Thursday, August 20, 2009

Print to Film

I enjoyed the novel THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE very much for its ingenious premise and the emotionally wrenching relationship between the characters. I haven’t seen the movie yet (I’ll wait for the DVD), but I wasn’t surprised that, judging from reviews, the story didn’t seem to translate well to the screen. What did surprise me was that every review I’ve read so far calls it “creepy” because of the scene in which the time traveler, Henry, first meets his future wife as a child. As you probably know, Henry involuntarily and unpredictably leaps through time. Therefore, he and his wife encounter each other at different ages and at different points on their personal timelines. When he leaps, he can’t take anything with him that isn’t part of his body (not even teeth fillings). All the reviewers fixate on the “creepy” image of a naked man introducing himself to a six-year-old girl. This negative reaction never occurred to me when I read the book. Partly I think that’s because in the novel we’ve already met Henry and his wife as adults and experienced the depth of their love, before we witness their first meeting in her timeline. (They first meet in his timeline while he’s in his twenties, when she has known his older self for years and already had a chance to fall in love with him.) More important, though, I believe is the fact that while reading the book we don’t literally *see* a naked man talking to a six-year-old girl. The printed page doesn’t “rub our face in it” the way a scene on film does.

We've all had the occasional experience of finding a book cover illustration or an actor's appearance on film jarringly unlike our image of the character in the story. Often that reaction springs simply from the difference between our personal vision of the character and the vision of the filmmakers. I think my negative reaction to the character of Edward in the movie adaptation of TWILIGHT, however, stems from a more basic problem. On the page, I can believe in the allure of a ravishing vampire with alabaster (and sparkly in sunlight) skin and blood-tinged lips, who looks like a teenage boy but projects the persona of someone much older, having experienced more than one lifetime. In the movie, though, when one of the girls whispered that Edward was “gorgeous,” my immediate reaction was, “No, he isn’t.” On screen, Edward looks to me like a teenage boy with grotesquely pale makeup and too much lipstick.

Some characters who can be credibly described in prose are extremely hard to portray convincingly in a visual medium. Remember the STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION episode when the Enterprise visited a planet of hermaphrodites? That premise would have posed no problem in a printed work of fiction. But on TV, despite my enjoyment of the story and appreciation for its attempt to handle a genuine SF idea, nothing could keep me from seeing the aliens as flat-chested women with short hair. Animation would avoid that problem, but in live action, hermaphrodites have to be played by either men or women; finding enough real-life intersex actors to fill the cast would, I’d think, be an insurmountable problem. Makes me wonder how Theodore Sturgeon’s story of a similar society, VENUS PLUS X, or Ursula LeGuin’s LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS would translate to the screen.

Somewhere C. S. Lewis says the scene in the ILIAD when Hector's body gets dragged around the walls of Troy, while horrifying as narrated in the epic, would look absurd in a dramatic presentation. Yet that sequence is dramatized very convincingly in the Vincent Price movie THEATRE OF BLOOD. So I wouldn't dare to say any fictional scene would be impossible to film effectively, especially with the techniques available nowadays. (Consider how much more realistic the animals and mythical creatures in the new Narnia movies look than the ones in the live-action BBC videos of many years ago.) Still, some would have to be much harder to translate between media than others.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

1 comment:

  1. If I love a book, it's hard for me to see it depicted on the screen.
    Example? "Dune". I've had three copies of that book because they fall apart on me. I reread it every year.
    When it came out on film, I didn't like it. The mini series was a little better but still...
    I think there are just books that should stay books.