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Analyzing Adaptation: Why the Source Material is Only Half the Story

December 3, 2013 in Classic Literature, Contemporary Literature, Fantasy Literature, Fauxscars, Fiction, Film, Literary Movies, Pop Culture, YA Fiction

In the wake of a recent surge in successful movie adaptations of literature — from classic novels like The Great Gatsby to popular young adult fiction like The Hunger Games — it is often assumed that an adapted film that isn’t faithful to its source material can’t be good. Remaining objective is incredibly difficult, especially for fans of the books who see the story and characters they love represented in a way different from what they imagined.

I’m here to tell you that adapted movies need not adhere to their source material to be “good”—in fact, strict adherence is often just as inadvisable.

We all know significant deviation in an adaptation causes disappointment and backlash. Audiences see the title and expect a certain obedience to the original story, so that when there are missing subplots or characters they feel betrayed. Let’s talk about David Lynch’s Dune (1984) for a second. Lynch hadn’t even read the book when he signed on to write the screenplay. Watching the film makes you feel like Lynch got halfway through the book and then just skipped to the end. Cuts are inevitable when it comes to adapting literature, but in this case, the entire second half of the book is significantly altered.

And what if you haven’t read the book? I actually saw Dune before I read the book myself and I thought it was pretty decent. It’s incredibly weird, but it is David Lynch. All his movies are weird. The biggest disappointment is that you occasionally have to make generous inferences on behalf of the movie due to the fact that it is trying to pack a 412 page novel (or at least 206 pages of it) into 2 hours. Otherwise it was a pretty solid science fiction film.

Strict compliance to what you’re adapting has precisely the opposite effect: fans may be pleased, but those who haven’t read the novel will likely find themselves bored by the experience. Peter Jackson’s recent adaptation of The Hobbit is the perfect example. According to Metacritic, the film earned an average score of 58%, with Rotten Tomatoes reporting that only 65% gave the film a positive (>50%) review. Personally, I had similar feelings. There were some scenes that might have worked on the page, but simply fell flat on the screen. And it’s not like Peter Jackson’s just a bad director, or that Tolkein’s world is unadaptable and doesn’t work in the movies. In fact, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring broke the top 50 of the American Film Institute’s “100 Years…100 Movies”, its list of the 100 most influential films of all time.

Speaking of the AFI, 15 of their top 25 films are adaptations, and 7 of those are in the top 10. The Godfather was a novel, Casablanca was a play, and Raging Bull was a memoir. Gone with the Wind, Schindler’s List, Vertigo, and The Wizard of Oz were all books first. Even the ones that weren’t based on works of fiction were inspired by a real-life person or event: Citizen Kane was based on William Randolph Hearst, Singing in the Rain was based on Oscar Levant, and Lawrence of Arabia was based on T. E. Lawrence. And in each one of these cases the movie certainly didn’t become successful by strictly clinging to its source material.

This phenomenon isn’t limited to the AFI, either. Stanley Kubrick, one of the most influential directors in cinema history, almost exclusively filmed from adapted screenplays. In fact, Fear and Desire and Killer’s Kiss are the only two of his thirteen feature films which were original screenplays. Kubrick is also famous for not strictly adhering to the original works. His movie version of The Shining was criticized by Stephen King himself as being a bad adaptation, but it has nevertheless come to be regarded as one of the best movies of all time. (It’s #29 on the AFI’s Top 100 Thrillers, its main character Jack Torrance is 25th on the AFI’s Top 100 Villains, and “Here’s Johnny!” is 68th on the AFI’s top 100 quotes.) Ironically, Stephen King collaborated with director Mick Garris to make a more faithful adaptation of the book in the form of a TV mini series which was, to make a long story short, pretty bad.

In the end, books and movies are two separate art forms with their own advantages and disadvantages. Movies are short, but a good cinematographer can create more beautiful imagery than your average reader may be able to think up on their own. Books lack this visual artistry, but their length allows for deeper development of language, character and theme. We should probably just understand that literature can inspire great film and leave the two as separate representatives of their own worlds.

But where’s the fun in that?

