Sunday, March 25, 2018

Movies from Books

As many others have noted, many books do not translate particularly well into movies.  Too much usually has to get cut out to keep the movie to a reasonable length,* and the editing or reshaping of material is just too much for most fans of the original work.  That said, I would say that novels that are heavy on action and dialogue and are not about mood or internal monologues or, perhaps worst of all from a cinematic perspective, are about ambiguity can translate well. Perhaps that is why the works of Austen and Dickens have generally fared satisfactorily once on the big screen.

Another viable option is to go with fantasy novels, which tend to me more clearly about good vs. evil than science fiction novels.  And of course, translating Young Adult fiction has often worked fairly well (Holes, Harry Potter and the Hunger Games novels).  Indeed, there are certainly far too many for me to keep track of.

I'll just discuss three movies that I've seen or will be seeing in the very near future.

Brown Girl Begins was adapted from Nalo Hopkinson's Brown Girl in the Ring.  This is a very low-budget movie, and the director indicated that because they didn't have money for special effects, the focus was on the first part of the book (where the Ti-Jeanne character learns about focusing her power to channel the spirits) and less about the battles with the Posse that take place in the book.  It may turn out that the movie is more inspired by the novel than a direct adaptation, as it seems that Ti-Jeanne in the book is already older and more experienced than the one in the movie.  I haven't made up my mind whether I will read the novel or not, but I probably will one day.

Today I am off to see A Wrinkle in Time with my daughter.  In anticipation of this, I reread the novel for the first time in over 35 years.  I have to say I didn't much care for it.  Aside from the relative ease with which the characters escape from IT, i.e. the Dark One (and apparently the movie makes it even easier for Meg's father to tesser -- just using his mind once he knows the right frequency!), I really couldn't swallow how this was just a Christian allegory.  (I hadn't remembered that at all.)  It was like reading C.S. Lewis without any of the nuance -- or better plotting.  I wouldn't say I am particularly looking forward to it, though I do want to know if the use the term "The Process" for making people into ciphers without distinct personalities.  As it happens, my Fringe play uses the same term, and I may have to come up with something else** (not that that many people are actually seeing this movie...).

Back from the movie, and I would say it was ok, not great certainly, but much better than I expected from the very negative reviews.  The explicit Christian theology has been removed (to some people's dismay), but I just don't think you can have a movie in this day and age (that you want to show in China at any rate) explicitly including former gas stars becoming guardian angels (I mean really, Madeleine?) and telling the children they are following in Jesus's footsteps.  I found this simply impossible to stomach when I read the book as an adult, unlike Ursula Le Guin's books, which still hold up.  (I probably should have been tipped off when in Many Waters she returned to the characters and had them go meet and assist Noah.  Blech.)

I haven't entirely decided about Ready Player One.  I have to agree with the more negative reviewers on Goodreads that it doesn't function very well as a book, as there is just far too much exposition.  (Almost all the good reviews boil down to the fact it was cool seeing 80s references just slammed together with only the figment of a plot to justify this.)  I am slightly more forgiving of these future kids getting obsessed with the 80s as the key to winning the competition, and we pretty much only hang out with the most obsessed gamers.  Most people probably spend a little bit of time on the game, then move on to more prosaic preoccupations, so we don't encounter anyone who thinks it is absurd to spend so much mental energy on the 80s.

That said, I was glad that at least we didn't get a blow by blow account of actually playing the video games or solving Zork.  After just a few pages of intro setting up the situation, the hero solves it and moves on.  Not sure if the movie will show as much restraint.  (As as aside, the quest within this book sort of reminds me of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.  Indeed, it shares the same flaw in that the author tries to come up with something clever, but it isn't as likely to be as uncrackable (except by the hero naturally) as is set out in the book.  Here, the riddle of the second key is pretty transparently obvious to anyone as steeped in 80s games as these kids are, and it should have been solved in a matter of days, not months.)

All that aside, it was entertaining reading about some of my 80s preoccupations, and there was some decent action towards the end of the book.  It's quite possible that the movie can do a lot more showing and a lot less telling, so I am somewhat inclined to give it a shot.  Anyway, I still have a couple more weeks to decide, as I usually don't go to movies on opening weekend anymore.


* I still can't get over how Peter Jackson refused to cut anything from The Hobbit and turned it into 3 movies.  I might have been willing to go to 2 films (There and Back Again), but 3 films was so stupidly self-indulgent that I have boycotted the whole mess. 

** The on-line thesaurus suggests The Procedure, The Operation or The Undertaking.  I'm leaning towards The Procedure.  As it happens, the movie doesn't use the term at all, and in fact it implies that all the humans on Camazotz are simply complete figments of IT's imagination, so there is certainly no reason for them to need to undergo The Process when their conditioning is slipping.  I still may switch to The Procedure just in case other adult readers catch the similarity, but I don't feel as obligated.

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