Thursday, February 27, 2014

Lights! Camera! Problem!

Yes.

Well, leaving aside To Kill A Mockingbird, a slew of Chandlers, I Capture The Castle, and Atonement, yes.  And Harry Potter. But broadly speaking.  And The Great Gatsby. Quite broadly. Trainspotting.



So maybe no.

Sometimes the problem with a beloved book being made into a movie is that so much is lost. Nothing's missing from the film - the film's fine - but all you can think of as you sit there with a fistful of popcorn halfway to your open mouth are the purged characters, edited out like Trotsky.

Perhaps that's why short stories can make such successful films even for their fans: they start the right size.  Brokeback Mountain for instance is wonderful in both forms (unlike The Shipping News) and (Rita Hayworth and) The Shawshank Redemption too.  Whereas, when John Irving tried to turn the  - admittedly sizeable - Cider House Rules into a movie, the script had a running time of over eight hours.

Killing other people's darlings must be easier. Emma Thompson pulled off a near miracle when she adapted Sense And Sensibility. She took a wonderful book and made it better; removing characters no one misses (Lady Middleton and her four children? Who cares?) and giving purpose to dull characters too. Margaret Dashwood adds nothing to the world of the novel whatsoever but in the film she's funny, she reveals Edward's character through his relationship with her and the little actress playing her manages to steal scenes from Kate Winslet, no less.


When I was beginning to think about writing, I never daydreamed having written the books I was reading, but I quite often daydreamed the book that a movie I was watching would have been before its adaptation.  I still do.  (And if anyone else does, feel free to admit it and not leave me hanging, eh?) Some films made terrible imaginary books - Groundhog Day, for instance (RIP Harold Ramis), where short chapters could never capture the quick cuts of the days when Phil is getting into his repetitive groove.
 
Moonstruck on the other hand, I could never believe hadn't been a book. Its plot is perfect, its characters delightful, its world fully imagined. I wish I'd written it - even though I might have killed myself when they took my book and cast Nicholas Cage.
 






12 comments:

Paul D. Marks said...

"Nothing's missing from the film - the film's fine - but all you can think of as you sit there with a fistful of popcorn halfway to your open mouth are the purged characters, edited out like Trotsky. "

Love that description, Catriona.

Dana King said...

Sometimes the time restrictions of a movie can be a good thing. JAWS comes to mind. The book has a deadly dull affair between the marine biologist and the chief's wife. The screenplay understands the key element of the story is the Brody, Hooper, and Quint against the shark and gets them on the water as quickly as possible. The movie is much better than the book.

Catriona McPherson said...

Jaws - great example! I always think The Da Vinci Code should have been a better film than a book but they pulled off a kind of miracle there too . . .

Barry Knister said...

Maybe the only people to listen to are those who haven't read the book. Does the movie succeed? Is the script tight, the characters well developed, etc? Fine, enough said. But what is gained by trashing a film or a novel through comparison is lost on me. I mean, other than its being fun to do.

Clare ODonohue said...

For me it's not so much the lost characters - as the casting. I always have a picture in my head when I'm reading the book of what these people look like and the film usually doesn't come close. It's not that they're wrong, it's just different. Except Nicholas Cage.... exactly.

Art Taylor said...

Love this post... and agree so much on Groundhog Day and Moonstruck -- two of my own favorite films.
Thanks much!

Susan C Shea said...

Agree about the script for Sense and Sensibility. It was extraordinary, brilliant. My only quarrel with the film was that Alan Rickman and Hugh Grant didn't know how to play the 19th century men, or at least the version of men with pent-up love that Austen imagined. They tended to look like they had gas...

cealarenne said...

A while back, my neighbor came over to watch a movie with me. She chose one she'd read and really enjoyed. I'm not a great YA reader, but I loved The Hunger Games, and she has great taste, so there we were. A word of advice: if your neighbor suggests she come over and spend the evening watching The Host, save yourself! Slash your wrists now. Lock your doors and pretend you went out and forgot. Because like me, you'll be sitting there with your neighbor saying, "This was so much better in the book." And you thinking, "Nothing this bad could have derived from something even close to better."

Catriona McPherson said...

Gas! I just laughed out loud in a very studious coffeeshop.

Barry, I see what you mean. (I also wonder about whether there are films I think work because I can draw on the book to flesh things out, but that wouldn't work for anyone starting from scratch.)

Cealarenne - thanks for the tip. Also - how do you pronounce your name?

Robin Spano said...

Great movie! You just made me want to read the book.

Lori Rader-Day said...

Wow. We like the same movies, too. I think Moonstruck and Sense and Sensibility are both perfect films. I even forgive it being Nick Cage, because his weirdness is so over the top.

Yves Fey said...

I totally disagee about Rickman. I thought he stole the show from the more handsome leading men in Sense and Sensibility. And I thought Hugh Grant was charming.
Zorba the Greek is a favorite adaptation of mine. I'd still like to shoot Altman for what he did to The Long Goodbye. Maybe someone will do it as something more on the lines of LA Confidential. I saw The Great Gatsby as a play, and it was fabulous, far closer to the spare poetry of the book. Both films were overdone in different ways, though I preferred the hyper new version to the leaden older one.