a film student, I understand that a perfect copy of the book is rarely possible, nor even desirable - to an extent, if it's the same as the book, why not read the book? And as PJ justified, Frodo and Sam didn't not go to see Tom Bombadil, they just didn't show it on screen.

Changes are worse - for one thing, the author knew what they were doing. By changing small details, other facets of the story fall out of kilter, important themes fall by the wayside - it's the literary equivalent of going back in time and stepping on a butterfly. A personal example is Denethor in Return of the King. This isn't a subject I can speak fairly on - you see, he has always been my favourite character in the books. He's human and flawed, makes some bad decisions, is worn out and weak. But he's not evil - as far as I know, Tolkien never wrote Bad Guys. Saruman is given sympathy; and there are quotes pointing out that even Sauron was not born evil. The film does make him a bad guy - and like that, a whole layer of complexity is gone from the plot. It would have only taken two lines to give him some much-needed motivation. Stories are always better when all the characters are sympathetic.

Little things matter less. Does it matter that Gregory Peck plays New-Zealander Mallory as an American in Guns of Navarone? Or that David Niven plays American Dusty Miller as a Brit? Not really, because their characters are preserved. Apparently, the Cirque du Freak fandom is kicking up a fuss because a white girl has been cast as Debbie - again, this is far less henious a crime than, say, making her an ass-kicking Vampire babe, or giving her a terminal illness, or killing her off in a weird way.

For me, it's TONE that is the great killer. The Denethor complaint is a tonal one more than anything else - it kills the atmosphere in Gondor. A good example of this is L.A. Confidential, a terrific movie which I respect twice as much through having read the book. Which is significantly different, and about 6 times as complex. Characters are killed in different times and places, names are swopped, subplots dropped and switched. But it still FEELS like the movie of the book, because the tone is so close. The nastiness (nastier in the book, I'll add - it made me feel sick in a way that nothing has since), the corruption, the interweaving plots. Unless you'd been paying great attention to the book, and making notes, your synopsis would be identical to one of the film - something about three policemen, a vice ring, the Victory Motel, the Nite Owl, Piers Patchett, Lynn Bracken. Who has about three pages in the book, but they're memorable ones. The shootout at the Victory happens at the end, instead of the start - but who's counting? Because it's there.

Or maybe it's because all these are films I've loved first, which is why I take it well, as opposed to the Denethor case, which I take oh-so-personally.

Yet I have said, and with a single exception believe, that no story is unfilmable. There's always a way. I find it hard to imagine people thought Lord of the Rings was unfilmable - it's so cinematic! Look at The Message - a movie about the life of the prophet Mohammed...who isn't allowed to be depicted in art. What do they do? Never show him on screen, and when he and another character are speaking, the other character speaks to the Fourth Wall and falls silent "listening" to his reply. It's genius - crazy, but genius - and the film gets on with it so that you barely notice the daftness.


If you can get over a main character who's not allowed on screen, you can get away with anything. A lot of people are calling Watchmen unfilmable. They're wrong, and I hope Mr Snyder is going to prove them wrong in the new year. It too is so terribly cinematic - the comic borrows liberally from film techniques, particularly intercutting, but also flashbacks and the use of sound. A lot of the depth will have to go - but like Lord of the Rings, it never hurts to have more material than you need. Because you can feel in the film that Middle Earth is massive and ancient, because of those tiny references. Thus with Watchmen - I think you'll believe the world because those things are cut, but under the surface.

The single exception is Sandman. Terrific TV show, perhaps, but it'd make a lousy movie, mostly because there's no plot. or rather, lots of plots - Sandman is a twelve volume omnibus of the best fantasy short stories you've ever read, linked by the central character of Morphius, who's basically the god of sleep. The only way to do it justice would be dump it on a freewheeling first time director, who'd be able to capture the ambling from one thread to another.

A typical issue of Sandman will start with a little story about a man; that man will go to sleep and dream a story, and inside that story there are three characters who sit down and each tell an anecdote about their lives. Maybe an anecdote about storytelling. That's six plots, all equally vital and equally superfluous to juggle. Which is why it can't, and shouldn't be made, except as a Tales from the Crypt style weekly show, filming the longer and better ones. And as soon as you give it to the telly, the budget is unachieveable. Sandman is currently the sole exception to my rule.

What's got me on this?

For one thing, I've been reading Guns of Navarone, and enjoying it immensly. It's one of my very favourite films, and the book doesn't disappoint. As for the film, some cuts - the German patrol thinking Stevens/Franklin is their own missing guard, the boat which gets blown up in the movie searching them twice instead of once - most of which I can justify. Changes, very interesting changes - because the film is actually more complex, where changes are mostly made to simplify the book. For example, film folks will remember Greek tough-guy Andrea had sworn he was going to murder Mallory once the war was over. This element isn't in the book - they're just good buddies. And while Miller puts himself in charge of their injured teammember, Stevens is just a random extra. In the movie, the injured Franklin is also his longterm buddy, adding a layer of complexity and emotion. It's this deep relationship which causes all sorts of tensions and arguments later on, and is directly responsible for the movie's best three scenes. It'll be interesting to see if they're there at all, and how they'll play out in the book. Anna, the girl - I think I already spotted her in the cast, but in the book She is a He. And Jensen's role is cut down almost completely.



