Friday, April 15, 2011

When Good Books Become Bad Movies: Part One When You Have Great Material Don't Assume Your Point of View Makes it Better

When I was in 9th grade we read the classic book The Great Gatsby.  After reading that book that put me in the "roaring 20's"  with the days of prosperity and bootlegging.  The Great Gatsby also filled my head my romantic ideals as I envisioned myself starring off longlingly towards that green light, and its representation of true love.  The book is poetic, and sparked my interest in reading even more.  The characters were complex and as a young reader I was able to put my imagination to work.

Cut to a few weeks later when my teacher had us watch the movie in class after we had finished the book.  We watched the older version with Robert Redford in the role of J. Gatsby and Mia Farrow as Daisy.  Redford was a great choice for Gatsby; he is charismatic and charming, but I guess I have never been convinced of his acting ability.  Farrow's Daisy was not what I pictured at all, she pulls off the innocent somehwta well, but she didn't take on the role as i envisioned it.  The film was  written by Franics Ford Coppola, but his talented writing skills could not save this adaptation.  The problem with the translation from book to film is that sometimes the power of the word gets lost on the screen and it loses the emotional context of the original film.  Thus began my long  treck to dissapointment.  I would read books, get excited about them in movie form, and then sit in the theatre sad that the film just did not capture the essence of the book.

Years later in college I read Augusten Burroughs book Running with Scissors in about 3 days.  The book was unique and autobiographical tale about son who was essentially abandoned by his alcoholic father crazy mother who has her son live with her shrink.  Augusten's mother sends him to live with her therapist and his crazy family for his adolescence and well let's just say there are some vivid descrpitions that would give someone a altered perception of life-read it!  The Ryan Murphy (Glee, Nip/Tuck) became the director of the film adaptation, and I was ecstatic a gay male director taking on the story of another gay male author.  The cast had Annette Bening, Alec Baldwin, Joseph Fiennes, Biran Cox, Gwyenth Paltrow, Evan Rachel Wood, Jill Clayburgh, Gabrielle Union, Kristin Chenowith, and newcomer Joseph Cross. What could go wrong?  Well the film was terrible and the subject matter was watered down.  There is some vivid shocking imagry in the book, and all of it was left out the film.  The book has such a queer identity, but my guess is producers were scared it would prevent mainstream America from showing up so they altered things.  This ultimately ruined this movie for the fans of the book and the public.

I came to The Lovely Bones late. I read the book the summer before the films release.  The premise was intriguing and at that point I knew Peter Jackson was going to direct the movie version and I enjoyed what he did with the movie Heavenly Creatures, so I began my jounrey with this book.  The book was tough the read for me, after every chapter I would put the book down because I was so emotionally spent.  I felt the pain and hardship as Susie who was brutally raped and murdered watch her family suffer as they tried to put their life together.  As the reader you become Susie and you take on her emotions you feel her loss, her families anguish, anger that she missed out so much that you have been able to enjoy in life.  When I finished the book I felt like an intruder into intimate family moments that I should have never seen.  Opening night of the movie (in northwest Ohio) I sat in my seat prepared for this intense journey as was sadly dissapointed.  This was another situation where the subject matter was watered down and the audience was given Law and Order: Lovely Bones Unit.  This film was procedural and did not tackle the deep emotional material well at all.  They missed the ball on the family struggle.  Mark Wahlberg was miscast as Susie's father and Rachel Weisz phoned it in as Susie's mother.  Stanley Tucci captured Susie's killer perfect down to every creepy twitch, but not enough to save this wonderful book from becoming a bad film.

How do bad book to film translations happen?  The studios get their hands on a script, and re-work good things.  Maybe the the director's vision is off (Watchmen-that will be talked about next time).  The author may not understand the complexity of the source material.  Reading a book is interpretive, and the way I vision one story is different from the way others may envision a story, so creating the perfect adaptation is impossible, but they do happen.  My advice is honor the material and find where the passion and heart is within the story, or some books like Catcher in the Rye are just not meant to be movies.

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