Saturday, May 19, 2012

Super Special Saturday Bonus Post #3: A Brief Look at Movie Adaptations

It's that randomly specified time again, Internet! Our third Super Special Saturday Bonus Post! Before we get into it though, a couple things. First, I'd like to share a moment with you; how to suddenly have a pretty good day in five easy steps.
1) Get up to go get something
2) Make it halfway there and completely forget what you were getting
3) Shrug and decide to get a glass of water
4) Return, realize that's exactly what you got up for.
5) Celebrate accordingly!

Source: Otagen via DeviantArt
I'd also like to share with you guys a series I just discovered called "Stephen Fry in America". If you know who Stephen Fry is or have a particular interest in America, it's pretty interesting so far. In two episodes he's done the entire eastern seaboard and gotten a fairly good snapshot of it all in all of its inconcievable, intolerable, incongruity. Except for Florida. Stephen Fry hates Florida. I found it on Netflix, but you might be able to find it other places if you're resourceful.

Finally, a shameless plug for my own poll. It sounds anti-classy but really, the more people who vote, the more I know what you guys wanna hear about and that way everyone wins. Right now Avatar is winning and I'm all for that because that sounds hilarious, but I know for a fact that one of my poor readers has been voting the dickens out of Christian Schools since I first put it up waaaaaay back at the beginning of the blog.

Is that everything? I think that's eve---NO.

Guys, very soon, in the next week, if I can, I'm going to start recording a letsplay series of the original Fallout. I've been meaning to since Good Old Games gave it away for free that one day, but didn't have the time before Finals were over. Now they're over and my schedule's opened up dramatically! YAY! know...Watch out for that.

A Brief Look at Movie Adaptations

So. Movie adaptations. Some people love them, some people hate them, some people are never familiar with the original IP's and so have no opinions on them. Mostly, I try to judge them on the basis of whether or not they're good movies over how true they are to the source material; it is a known fact that Tom is willing to accept a lot of changes in exchange for a good story. Where does that line get drawn though? How far away can we get from the mark before we're not even on the target anymore? At what point does an adaptation become a completely different movie with the same name? How many times are you guys going to let me get away with asking the same rhetorical question? 

Adaptations are a tricky thing though; you really do have to know where exactly to straddle that line, especially if you're adapting from prose. There are a lot of things that need to be accounted for in film that don't even need to be consider in a book. Likewise, you can get away with and achieve things in prose that might take ages to set up in a film, if they're possible at all. You want an example of that? Go watch I Am Legend. We'll be talking more about that one later.

What? What do you mean this is a different movie? HAHA NO IT'S THE SAME.
The thing I see talked about the least concerning adaptations is pacing which is sad because it's what makes a lot of them fall flat, in my opinion and is also important enough to impact a lot of the stuff we've yet to cover. Pacing in feature-length films has somewhat of a distinct standard, especially for the no-brains type Summer Blockbusters like Transformers. Pick any action movie out of your collection and skip right to the sixty minute mark; chances are, something awesome is happening. If not, go backwards or forwards a few minutes. This is called the "Tent Pole" and is basically the thing that keeps the movie from getting too boring before the actual climax *SLASH* adds in some extra character motivation to get there. Who saw the Avengers? Anyone wanna guess when the attack on the Helicarrier took place?

Books though? Books are makeitthefuckupatopia. Because books are read, not viewed, how pacing is handled is intrinsically different. In a book, you can skip back a couple pages, reread the same line over and over, or even read the dialogue in funny British accents if you like, something that's not as readily available in film.

Because prose audiences have this leisure, foreshadowing can be more sneakily hidden, double meanings are more prevalent, and the author can generally afford to just futz around more. Tolkien is a good example of this; man was a master of futzing. I maintain that 90% of what they cut from the movies was just walking. Walking and singing. More so with the various director's cuts.

