Category Archives: Movies and TV

“But That’s Not How it Was in the Movie!”

There are a billion and seven articles and posts on the InterWebs about the myriad ways that movies get the book wrong. And while I may be on record with my attestation that they never filmed a version of The Neverending Story, rather, they pissed all over the ending of the film and then turned, faced the screen, and said “This is Hollywood, kids,” I’m not going to add to the circle-jerk and back-slapping of readers complementing themselves on reading and laughing at the poor benighted losers who weren’t blessed with the story in its original form. Not right now, at least.Plus, while there are readers who can defend their argument, many people haven’t been able to tell me why they liked the movie better, without just saying “Well, the director imagined something differently; I totally pictured John Smith in a blue coat and in the movie, he’s wearing green.” Or they have little knowledge of the requirements of drama, and refuse to acknowledge that movies sometimes have to change things in order to be an effective dramatization of the story.

Which brings us to my brand-new mostly-regular feature where I talk about those instances where the movie either was better than the book, or at least got a few things very right. I welcome suggestions, of course, and even arguments. I’m more of a reader and writer than I am a movie junkie, but I have studied film on my own ever since the days when I’d watch Sneak Previews with my Dad in the late 70s, and even more so once I had the ability to stream movies.

Case in point today:  Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone vs Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. (Yes, that’s the English title and not the American one; that’s what JK Rowling named the book, and that’s what I’m going to call it.) I’m a huge fan of the books, as entertainment and as literature, and I think I’m not alone in saying that the series really took off when the third book was released. (I also might be biased because that was when I started reading the series.) Really, though… the first two are fun romps in a magical world, but the third is when the dark themes that dominate the last few books first start to show up. So, when Alfonso Cuarón’s film of Azkaban came out, I was a little nervous, mostly because of what they’d done to the first one.

On the surface, the first movie is a perfect adaptation. Perhaps Hermione and Snape look a little different than how they’re described, but I’m a firm believer that a good actor can create any role, and both actors acted perfect for the parts they played.  But otherwise, the movie felt a little off to me. It wasn’t until I watched it a second time that I realized what it was. They’d included nearly everything that was in the book (well, everything except one of the puzzles at the end and a few bits of dialogue here and there), and as a result, the film felt rushed and overloaded. The book had a good story but it was also a fun school-year exploring a strange and different world. The movie felt like an hour-long tour of a college campus, with some person giving you twenty minutes of information in less than five and then pushing you along to the next stop.

Azkaban, though, was actually adapted to film, rather than just translated, and as a result, it works so much better. There is a long list of the things they left out or changed for the movie, but none of them (with one minor exception) goes against the spirit of the story. So he’s restricted to The Leaky Cauldron, or the class lessons are a little different. Everything that is changed still works with the story, and acts as shorthand for a lot of things they had to leave out. And even the minor bit of Harry practicing magic at the Dursley’s House makes sense, as it shows him longing so badly to go back to his magical world that he’s willing to actually study, something he’s not known for doing back at Hogwarts. (True, that should have brought a warning from the Ministry of Magic, but, well, I don’t know. Maybe they were busy looking for Sirius Black or something.)

Next week, I’ll bring up some horror films that are more frightening on the screen than they were on the page,  sometimes even for someone who had read the book.

* Though, if The Neverending Story ever comes up in conversation, I just might. Or The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. I can deal with movies changing things from the book for the sake of drama, and adapting to a different media. Neither of those movies were changed for those reasons.

Happy Moon Day

I always want to say that like Tom Cullen in The Stand… “M–O–O–N, that spells ‘MONDAY.'” I’m not quite sure why. I do personally think we should pronounce them according to their etymology… Moon Day, Tiu’s Day, Wotan’s Day, Thor’s Day, Fish Fry Day, Saturn Day, Sun Day. Makes a lot more sense to me.

Since I’ve been talking about the books I’m reading at the end of the week, I figured today I could talk about movies and TV. I’ve only recently gotten back into watching TV, after cutting my cable back in late 1997. I left for Europe and Japan shortly after that, and when I came back to the US almost eight years later, I’d lost the TV habit. But partly thanks to Netflix and Hulu, and mostly thanks to the strange fact that while movies are getting more homogenous and explody every month, TV is increasingly delving into intelligent writing, great acting, and either long character arcs or serial format, I’m watching more of it than I ever used to. Maybe only a couple of hours’ worth every week, but I actually will occasionally find myself with my butt in front of the screen at certain times of the week, now, something that was always rare for this intractable biblioholic.

