Saturday, October 22

Film Killed the Literary Star

If a book booms on the shelves and in literary reviews, you know it isn't going to be long before a film producer catches the buzz and goes, "Cha-ching!"

A book or series that already has a huge fan-base can be amplified by millions through a cinematic adaptation. Media backs film a lot more than literature. Posters, trailers – BAM! There they are, in your face for you to acknowledge.

When best-selling books are adapted into films, fans – old and new – have the tendency to go crazy. The story is acted out before their eyes. The characters are transformed into real, tangible people. With the expanding fan-base, there is the need to hold tight to what you love, or even to prove your worth as a die-hard fan.

Film adaptations of popular books do not often fail at the Box Office. There is enough of a hype for viewers to flock to the cinema. What plenty of these adaptations manage to fail is the novel itself. Some book-to-movies are great. Others are damaging.

People work really hard to make these films. The production value is magnificent. You don't tent to gain film rights if you're incompetent at producing them. Still, I – and many others – often see a film adaptation of a book, only to be unsatisfied.

What goes wrong?

1. Film producers and directors aren't necessarily fans of the book.

Sure, they can like and appreciate the novel, but they won't always be as close to it as most loyal fans. They have to view it from the perspective of a film-maker. What doesn't translate to the screen? How can they adapt the narrative flow so that it doesn't seem too slow in areas? Who is the most appealing to cast in the role of a character?

I like films a lot. I've even dabbled at writing a screenplay or two. Films are fantastic but very different from novels. The writer of a screenplay has to be able to distance themselves from their work. They must acknowledge that the script is not a finished product. It exists to be taken out of their hands and interpreted by the director and actors.

Novels are open to the reader's interpretation, but they are still a finished product. You don't have to hand it off to someone else...unless you sign over the cinematic rights. A film displays one finalised interpretation for the world to see. Whether that result is deemed "inaccurate" to the plot or just "different from how I imagined it" depends on the audience.

2. Great actors don't always nail the role.

It is understandable when you're dealing with a potential high-grossing film, to cast distinguished actors who will receive more attention and potentially be better value. These actors are distinguished for a reason, right?

However, not all actors "get it," no matter how good they are. Some just don't seem to click with the role or understand where the character is coming from. Whereas others add such life to the portrayal, with their facial expressions and mannerisms. When that happens, it rocks my world. I wish it could always be that way but alas, it cannot.

I'm not going to mention the cinematic portrayal of my favourite fictional character because most people disagree with me and I just don't want to go there. He is my favourite fictional character, so I hope I am excused for being a purist and favouring to view him as he is written by the author.

There is one character portrayal I was very pessimistic about. I am very fond of Lord Henry "Harry" Wotton from 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' by Oscar Wilde. I have a particular love for his monologue to Dorian on the subject of youth. The most recent film adaptation of this book was in 2009, titled simply 'Dorian Gray.' I learnt that the actor cast in the role of Harry was Colin Firth. My response to this was, 'Um...what?'*

I love Colin Firth in his role of Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice (and you will find me ready to watch the BBC miniseries over picking up the book) but I was worried about my charismatic lord. It wasn't Colin’s fault. You see, I had seen a film adaptation of 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' before. I was not impressed.

I loved the film and Colin’s portrayal of Lord Henry Wotton in 'Dorian Gray,' regardless of the fact that they just about cut out my favourite monologue of his. Still, the choice worked to the advantage of the narrative.

I learnt two very important things. First, Colin Firth is magnificent. Second, not all character portrayals will suck as much as you expect they will.

3. The fandom becomes all about the films.

This isn't necessarily the fault of producers, directors or actors. In fact, curse them for satisfying so many people. It becomes so easy to identify with the films, that the references to the plot and characters become all about the film and not the novel. If you don't believe me, try searching a big book-to-film title in Google Images. Yeah, I told you so.

It's easy to get books and their film adaptations mixed up. I do it too, though I try my best not to. People tell me, 'It's okay, I can tell the difference.' To them I respond, 'Prove it.'

I yearn for the days when the basis of what a character/place looked like was derived solely from the words in a book. No offence to [insert sexy/competent actor's name here] but I miss the days when a web search brought up book covers, and fan art was inspired by imagination, not headshots.

In conclusion, film adaptations make me wary. Want to know a petty secret of mine, though? I only worry about book-to-movies of novels that I really, really like. I will often catch myself reading a decent, but not edge-of-my-seat-fantastic book, and thinking, 'Hmm, I wouldn't mind seeing this adapted into a movie.'

I can be both crazy and laid-back on the subject. It all boils down to personal preference. I may have two cents or a jar full to say on the matter, but then...don't we all?

What do you do when you discover that a book you love is being adapted into a movie? Are you excited or wary? Has experience left you generally pleased or unsatisfied?

*I had the same reaction when I learnt that Heath Ledger was going to play the Joker in 'The Dark Knight' and that was brilliant It. just goes to show that sometimes upfront disbelief can pay off when confronted with a spectacular result.

1 comment:

Debbie said...

Sometimes you can read a book -like American Desert-and see that it would make a great film. The version in your head is always, to me, better than the screen one, because you created the image. It can be disappointing though, when adaptations stray from the original text.