This is, though, where a lot of movies trip themselves up. Not that they mess up their pacing, but that they sacrifice story elements to adhere to sensible pacing. The fourth Harry Potter, Goblet of Fire is a pretty good example of this; it actually had pretty good pacing and I don't think I've ever heard anyone complain about it. What I do hear people complain about is hurried plot points, shallow characterization, and a complete lack of interesting subplots.

Lest we also forget the appearance of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named
All that fail came from trying and failing to squish a whole, huge book into about two hours. It's not even necessarily the filmmaker's not caring, it's mostly just having to condense everything down to near-triviality and still cutting out a sizable chunk of the fat. I still think that cutting up Harry Potter 7 was the best thing they ever did for the series because there was simply too much ground to cover with any sort of quality in mind. 

Trying to decide what to keep and how you present it is probably one of the most difficult, stress-inducing parts of the whole ordeal, insofar as pre-production. At least it should be; if it isn't I might suggest that maybe you did something wrong. That's where we get back to straddling that line I talked about earlier; choosing between what the fans came for: continuity; and what everyone else came for: a good film. Not to imply that the two are mutually exclusive; Fans, of course, want the best movie possible, and adding continuity doesn't necessarily take away from the quality of the film, but at some point, that's what it's going to come down to; Do we put all of the Fellowship's songs to music or should we just let people assume it happened and add more cool stuff? It's not just cutting stuff out either; Coraline added a completely new character to make up for the lack of narration. There will always be a point where the filmmakers have to alter the source material's story to create something that fits into film as a medium.

Now we've already talked a bit about how film and prose are two completely different mediums and transplanting stories isn't as easy as copy/pasting the book and adding some stage directions. It's a messy, complicated, and methodical process by itself and with outside interests like studio backers, producers, and PR teams sticking their fingers in it, it becomes nothing less than a crapshoot. 

Some people don't understand this. I find those people mildly irritating. 

Mildly Irritated Tom.
Let's focus on Watchmen for a bit. I Love Watchmen. This entire post was originally going to be all about it. Now, I realize some people don't like Watchmen and that's fine; everyone's got their differences. I don't like crappy music and cars as penis metaphors and you don't like expertly-written, foundation-shifting masterpieces. I don't judge. As many people may know, Watchmen Got a long-awaited adaptation in '09 and it was generally pretty-well received. Most fans found it to be a lovingly recreated homage to the graphic novel they so dearly loved and many non-fans were at least entertained by it. Needless to say, I love the shit out of it, own both cuts, and wrote a ten-page paper about it. No big deal.

---WARNING! The next few paragraphs will be pretty spoilerific! If you haven't read or seen Watchmen, I suggest you do so now. Seriously, you're missing out.---

Watchmen was not without its controversy, however. There were the usual foul cries of "You left out X! YOU BASTARDS!" but one complaint rose among the rest: "You changed the ending." For anyone who hasn't read or seen Watchmen and foolishly ignored my warning, SHAME ON YOU! But you should also know that in the film, Ozymandias (The Bad Guy) reverse-engineers the near-limitless energy of Dr. Manhattan (A Good Guy) and uses it to blow up several major cities across the globe to create world peace. Don't ask; it works. In the film, this worked; it tied together some otherwise loose ends, it was easy to understand as a plot device, and overall it cleaned up all the problems the film created in its transition. Still, it displeased some people. What did Snyder replace? A 50-foot exploding psychic space squid, created by kidnapping dozens of artists, writers, and scientists so they could design it, create it, and teleport it to New York City, then killing off all of those aforementioned kidnapee's so they could never speak of it again. 

And it looked like this!
Does that sound a little fucking insane to you? Just a little? It's supposed to; part of what the graphic novel was doing was shedding light on some of the ridiculous shit people get away with in super hero comics and it worked there, it worked fantastically, beautifully, really. There's a problem with putting it in the movie though; not only do those same crazy 1980's comics not exist in their same form anymore, you're not even in the right genre. A good chunk of the audience, probably more than I'd like to admit, may have never read a comic story arc start to finish and so can't put the Psychic Space Squid in that context. That means that chunk of the audience would immediately decide that Watchmen had a pretty good serious super hero thing going on for a while and then things just got WTF crazy.  

