Thursday, July 29, 2010

I am Saphira, and you are my rider!

Hello James. How very nice to see you. Narnia: one of the well made fantasy epics.

Movies and books are entirely different genres. One must understand this in order to avoid going through life disappointed at every turn. One must also take it as a given that the books will invariably be better than the movies. The only exception to this is in situations where the book was written after, and based on, the movie. If book to movie conversions are sometimes disappointing, then movie to book is nearly always a tragedy of epic proportions.

But we did not come here to discuss my waning faith in the quality of children's literature. No. We came to discuss the undervalued successes of many book based movies. I have noticed an interesting trend, and it is that which I wish to address.

It seems to me that there are now only two parties of people. 1)Those in which long years of TV, movies, video games, and very little creative exercise of the mind have infested the imagination with a degenerative disease, destroying and crumbling all ability to think for one's self in creative matters. 2) Those who have become connoisseurs, so to speak, of seeing their favorite books come to life, only to tear them down with every minuscule imperfection.

With this first group, plot becomes less and less of a factor. All they really want is a lot of big exciting explosions, monsters, or sweet CG stuff. They can't come up with things like that for themselves, and that's why they don't read. Their brains have been permanently crippled into depending on others for the good stuff, and so they're extremely excited when they get to go on a great ride in a super effects movie. Thus, they are unable to care how hollow a movie becomes, as long as it looks fabulous.

Rumor has it that Peter Jackson is finally producing the Hobbit, and that they want James for Bilbo. Please be true! I've wanted this movie for years now! And I think James would be amazing for it.

The second group can imagine for themselves, though with varying levels of success. Some are better at epic than others. But they all can. And so, in their minds they already have a great picture of what the lands and the people and the creatures look like. If the movie version ends up being cooler than theirs, then they are impressed. If it isn't, then they are not. At least as far as the visual goes. However, the problem with this group lies not in these effects, but with their inability to recognize that the plot, and all the details, simply can not be kept exactly the same. And because of this, no movie is good enough. This is wrong. That is wrong. "Over all I hated it."

Once upon a time I belonged to this second group. I have, if I may say so myself, the ability to imagine things quite impressively. In fact, I sometimes hate it when fantasy novels include illustrations, because they just aren't as good as in my head, and thus make me feel less interested in the story. Though it really depends on the artist. But, as I was saying, this ability caused me to see most action movies with something less than feverish excitement. I get my kicks through books. And while I would take this kind of disappointment over that which befalls the first group of people, I was still constantly in anguish over the movies that they made from my favorite books.

Over time, however, I have gradually slipped away into the beginnings of a third group: Those that can appreciate both the books and the movies, simply by separating them from each other.

Dumbledore is on the brink of death, and still he manages a wicked awesome cyclone of flame, thus defeating thousands of re-animated corpses. Awesome.

It officially happened after seeing the midnight premiere of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Several of the people I was with came out of it unimpressed, while I, who normally tear movies apart, was quite pleased with it. So I had to do some thinking. It was then that I understood the true scope of the differences between books and movies. Not in comparing the plot lines, or the details, but in the genres themselves.

Because movies are audio/visual, they can bring an entirely new dimension to a story. But also because they are a/v, the perspectives in them are completely restricted to third person, and are only partially omniscient. You can see and hear everyone from your own view, and not the character's, but you can't hear their thoughts unless someone is narrating over. And that can easy go amiss. Far too easily. Even when it is badly done, most directors have the sense to not narrate entire movies.

This, I think, is the key difference. For certain plot devices in a book, it is truly necessary to receive the entire story through the brain of at least one of the characters. Non-omniscient third person point of view lacks any sort of depth. And depth is what makes a book worth reading in the first place.

But non-omniscient third is practically all that a movie can be. So, there are really only two choices... change the plot around to convey the necessary inner debates properly, OR literally narrate the book as the sound to the movie. And let's face it, no one is going to go see a 36 hour movie, which is what it would end up being if the book were simply read aloud.

There are many other differences and difficulties with the conversion of a story from one media format to another. Let us suffice it to say that there is no possible way to keep it exactly and perfectly the same. Even if every plot element, every detail, every teeny tiny thing about it were true to the book, the movie would STILL be lacking. Mainly, as I said, because of the missing inner monologue.

Cue emo face #462.

I use Twilight as a prime example. Nearly everything in the movie is quite accurate. Why, then, was it so awful? Because they did exactly what I just talked about. I watched the movie having not read the books, and because of the missing inner commentary, I had absolutely no idea what was going on. My sister had to explain the entire thing to me, so that I could follow it.

So I pose a question: would you rather have the plot changed ever so slightly, or would you rather have the movie flop so badly that half of the videos on youtube are spoofs of it?

Give movies like Harry Potter, Narnia, and Lord of the Rings some credit, then. Because, as movies, they are very good. As movies, they have all of the necessary elements to create a great ride. As movies, they are well constructed, well acted, and well directed. Although I may never forgive Alfonso for those random whomping willow scenes in the Prisoner of Askaban.

The effects were cool, but the plot and the acting were... well, for want of a better word, lacking.

This is not to say that one should immediately accept all book to movie interpretations as ok. Some are impossibly bad. Twilight, as I noted before. Percy Jackson. The effects were great, but the plot was so basic, so simple, so mutilated, so utterly commonplace and dull that the effects didn't much matter. They took one tiny two page portion of the story in the book, and stretched it into the full feature movie. No joke. The getting of the pearls in the book happened in like a minute, and some under the sea lady gave them to him. That's it. I could devote pages to how poorly it was executed. But this article says it better than I: "Boldly produced and vivid throughout, “Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief” is a clunky kid-sized epic, able to conjure colossal acts of Greek myth wonderment, but never brave enough to shut its pie hole and let the audience process the screen magic."
Amen. A-MEN.
The Time Traveler's Wife was lame too. Though I have a feeling part of that blame lies in the actual book.

Can we say "scale model"?

But the cream of the crop, the ultimate horror, the official worst fantasy book made into a movie interpretation has to be Eragon. They had a terrible combination of trying to be detail accurate, and trying to change things to fit the movie style. It blew up in their face. Not to mention that John Malkovich should never, ever, try to be a serious, intimidating, mysterious magical warrior. Not gonna work. Ever. But seriously, that movie was pitiful beyond words. The ONLY redeeming value it had was the fact that Brom is Jeremy Irons, who is Scar in Lion King. And I have a soft place for him after seeing him in the French and Saunders Harry Potter spoof as Snape.

This is where I end. Because I was so depressingly horrified at the Eragon movie that I might ramble on for several more hours if I'm not careful.

So I obviously don't approve of every movie ever based on a book. But most of them deserve a fair chance. Most of them are good, as movies. We just need to remember that the movie is not the book. Use two separate grading scales, and you should find yourself much happier, and more satisfied.

No comments: