' Cinema Romantico: It's All About the Adaptation

Thursday, October 27, 2005

It's All About the Adaptation

I've been lucky to this point in so much as I have not seen either of my favorite books butchered as adaptations for the big screen. There are two reasons for this turn of events.

1.) "How to be Good" by Nick Hornby has not, as of yet, been optioned for a screenplay - which is good because Kate Winslet is the only person who could pull off the lead role and she needs to age another 15 years or so.

2.) "1984" by George Orwell has been made into a feature film a couple of times but I staunchly refuse to see any of them because there is no way something on screen could live up to the enormity of this novel in my head.

I've always loved Garrison Keillor's "Lake Wobegon Days" but there's no way on God's green earth it could make it to the big screen, and I'm fine with that. Recently, I enjoyed Tom Perotta's "Little Children" and have just learned it has been optioned for a movie. And, in a twist of fate, I've also learned the lead role is set to be played by none other than Kate Winslet. Perhaps there is some justice in this world.

I also read Nick Hornby's "High Fidelity" after seeing the movie and while keeping the tone of the book the movie certainly was different. Most obviously the novel was set in London but the film in Chicago. But one character - Jackie Alden - who our narrator treats more rottenly than anyone else in the book (and he treats some people pretty rottenly) gets completely glossed over onscreen. She's mentioned a couple of times in passing but that's it. If I was a faithful "High Fidelity" fan prior to the movie I imagine this would have left me a bit miffed.

Interestingly, my favorite movie of all-time (not the greatest of all-time, mind you, but my favorite) "Last of the Mohicans" is based on the novel of the same name by James Fenimore Cooper. After seeing the movie for, approximately, the 158th time I decided to take a crack at reading the book. I tried, and tried, and tried again, and then again, but failed each time. The book - to put it mildly - is a rambling mess of proportions that spits on the doormat of epic and leaves garbage strewn in monumental's lawn. It's nigh unreadable. How Michael Mann and Eric Roth managed to create such a perfect film from this sludge is baffling to me. But thank God they did. If they had not, my life may have been very different.

The most recent and arguably most famous case of this phenomenon was the adaptation for J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. I have not read these books so I cannot speak for how faithful Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens were to the original versions. I can, however, speak for how some of my friends who have read the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy as to how faithful they thought the adaptions were. The answer? Not very. In leaving "The Two Towers" with my friend I vividly remember him venting about the many inconsistencies between page and screen. I don't remember them all but I remember one (a complaint I heard repeated several times). Liv Tyler's character appears in the second movie but, apparently, she does not re-appear bookwise until the third installment. People, from what I gathered, were livid. As an objective movie-goer this change makes sense. You don't want the audience wondering where the hell Liv Tyler went. But as a fan of the book, I understand. This is not being faithful.

I'd always felt the first "Lord of the Rings" movie ended far after it should have ended. I was told - as I recall - that the beginning of the second book was actually incorporated into the finale of the first big-screen version. It seems to me this weakened the first movie but my friend stated it would have made for a disjointed opening to the second movie. Who was right? Who knows? What I will say is this - and I say this with no bias or objectivity whatsoever - lay off the screenwriters. Okay? Do YOU want to adapt a cult book with rabid fans waiting to tear you apart over the most miniscule of changes? I didn't think so - deal with it.

So, where is all this going? I'm about to be one of those loyal fans judging a book brought to the big screen, that's where. Steve Martin's "Shopgirl" was officially a novella rather than a novel but that didn't stop me from becoming a devoted fan of it. I've read it four times, though admittedly that's not difficult being that it's barely over 100 pages. I love "Shopgirl's" Mirabelle like I love "How to be Good's" Katie Carr. Though it must be noted this is a bit of a different case. Steve Martin is adapting his own novella rather than someone else coming in to take a stab at adapting it. And Steve Martin's three solo-penned screenplays ("Roxanne", "L.A. Story", "Bowfinger") are three of my favorite comedies, so I do trust him.

I won't worry about how he plans to adjust for the fact that so much of the best writing comes from inner monologues within Mirabelle's head. I'm just not going to do it. I won't concern myself with the fact I would have given the role of Mirabelle to Sarah Polley. There's no need for it. I like Claire Danes. She can do it. And I won't drive myself crazy thinking about what would happen if they decide to pump up the whole Liv Tyler subplot with......wait......now I'm confusing myself.

I just want to see it done right so much. I believe it will be done right. And if Steve decided to cut a scene here or there, I'll have no problem with it. I swear.

But if they move the scene of Mirabelle fighting the giant spider from the middle to the end, I'll walk right out of that theater.

1 comment:

Wretched Genius said...

Though Martin is adapting his own work, there is still cause to be weary. Dean Koontz's "Phantoms" is my favorite horror novel of all time. When it was made into the infamously horrendous Ben Affleck movie, Koontz did the screenplay adaption. Apart from one clever scene, the movie was a disjointed mess.

Be cautious with your optimism.