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100 Years… 100 Adaptations (or: The AFI’s Top 25 Films and Their Source Material)

1. Citizen Kane (original screenplay; based on William Randolph Hearst)
2. The Godfather (novel of the same name)
3. Casablanca (stage play “Everybody Comes to Rick’s”)
4. Raging Bull (novel Raging Bull: My Story)
5. Singing in the Rain (original screenplay; based on Oscar Levant)
6. Gone with the Wind (novel of the same name)
7. Lawrence of Arabia (original screenplay; based on life of T. E. Lawrence)
8. Schindler’s List (novel; Schindler’s Ark)
9. Vertigo (novel; D’entre les morts)
10. The Wizard of Oz (novel; The Wonderful Wizard of Oz)
11. City Lights (original screenplay)
12. The Searchers (novel same name)
13. Star Wars (original screenplay; inspired by The Hidden Fortress)
14. Psycho (novel of the same name)
15. 2001: A Space Odyssey (short story; “The Sentinel”)
16. Sunset Boulevard (original screenplay)
17. The Graduate (novel of the same name)
18. The General (original screenplay; based on the Great Locomotive Chase)
19. On the Waterfront (original screenplay; based on “Crime on the Waterfront”)
20. It’s a Wonderful Life (short story; “The Greatest Gift”)
21. Chinatown (original screenplay; based on the California Water Wars)
22. Some Like It Hot (remake of Fanfare d’Amour — which was based on a book)
23. The Grapes of Wrath (novel of the same name)
24. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (original screenplay; based on Spielberg’s childhood imaginary friend)
25. To Kill a Mockingbird (novel of the same name)

by osadmin

Winter is Coming…

March 11, 2013 in American Authors, Book Series, Fantasy Literature, Television, Travel to New York City, Uncategorized

By Kyle Leahy

Winter is coming to New York City, and no, I don’t mean another snowstorm (thank goodness!). Stopping in five international cities, NYC will be the only city in the United States to host the Game of Thrones Exhibition — a display of costumes, weapons, and props from the Emmy-award winning HBO series. Imagine transporting to the beautiful country of Westeros and immersing yourself in the five houses of Stark, Lannister, Targaryen, Baratheon, and Greyjoy. If you live in the Northeast, or are game for a road trip, this could be a possibility for you. The traveling display, following the likes of the Harry Potter exhibition, will give fans an up close and personal experience with more than 70 original artifacts from Season 1 and 2. However, unlike the Harry Potter price tag of $26, this exhibition is free to the public. The Game of Thrones Exhibit will open in NYC on March 28th and stay until April 3rd. Other cities hosting the exhibition are Toronto, Sao Paolo, Amsterdam and Belfast.  Check out the HBO website for more information as it becomes available.

If you can’t make it, don’t fret! Season 3 of Game of Thrones  premieres March 31st on HBO.  In the meantime, continue watching the extended trailer (like me) to judge how it will compare with A Storm of Swords, the third novel in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, upon which the show is based.

Who is everyone excited to see come back? How far will Dany go on her quest for revenge? And will Tyrion finally make things right with his family? I know one thing is for sure — season 3 will be full of jarring twists and heartaches for the characters and the audience. However, only one king (or queen) can survive. So whose side are you on?

Season 3 Extended Trailer

#GOTExhibition

The Best of the Best of 2011: A List

December 24, 2011 in American literature, children's literature, Contemporary Literature, Fantasy Literature, Literary Books 2011, New Writers

Artwork by Dan Park

Jeffrey Eugenides, Artwork by Dan Park

There are a heck of a lot of “Best of 2011” lists coming out this week. There’s the best music, the best films, and, of course, the best books. But with so many “best of” lists, put out by practically every blog, magazine, and newspaper around, it’s hard to tell which books really came out on top.

But fear not! After combing through some well respected sources’ “best of” lists, it was clear which books were the real winners. The lists consulted included those compiled by Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Review, National Public Radio, Barnes & Noble, The Economist, Paste Magazine, Slate Magazine, Goodreads, the Washington Post, the Washington Examiner, the Village Voice, the Los Angeles Public Library, The New Republic, Amazon, The Horn Book, Esquire, and The New York Times.

