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7297Re: [mythsoc] Sparkdog, cinema critic

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  • David S Bratman
    Jan 1, 2003
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      Sparkdog wrote:

      >Does anyone have examples of film adaptations they would point to and say,
      >"THAT is how an adaptation should be done?"

      And when someone, whom Sparkdog did not deign to identify, named "The Hunt
      for Red October," Sparkdog replied:

      >I think that's a good choice. Yet if you look at the way the book is
      >written, there are just as many liberties taken as with LOTR--pages and pages
      >of technical matter.
      >The fact that we can't come up with a flood of examples tells me an accurate
      >film version of such a complex book is nearly impossible.

      Sparkdog, you didn't allow much time for a flood of replies, and you've
      changed the terms of the question. You first asked for a good adaption
      ("how [it] should be done"), and now you say that an _accurate_ adaptation
      of a complex book is difficult.

      As someone (JP Massar, IIRC) already pointed out, nobody is asking for a
      perfect replica of Tolkien's book on film. We recognize that's impossible
      (and I expect it'd be dreary anyway); cuts and simplifications are
      expected. What Carl Hostetter and I have repeatedly said we wanted was
      something true to Tolkien's spirit. That would be a _good_ adaptation by
      the terms of your original question, however many liberties were taken,
      however much it was not accurate to the text, it would be a _good_ adaptation.

      It so happens that I've already provided an example, before you asked the
      original question! (Though if you're relying on digests, you might not
      then have seen it.) In a post addressed to you yesterday, labeled "Movie
      Interloper", I wrote: "After Tolkien's Arda, there is no fantasy creation I
      revere more than Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast. The set design of the recent
      BBC adaptation was not my vision. But within the freedom of artistic
      creativity it was unquestionably true to Peake's vision, and I was
      content." I would actually say much the same about most (not all) of
      Jackson's visual design, just not any of his script.

      All around I really liked the BBC Gormenghast, even the script, even though
      the differences from the books in tone were frustrating, such changes as
      were irritating were the direct and clear result of necessary compression;
      they weren't gratuitous like Jackson's. Also, much of the acting in
      Gormenghast was fabulous; the acting in Jackson was often very good, but
      nothing revelatory. The BBC's Cora and Clarice were far eerier than any
      hulking Jackson Nazgul.

      That's one example. Here's three better ones, movies which made major
      changes to the book yet were absolutely dead-on in conveying the spirit:

      1. "The Princess Bride" (especially in the frame story, replacing the
      book's introduction and "editorial notes")
      2. "Cold Comfort Farm" (Schlesinger, 1995)
      3. "The Battle of the Sexes" (Crichton, 1959) actually improves on its
      source, James Thurber's "The Catbird Seat", by entirely changing the
      setting and some of the characters, while conveying the spirit
      perfectly. Only the film's lousy title is a bust.

      More from Sparkdog:

      >I've never heard, or read of, someone saying "The book was a
      >disappointment after seeing the movie."

      Well, you have now. My usual reaction to a first-time reading of a book,
      after seeing a good movie of it, is a severe sense of disappointment, even
      if I can tell that I'd have liked the book better had I read it first. My
      first encounter with Dickens on the page, at the age of 12 in the wake of
      great enthusiasm for the musical "Oliver!", was such a shock that it put me
      off Dickens permanently. If I were a 12-year-old LOTR-film enthusiast
      turning to Tolkien's book today, I wonder if I'd have the same reaction.

      [on Aragorn]
      >I think I would believe such a character in a novel, but would shade him as
      >they do in the film. I don't think it's a radical change, it's just an added
      >dimension that adds to audience participation. In a film, to see a man
      >totally ready to take the crown and then fighting for it is good, but seeing
      >a man wary of taking the crown, who then participates in the fight, and in
      >doing so gradually becomes ready to take the crown is more interesting.

      It may be more interesting, and some have indeed found Tolkien's Aragorn
      boring (but then those people find most of Tolkien boring), but this is not
      what Tolkien wanted to write. Changing a man who is tested and ready, and
      doubts only whether he will succeed, into a man who has to gird himself out
      of shrinking from the task, is a subtle change but an exceedingly radical one.

      >I guess it's a case of Jackson and company needing to compress things THEIR
      >way; I don't know how someone could put the effort into these movies without
      >putting his/her own imprimature on them, removing things they never cared
      >for, emphasizing the things they liked over things that bored them.

      The only problem with that is in their choice of what to emphasize and what
      to omit: "The failure of poor films is often precisely in exaggeration, and
      in the intrusion of unwarranted material owing to not perceiving where the
      core of the original lies. He has cut the parts of the story upon which
      its characteristic and peculiar tone principally depends, showing a
      preference for fights." That was written by J.R.R. Tolkien in 1958, on a
      film scenario submitted to him (Letter no. 210). Other parts of his
      criticism of that scenario would not apply to Jackson; but those words are
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