Thursday, July 03, 2014

Across Media

Having recently read the Japanese novel SWORD ART ONLINE and the manga based on it after watching the anime adaptation, I've been thinking about adaptations of fiction into film. From what I've read and seen, I get the impression that in Japanese media the adapters of a novel or manga tend to work closely with the original creators, so that SWORD ART ONLINE represents the norm: An anime film typically follows the novel or manga as faithfully as the translation from one medium to the other allows. Which, in my opinion, is as it should be. If the adapter doesn't enjoy or respect the source enough to want to adapt it faithfully, why not just write his own film? (I know, I know, for the market value of the title, but I still don't approve.) When I watch a movie or series based on a book, I'm expecting to see the novel brought to life on the screen, not some producer's off-the-wall rendering of a story "inspired by" the original.

Of course, most novels are too long to translate fully into the time span of theatrical movies. (That's why the miniseries is the ideal medium for filming a novel.) Hence the numerous film versions of A CHRISTMAS CAROL and DRACULA, many of which I've seen. It's intriguing to note which elements of a long, complex story a filmmaker chooses to include or omit. I realize some omissions and adjustments are unavoidable, even with a rather short novel such as A CHRISTMAS CAROL. What make me gnash my teeth are gratuitous additions and changes. Take the big-screen version of PRINCE CASPIAN, for instance. The movie inserts an attack on the castle that isn't in the book, serves no purpose other than to add some "action" scenes that don't advance the plot, and displays Peter behaving in a manner totally out of character for him (as the script makes him do at several other points). To make room for this tedious "action" sequence, the script omits Aslan's triumphal cross-country procession to liberate Narnia, which didn't appear in the BBC PRINCE CASPIAN production for lack of time and which I'd been eagerly looking forward to in the theatrical adaptation. A more subtle distortion of character appears, famously, in the original movie of Stephen King's THE SHINING. In the novel, although the father has plenty of problems, he's trying to be the best possible father and husband in the circumstances, and it's obvious that the very real supernatural entities in the hotel drive him out of his mind. In the Stanley Kubrick movie, he seems to be crazy all along.

Another Stephen King adaptation, SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, offers examples of "good" cinematic embellishments. Neither the chess set made of rocks gathered by the other convicts nor the scene where Andy locks himself in the warden's office to broadcast classical music throughout the prison appears in the novel, but they fit beautifully with the plot and Andy's character.

Some films manage faithful translations of the books they're based on despite the time limitations. GONE WITH THE WIND does an excellent job, with the deletion of only a few characters and subplots. SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is another example—but notice the shift in emphasis at the end. In the book, the final scene shows us Clarice, briefly at peace after solving the serial murder case, sleeping beside her new-found lover. In the movie, we last see her receiving a phone call from Hannibal Lecter, and the final scene shows Lecter, having escaped from prison, disappearing into a crowd. He becomes the center of the story in a way he wasn't in the novel. Then there's ROSEMARY'S BABY. A simple, streamlined novel, it became an excellent movie with almost no alteration. Earlier this year, for motives that elude me, the novel was adapted as a TV miniseries. It's essentially the same story, but updated to the present day and relocated from New York to Paris, with many details altered. In the most glaring change, the kind neighbors who turn out to be the heads of the Satanist coven are transformed from elderly and frumpy to younger, beautiful, sophisticated, and of course French—in other words, stereotypical Satanists. This change eliminates one of author Ira Levin's principal strokes of genius, portraying a mundane world in which ordinary people, even the nice old couple in the same apartment building, can be agents of supernatural evil. The wife in the 2014 miniseries would never call the dessert with which she drugs Rosemary "chocolate mouse," and I believe that's a loss.

Another reason I've been thinking about adaptations is that next month the Starz network will begin showing its series adapted from Diana Gabaldon's OUTLANDER, one of my favorite novels ever. The TV format allows scope for a full, respectful treatment of this very long, complicated book. Gabaldon has been waxing enthusiastic about it for months, so there are grounds for hope.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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