Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Adaptation, My Old Friend

I feel like my posts are getting later and later in the week. If that puts you off, I'm sorry. I'll work on getting it together earlier. Summer has a way of making things slide.

This past week I finished a novel (yay!). It's the Jeremy Wilderson story I may have mentioned once or twice, about an eleven-year-old thief for hire. Anyway, it's in the reading-and-revision process now, which means I ought to start working on a query letter for it. I'll write that and see if I can't post it on this blog for all to read. Also, I found my name listed in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. There's not much there, but apparently I'm not authorized to read my biography. Go figure.

I've talked about film adaptation before, but I want to revisit it since I've read some articles on adaptation.One of the articles outlined the different values adaptation has and its troubles. It's not easy for a movie to have a lot of fidelity to the book, as each reader brings some of his or her own experience to the reading. The Harry Potter movies are a good example of this, as almost everyone I know had problems with one scene, setting, character or other because they it wasn't "like in the book." Maybe it was, just not your version.

I generally have no problem with film adaptations of my favorite books as I've made my peace with the idea that no movie can be perfectly faithful to the book. The fact that I love How to Train Your Dragon is evidence of this, as it is nothing like the book. I tend to see film adaptations as essays written about a work, highlighting some aspects and downplaying others to convey the filmmaker's meaning. It's obvious in different adaptations of Shakespeare plays when this is going on.

However, there are some adaptations I don't like. May I get an enthusiastic, agreeing nod for The Last Airbender? Every fan of the TV show I've spoken to either hates that adaptation or refuses to admit it exists. Yet it's closer to the book than HTTYD and that movie is popular, even among those of use who have read the book. Why is this?

Two reasons, I think. One, according to the aforementioned articles, film adaptations are successful if they stay true to the spirit of the original text, if not the details. HTTYD feels like the books, with its dry humor and tension between the loud, brash Viking way of doing things and Hiccup's new, quieter, yet clever methods. The dynamics between Hiccup and his father, Hiccup and his tribe, and Hiccup and Toothless are still there. Even though many details were different (Toothless, in the books, is tiny, literally toothless, and red and green), I recognized the characters and the story.

The Last Airbender, on the other hand, I felt lacked this kind of integrity. Yes, it had many of the same events and characters. However, the characters seemed very different than the ones from the TV show, and the vibe was different. The TV show had a youthful feel, full of jokes and playfulness. The serious moments seemed more serious because of the juxtaposition of the battles and deep wisdom to the bad one-liners and sarcasm. While we're on the subject, Sokka is a good example of how the characters changed: the self-proclaimed "meat and sarcasm guy" did not, in the movie, eat much meat or use, well, ANY sarcasm. It's not in his new personality. Watching this movie, I did not recognize the characters and I did not recognize the themes of friendship, family, and coming-of-age I saw in the TV show.

Also, the closer an adaptation is in events to the original text, the easier it is to see the differences and the greater the tension they cause. That could have contributed.

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