I’ll be doing that more in the spring when Hannibal and Orphan Black launch their third seasons. I’ve talked about Orphan Black before, over at the Way Too Fantasy blog, but if you haven’t checked it out, do so before Season Three premiers in the spring. The show is not only home to some of the best acting I’ve ever seen on a small screen, but is sensible science fiction. No ray guns and midichlorians and wacky time travel hijinks here… they take a scientific development that is most likely right around the corner for us, and postulate that it was actually done somewhat successfully in the early 1980s. I’m sure the science is stretched in spots to make a good story, but for the most part it’s grounded in reality, and the 15 hours between the two series spend a lot of time exploring ethical, religious, and sociological issues around cloning, in addition to nail-biting suspense.

Hannibal is a different story. I am generally not a fan of remakes, reboots, and relaunches. Every time I hear of, say, a Spiderman reboot, or a new Star Trek series, part of me (the loud and noisy and occasionally obnoxious side) wishes that the studios would invest in something new rather than retreading the old tried-and-true over and over. There are a few exceptions, such as Star Trek: Deep Space NineBattlestar Galactica, and the 2005 reboot of Doctor Who. The Thing might technically be a remake, but it’s closer to the source material. It’s still a very short list. So when Hannibal premiered last year, I had no intention of watching it. Understand this:  I read Red Dragon when I was a teenager and loved it. It was one of the few horror novels I was able to read with my Mom, who liked murder mysteries and suspense more than any kind of supernatural horror. Later, I read The Silence of the Lambs on a flight to my duty station during the first Gulf War just before the movie came out (or at least, before I had a chance to see it overseas) and was enchanted. I read Hannibal in hardback and had a really bad case of the “mehs.” I’ve not seen either that movie or Hannibal Rising. And, not to disparage Sir Anthony Hopkins’s performance as Doctor Lecter in the slightest, I’m more a fan of the movie Manhunter than Red Dragon. Again… not the biggest fan of remakes, especially remakes of excellently-produced films. The TV show Hannibal did seem interesting as a thought experiment… what was it like before Hannibal Lecter was arrested and he and Will Graham were friends?… but it still seemed like nothing I wanted to watch.

I ultimately blame bOING bOING. While reading episode summaries and discussions of Orphan Black, I saw that they were also following Hannibal‘s second season, and I generally like what they recommend. So once I had nothing more to watch, I pointed my Roku box over to Amazon Prime, pulled up the first episode, and figured I could give it a shot, at least for an hour or two.

If you’ve seen it, you know my reaction. If you haven’t, well, this is what I was missing by not paying attention to the show for over a year:

  • Impeccable dramatic acting, and not only by the two leads. Even the supporting cast… Lawrence Fishburne, Eddie Izzard, Gina “Zoe Barnes” Torres… are heavyweights and very well utilized.
  • Accurate portrayal of a man on the autism spectrum who is still able to function
  • Some of the most tooth-grinding violence (almost always depicted after the fact, when the body is found) ever on television. In fact, it’s kind of funny to realize that they have no problem showing people turned into trees and fungus gardens and other horrible tableau but always make completely sure that nipples are blocked out of camera. But that’s a story for Double Standards Week.
  • Use of the Chekhov’s Gun principle. We know from the start who and what that nice, brilliant psychiatrist helping the FBI is. But watching the reactions of the people who don’t know this, and how he both helps and hinders their investigation adds a unique layer of suspense to the show…
  • (Thematic Spoiler for Season Two, kind of) … which is broken all to hell in a few places later on. I’d read that the director planned on taking it in a slightly different direction than the movies took it, but I was still shocked when a couple of those different directions exploded on the screen. I don’t want to say anything else, but once you’ve made it through both of them, you’ll know exactly what I mean. I’m really, really curious to see how Season Three (which is supposed to be based on the novel Red Dragon) is going to play out.

So, those are my two shows, right now. Next Monday, I’ll pull out classic horror films in honor of October and fall and other fun things.