Monday, March 26, 2012

Movie Adaptations

The writing is going well, but there's nothing very interesting to see or show. I had to temporarily stop production on "Jeremy" because I have to write a short story for not a creative writing class, but a psychology class. It's on a touchy subject and I would prefer not to post what I have from that. Not yet, at least. Let me polish it some.

That means I'm going to talk about something nobody can agree on: movie adaptations. Everyone seems to generally dislike them (ever heard "it's not as good as the book" or "it butchers the plot"?), but everyone lines up at midnight to see The Hunger Games. In costume, too. Before you ask, no, I have not yet seen The Hunger Games, but I have seen a lot of other movies based on books and I generally like them. I have come to peace with a basic truth: a movie is a different medium of art than a print book.

Movies are about 2 hours long. They are visual and fast-moving. That means the plot gets simplified and some characters are cut. Hence you have movies where your favorite part is left out of the final edit. That's happened to some of my favorite books-made-movies, and it's disappointing. But it's understandable - trying to fit a complex (since books are often more complex than films) plot into 2 hours is not easy. On top of that, a book can show the reader a character's internal monologues whereas a film, being visual, cannot. This means dramatization of internal struggle - such as what Peter Jackson did with the character Faramir in The Two Towers. The hobbits never go to Osgiliath in the book, but in order to show Faramir's struggle with doing the right thing or pleasing his father, they made it happen in the movie.

I have come to a realization on film adaptations recently that makes me like them even more. An "adaptation" is not meant to be a perfect reflection of the book, and it can't possibly be one. In making the film the source book is read by many people with their own backgrounds and worldviews. Each one of those take away from the book a different experience, and then the filmmakers (producer, director, writer, actors) must agree on themes, important plot devices, and even the characters' motivations. By that point, watching the movie adaptation is less like reading the book and more like reading someone's critical analysis of it. It is the review, the scholarly article of the book. And I am perfectly okay with this.

Here's a good example of this re-reading of a source material and creating work based on it, but with certain themes brought out. I chose this because I can take it another level deeper. The YA novel Beastly by Alex Flinn was made into a film. It is also based on the fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast". When Flinn wrote her novel she noticed that the Beast is completely alone, abandoned by his parents. Beauty is also abandoned by her father, in essence. In the "Author's Note" in the book Flinn says, "The romance is really the story of two abandoned teens who find each other" (303). So Flinn deviates from the original story in her adaptation by having Kyle (the Beast) left alone with the maid as his father lives an ordinary life, and the father of Lindy (Beauty) offers her up to keep himself out of prison. The themes of abandonment are played up in Flinn's adaptation of the fairy tale because they are what she saw in the story.

And then we have the film interpretation. The directors making the film noticed an emphasis on sight and appearance. So you have scenes where a character says, "Find someone who can see better than you can", followed by Lindy entering wearing sunglasses. There are visual elements added, camera angles, eyes, reflections, that bring out this theme even more. The theme of abandonment is downplayed; Lindy's father is reluctant to give her to Kyle and only agrees because his daughter is in danger.

This is a long post, but I think movie adaptations get a bad rap. If you see them as someone's opinion on the book, and compare it with the book, you can get out of both works a new understanding of the story you may not have had. That's what happened when I watched How to Train Your Dragon, my favorite movie adaptation that is almost nothing like the book. I could wax eloquent on how well the film did in exploring themes in the book, but that's a topic for another week.

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