There were, of course, books that made it onto just one or two lists, but to really be the best of the year, a book’s got to make a bigger splash than that. Therefore, the books that made it onto three or more of these lists are posted below on this compilation of what may as well be called “The Best of the Best Books of 2011”:

The Top 15 Fiction Books:
1. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
2. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
3. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
4. Open City by Teju Cole
5. The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht
6. A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin
7. Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
8. 11/22/63 by Stephen King
9. The Submission by Amy Waldman
10. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
11. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
12. The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips
13. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
14. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
15. The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

The Top 13 Nonfiction Books:
1. Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
2. Blue Nights by Joan Didion
3. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt
4. Bossypants by Tina Fey
5. Townie: A Memoir by Andre Dubus III
6. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson
7. Hemingway’s Boat by Paul Hendrickson
8. The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick
9. Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
10. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
11. Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie
12. 1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart
13. Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin

The Top 11 Young Adult Books:
1. Divergent by Veronica Roth
2. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
3. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
4. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
5. Blink & Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones
6. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
7. Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
8. The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
9. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
10. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
11. Chime by Franny Billingsley

The clear favorite of critics is The Marriage Plot, which shows up on seven different lists. Additionally, 1Q84, Divergent, and Blood, Bones, and Butter all made it onto six. It goes to show how diverse readers’ (and editors’) tastes are across America. Clearly, though, there’s still common ground, and if you’re looking for a good book to devour this holiday season, chances are you’ll find plenty of worthwhile material on this list.

Is Peter Pan Too Politically Incorrect for Modern Readers?

July 14, 2011 in children's literature, Fantasy Literature

Peter Pan and Wendy Book Cover 1915

It seems safe to assume that most people are familiar with one version or another of the tale of Peter Pan. Some generations may be more familiar with the dramatic adaptations, including the famous debut of Mary Martin as Peter. Others may have enjoyed various picture book editions or young adult sequels and prequels. As a child I enjoyed the Disney animated version, and later the Spielberg sequel Hook. Like many, I didn’t read the original novel by Scottish writer J.M. Barry, Peter Pan and Wendy, until it was required in a college-level children’s literature course.

Throughout the class I was surprised to learn that the original Grimm’s fairy tales and other children’s folk stories were often a bit rougher around the edges than their sugary Disney counterparts. It was not uncommon to encounter gruesome violence, incest, and cannibalism in stories like “Red Riding Hood” and “Cinderella.” Though J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan isn’t thematically horrifying, there are certainly elements that might trouble today’s parents.

First of all, the amount of violence in the book is rather startling. Compared to the Disney version, in which the pirates rarely receive more than a bop on the head, the novel is a bit more graphic, as Peter maliciously kills pirates without much concern or regret.

Modern readers may also be troubled by Barrie’s portrayal of women throughout the story. Wendy, Tiger Lily, and even fiery Tinkerbell are portrayed as damsels-in-distress, dependent on Peter to save them. In addition, the jealous interactions between these three female characters suggest that they view their own identities only through Peter’s eyes and feel unfulfilled without his attention. Furthermore, Wendy takes on the passive, stereotypical role of obedient housewife, as she doesn’t participate in any of the adventures of the Lost Boys and is merely content to keep house and dote on the rest of the children.

Readers may also be disturbed by the out-dated, inaccurate depictions of Neverland’s Natives who are referred to as “redskins” who engage in “savage” behavior. Throughout my reading, these elements of violence, racism, and sexism startled me, and I found myself grappling with an important question: Is it possible to look beyond these inappropriate components to appreciate the beautiful, imaginative tale beneath? Are we, in today’s society, too concerned with political correctness, or are we right to reject a children’s book for such reasons?

Of course, this is a question everyone must answer for themselves. I believe it is possible to enjoy a novel despite its disparity in societal values and standards. This cannot be accomplished by simply ignoring the book’s troublesome passages. As readers, we can seek to recognize and question these sections while allowing ourselves to enjoy the whimsical, innocent episodes, like the hunt and capture of Peter’s mischievous shadow. After all, Peter Pan helped to establish many fundamental tropes of the children’s fantasy genre, like the existence of an alternate world and the presence of fairies and other remarkable creatures. Despite the story’s flaws, I found the image of Peter perched outside the nursery window, looking inside at a scene from an ever-recognizable childhood, stayed with me long after the story’s conclusion. I predict that J.M. Barrie’s novel, flaws intact, will occupy our society’s collective imagination for years to come.

To learn more about J.M. Barrie’s work and his inspiration for the chilling villain Captain Hook, check out this LT article by Rachel McGinnis.

 

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