Thursday, October 06, 2022

Books to Films (Again)

The premiere of the AMC miniseries of Anne Rice's INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE set me thinking, again, about film adaptations of print fiction. Is it an unpardonable sin if a movie or TV series doesn't attempt to follow its book source as closely as possible (taking into account the different media and the limitations of the dramatic art as opposed to print fiction)? When I watch a movie or series based on a novel, I'm looking for the visual equivalent of the book. I want to see a faithful rendition of the story I enjoyed reading. With this new vampire series, I hoped for a more accurate translation of the novel to the screen than the original movie offered. Well, we don't get that. Louis's story in Rice's book begins in the late 18th century, but in 1910 in the TV series. Moreover, Louis becomes a mixed-race (therefore, by law black) owner of several brothels in the Storyville district of New Orleans. The declining fortunes of his well-to-do family depend on his business to prop them up. The retold story does retain Louis's mentally and physically fragile, fanatically religious brother, whose death drives Louis to accept Lestat's "dark gift." So far, the setting of early 20th-century New Orleans has an undeniable fascination, and the atmosphere is darkly enthralling, with a tinge of twisted eroticism. On its own terms, this series looks like a compelling tale of dark fantasy. But it diverges significantly from Rice's narrative.

The fidelity of adaptations to their sources ranges from almost complete to appropriating a title and little else. THE LAWNMOWER MAN exemplifies the latter, having nothing in common with the Stephen King short story it's ostensibly based on other than including a lawn mower. On the opposite end of the spectrum, ROSEMARY'S BABY follows its original as faithfully as can be expected in the time span of a feature film, and GONE WITH THE WIND comes almost as close as feasible without turning it into a miniseries. The typical movie version of a book, though, has to select elements from the original to translate the highlights of the story to the screen, since there wouldn't be time to incorporate every scene and dialogue passage. That's why the ideal film medium for a full-length novel is a miniseries, not a cinematic feature. Then there are movies that hijack title, characters, and basic plot points, then drive the resulting product off into the tall weeds with little or no respect for the plundered original. STARSHIP TROOPERS comes to mind.

It's often pointed out, quite reasonably, that because print and film are two different media, most print narratives can't be translated to film intact. Movies even have advantages over books in some respects such as showing scenes in a few minutes that would take many paragraphs to describe on the page. Physical action, particularly, works better in a visual medium. On the other hand, books have the advantage when it comes to conveying what goes on in the minds of characters. Some novels that have been assumed unfilmable, however, have been made into successful movies. For instance, GERALD'S GAME, the Stephen King work focusing almost entirely on a solitary woman handcuffed to a bed, became a very effective streaming program.

Although I strongly prefer an adaptation that maintains complete fidelity to its source, or nearly so as possible, I can enjoy almost anything that's well made and shows sincere respect for the original.

Carter's Crypt

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