“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.

Dostoevsky Predicts 21st Century Social Media

A man who lies to himself is often the first to take offense. It sometimes feels very good to take offense, doesn’t it? And surely he knows that no one has offended him, and that he himself has invented the offense and told lies just for the beauty of it, that he has exaggerated for the sake of effect, that he has picked on a word and made a mountain out of a pea — he knows all of that, and still he is the first to take offense, he likes feeling offended, it gives him great pleasure, and thus he reaches the point of real hostility…

The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor M. Dostoevsky, trans. Pevear & Volokhonsky

Either Dostoevsky had a Twitter account (though I can’t imagine him being a fan of the 140-character limit) or people really, really haven’t changed in a hundred and fifty years.


Snowstorm Books

There are a lot of reasons I moved to the south. Waking up to a half-inch of snow, 30-40 KPH winds, ice, and freezing rain, are not among those reasons. However, I have been soup simmering on the stove, a mug of tea on the table, and a stack of books. Up for today:

The Brothers Karamazov: This has been on my list for years, ever since the first time I read The Idiot (not about politics, surprisingly) in the mid-90s and was told that Karamazov was Fyodor D’s best. Finally got around to starting it when the weather started taking a bad turn, and let’s just say that listening to a family of assholes argue about what Christianity means to them is a perfect companion to the wind and rain outside. More posts about this wonderfully, beautifully horrible book a little later today.

The Guns of August, Barbara Tuchman. Her book The March of Folly, about military stupidity in the face of blinding fact,  was one of my favorite books in college. This book is about the first month of WWI, and it reads like a novel. Especially, it reads like one of those slow train-crashes of a novel where you can see everyone doing the exact worst thing in the worst fashion to have the worst possible collision with their enemies. She adds in all of their thoughts and feelings about how the military intelligence of the time was stupid because it told them things they didn’t want to hear. I’m trying to read this without hearing Kaiser Wilhelm II scream “Inconceivable!” in his best Wallace Shawn/ Vizzini voice every time he learns new information, but I’m failing.

The Light Bearer, Donna Gillespie. This showed up on a thread in r/AskHistorians, one I’d discovered while looking up reviews and criticism of the Tuchman book. Historical fiction is perhaps my second favorite form, after any kind of speculative fiction, but I’ve also been burned out by a lot of it, recently. A hundred pages in, it seems pretty decent. She dances dangerously close to a few well-worn clichés but still keeps the story fresh and fun.  Already, I like how the magic/ religious system of the Tribes is shown to be both a positive and a negative influence in their lives, rather than just:

  • A beautiful, incomprehensible system that the modern ugly civilized world  can never truly comprehend, or never wants to, since it belonged to the Unwashed Savage; the last light of a dying age that was wiped off the face of the universe so Man could have Gadgets and Convenience;
  • A horrible, twisted system of control that kept the people of the Earth from advancing, and was only used so the Patriarchy could RUIN EVERYTHING.

Unfortunately, I know enough of the setting and time of the novel to know that it’s not going to have a happy ending, or at least not many of them, but I’m still interested in it.

Up on Deck: Caliban’s War, James S. A. Corey, and Who Fears Death, Nnedi Okorafor.

Suggestions welcome