And let's not forget that all-important pacing we talked about earlier. Watchmen was a 12 part series, it had more than 138 pages to quietly insinuate this information. Even with everything they cut out, even cutting out more side stories and sub plots, I think they would have struggled to fit all the extra information in to create that monster. 

---SPOILERS OVER. YAY FOR YOU! Now Go read Watchmen. Seriously.---

I'd like to think a lot of people don't realize the technical challenges in adapting a movie like that. Honestly, I don't know how many people truly understand the vague process as given here, let alone the intense number of cogs and wheels and machinations that go into a truly huge project like that. But I know there are ones who do, and they still have the nerve to call it 'Squidgate'

Tom after hearing someone call it 'Squidgate' for the first time.
But I couldn't end a post about film adaptations without the abuses of it. Make no mistake; while I've tried to lay out a pretty good defense for the sometimes crazy sounding decisions filmmakers make, there are some pretty flagrant cases of "Not Giving a Shit" The most recent example would probably have to be Battleship; the feature-length, multi-million adaptation of a fairly simplistic board game with no back story, context, or narrative of any discernible type. Battleship is clearly a case of attaching a popular name to an otherwise-untouchable screenplay to make it more sellable. This is actually way more common than you'd think; iRobot  was originally a movie called Hardwired that was having trouble getting picked up. They changed the title, added in some new names and viola! You have a blockbuster! As I've mentioned earlier, I Am Legend wasn't I Am Legend at all, not even close; it was a remake of a Charlton Heston film called Omega Man with the same title because...I actually don't know why. To my knowledge, the Richard Matheson novel was just as, if not more obscure. Pissed me the hell off when I found out that they'd made the wrong movie though. 

"I am completely the wrong monster."
Faithful readers (or readers who click on this link) will remember that in my last SSSBP I talked about how horrifically wrong the 2010 remake of Clash of the Titans was. This film's a bit interesting because it doesn't actually fit into the just previously established mold of tacking a name on a script. As bad as it is, it does feel like someone deliberately set out to do an adaptation of the adaptation. Titans is, I feel, the best example in the last decade of how to do an adaptation wrong. I already talked about how it was technically bad, so I won't get into that here, but I feel like its cardinal sin as an adaptation was changing the central theme of the film. I've seen exactly one movie get away with this, and they only did it by turning the theme in on itself and satirizing. Titans, on the other hand, chose a new theme, presumably because it tested well, and just sort of lazily wrote some speeches in there to support it.

For those of you too lazy to read the post that link leads to, what I'm talking about here was how in the original Clash of the Titans, it was mostly a story about the bickering of the gods and how they manipulated mortals to get at each other and turned Perseus into a Kraken-slaying badass as a side-effect. Not wanting to tread too closely to (or in the same zip code as) the same ground, the 2010 remake decided that Perseus was now a god-hating, pseudo atheist tough guy who only begrudgingly accepts help from the gods because his jaw is just that square.

"My jaw is so square, I'm only using this knife to give the turtles a fighting chance."
Incidentally, go do a google image search for "Man's Life" You'll find that about 80% of the women featured are all wearing the same shirt in various stages of tornity. 

I digress though; changing something central like that is dangerous; it alienates anyone who knows the source and now you have to write a movie that's at least twice as good to make up for it. Something Titans clearly did not do.

Adapting a film from something, even another film, is a sticky business, often hidden opaquely from the audience it's intended for and this post is only a pretty vague idea of the kind of crazy shit that gets pulled. Hopefully though, the next time Gimli's beard is braided wrong, people will understand. 

Thank you, Goodnight.

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