Okay, I already talked a bit about why I like or dislike certain movie adaptations of books yesterday, but for part 2 of the blogfest, I’m going to go into a bit more detail.
A good movie adaptation must be true to the core magic of the book, while taking advantage of the visual medium to add to it, and be willing to cut away the stuff that doesn’t necessarily fit within a movie’s limits.
In ‘The Princess Bride,’ when comparing the book to the movie, I always think of the segue between the Man in Black climbing the Cliffs of Insanity until he duels Inigo Montoya. In the book, Inigo has a long flashback while he watches the stranger climbing, thinking about his father, how the six-fingered man came to his father’s shop with a commission, and then killed his father with the sword rather than paying. How as a young boy Inigo challenged the six-fingered man to a duel, but lost, trained and studied fencing as he grew up, and signed on with Vizzini to support himself as he searched for his revenge.
It’s covered in some considerable detail, and really takes the reader out of the main storyline, even though it’s great material.
In the movie, Goldman makes a choice which would probably have been better in the book, and is amazing in the movie with Mandy Patinkin and Cary Elwes – after he agrees to lift the Man in Black to the top of the cliff, Inigo offers him a chance to rest before fighting for his life, and awkwardly asks if he has six fingers. This breaks the ice between them, and Inigo tells the important details much more briefly, with the Man in Black reacting to his history.
It serves as a bonding moment between the two characters, foreshadowing how they will be comerades in arms on the same side by the climax, and at the same time it doesn’t detract in the same way, because Inigo and the Man in Black are sitting right there, on the cliff-top, swords at their sides, and so we’re reminded that the swordfight is going to be starting any minute.
The movie version of ‘A wrinkle in time’ is somewhat closer to the source material in some ways, but again there are important changes, especially in the Camazotz sequences and the ultimate confrontation with IT – because as chilling as the descriptions in the book are, they aren’t as effective as other choices that you can make when you have the power of the screen at your disposal.
And the scriptwriters of ‘The Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy’ movie were bold enough to re-interpret the source material again – I’m not sure how much of the innovation was Adams’ or Karey Kirkpatrick’s, but Adams definitely had a lot of practice in re-inventing HHGG for different mediums. We have all the familiar moments and scenes that just had to be there, along with brand new elements like the point of view gun, and the expanded role for Humma Kavula.
Where other adaptations seem to lose their way, I feel, is in making enough changes that they lose the core or heart of the original book, and of course this is something that is going to be subjective for different viewers. Few people, I think, would argue that Verhoeven was faithful to Robert Heinlein’s political viewpoint when he made ‘Starship Troopers’, and the Heinlein fanboys are probably disappointed that he made the movie at all when he didn’t have the budget to film the powered armor sequences. (Myself, I almost feel that if the choice was really between the powered armor and the bugs, I’d rather have had the armor.)
And in the ‘Earthsea’ TV movie, it’s a bit harder to put my finger on where the adaptation goes astray, because it’s a lot of little elements that add up into a big effect. It’s seen in the way the Kargad barbarians become ‘Kargides’ for no good reason, and appear to be one of the central political forces of the movie’s Earthsea, instead of outsiders. And another part of it is the priestesses of the tombs, who become a devout sect devoted to keeping the nameless ones of the tombs imprisoned, instead of worshipping their darkness. There’s girls studying at the school of wizardry on Roke Island, and Ged’s secret and public names get switched for no particular reason – not only that, but secret names become a particular heritage of the wizard, instead of something commonplace for all Earthsea natives.
More than anything, ‘Earthsea’ the movie seems like somebody’s shortcut to writing a Harry Potter clone quickly, instead of going to the trouble of fleshing out an entirely new magical world to fit the fad of the year. Harry Potter is, of course, great stuff – but it disappoints me to see Earthsea forced into a suit of robes that it doesn’t fit.
What do you think is the secret to a really bad movie adaptation, or a great one?
Coming up tomorrow, more about the books that I’d love to see made into great movies, though I’m not holding my breath for any of them.