And then there is the sheer irritation factor of Miller being American - he's my favourite character in the film, because of his crumbling British stoicism, his wry British sarcasm, and the fact he's played by David Niven, who's so British he couldn't locate America on a map.



What muddies the issue further is that after the success of the film, Alaister McLean wrote Force 10 from Navarone as its sequel - which means characters which die in the first book, but survive the first film, are there in the second book. I want to go back to Force 10 now - which I read first - and see whether Miller is still an American...

I feel the film is a fair interpretation of the book so far. All the major events are there, and the tone is the same - exciting, tense, and heroic. And just bubbling underneath that, the insane mental and physical hardships of war. I'm just looking forward to seeing how they treat those three scenes...


And also because last night, we went to see Twilight. Against the odds, it wasn't "High School Musical with emos", as I'd feared - it was actually a pretty darn good movie. Especially when you compare it with rival movies for teen girls. This is what set me off - because the vampire novels of my childhood, Cirque du Freak by Darren Shan and its 11 sequels are coming to a cinema near you sooner than I'd like.

They're very special books - if for no other reason that I reread them last month, and they are still incredible:

  • Reinterpretation of vampire legend gets full points. Everyone has their own blend - I'm writing three vampire stories at any one time, and they all conform to my rules. If Darren Shan's is the most gritty, it's also the most realistic. Not necessarily a recommendation - after all, I love Anne Rice's gothic aristocracy of the night as much as the next gal. This is a world where the police notice the civil war going on among the undead; where sun exposure can kill you after a while, but gives you the worst suntan in the world first (instead of blowing you up on sight, which is lousy, or making you look like David Bowie, which is worse); and the gamut of vampire powers is restrained by common sense. It must be said that the vampire stories I'm writing only conform to one of these...

  • The characters deserve special mention, because I'm not sure exactly what it is or how he does it, but by the time they started getting killed, I really minded. Gavner! Arra! Mr Crepsley! Mr Tall! Kurda! Annie! Debbie! Steve! Lefty! Evra! The book is written from Darren's point of view, so while he's a character you like, it's not the same deep fondness as you aquire for the people around him.

  • I've neglected to mention Mr Tiny, mostly because he's just too scary. Great character, but not as adorable. Incidentally, why haven't they cast Sylvester McCoy yet...?

  • Aimed squarely at young teenagers, they never patronise and never shy away from being dark, even though the writing style occasionally reminds you you're no longer 8. Yet there are scenes which still upset me, shock me, make me wince and think.

I'm upset about the movie. Partly, it is true, because I wanted to make it. And it would be incredible. But as I said, it's all about TONE. This is a book for young adults, and they're going to pitch it at children. They'll *ahem* take out the fangs and the blood and grit, and neuter it completely. Which is a shame, because the world has no lack of sanitised kid-fare. To work, it needs to be the same level of intensity as the latest Harry Potter - but no studio is going to take a risk on making it a 12.

What's worse is that it will suck stylistically. My movie would look like the photos of my favourite artist, Eugenio Recuenco, filmed in the style of Night Watch, all deep contrast and dark, sticky blacks, with the occasional splash of intense colour. I adore the whole circus aesthetic, designing the Cirque would be terrific. As would Vampire Mountain. They've moved it from Europe to America - if anything, perhaps this is is better? Our heroes spend the time in anonymous towns and empty nowheres, and America still has a lot of those.

But they're just going to drown it in CGI, forgetting that Shan-pires aren't magical, romantic or supernatural - they're scarred, earthy, and basically just humans a tiny bit more dead. Not to mention that they'd never let me make their precious child-friendly movie with these images in mind. My use of CGI would be as limited as possible - as Guillermo del Toro has proved, you can get away with a suprising amount without it.

It can't all be bad. I do like the fact that they're compressing books 1-3 into one film - even though you could do, say, Tunnels of Blood as a seperate film, setting them all at the same time is much better. In book 1, Darren goes to a circus and as a result becomes a vampire - you can cover that in the first twenty minutes. You could very effectively set book 2 (Sam, the Cirque, R.V. and the Wolfman) and book 3 (Evra, Murlough and Debbie) at the same time, by parking the Cirque near the town where Murlough is.

More importantly, it sets up a good precedent for the rest of the series, which occurs in natural slim trilogies. Next up come the three at Vampire Mountain - I don't recall the details so clearly, but they could easily make one good movie; what I remember of the hunt for the Vampanize Lord also could do with some heavy trimming.

I would cast a different boy as Darren in every movie. He's going to have to stay looking young, so instead of having Actor A for three films, and replace him with Actor B just when things get intense, it would be an accepted fact of the series that it will always be someone new. Perhaps it's the Doctor Who in my system making me think that this is a Good Thing. Still, it'd make for some interesting comparisons across the series as a whole.

Most importantly in attaining a unique tone, I'd find a good composer. I do not want someone to think "Children's film - lets have strings and magical flutes!". In the book, vampire music is heavy slow drums. That'd be an interesting sound; or Dark Knight's Joker theme, or anything electronic and offbeat. As little music as we can get away with, and with a composer willing to experiment with sounds.

Enough of the movie I'm never going to make, and you're never going to see. What about the one we've got. Time for some internet research...

1 comments:

Rob said...

Hello!

It's been quite awhile. I haven't really got a comment for you entry, but I thought I'd say hi and see how you were going. Were your Christmas and New Years dandyfine? Been up to much?

 
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