The Great Film Debate, Mk 2.

Adapting Words To Film

Is it ever a good idea to change the medium of a story to retell said story? How much of the tale gets lost and is there an optimum format to digest the initial tale through?

Now our first example, for want of a better adaption in the last 100 years since celluloid has been around, I give ‘The Lord Of The Rings’.

(Totally not just an excuse to insert marvellous pictures of some of the most awesome characters ever)

This, I feel, was a successful slide from book to film: I read the book(s) years ago, after ‘The Fellowship Of The Ring’ appeared, and I’m not going to lie – I did not enjoy them. At all. Tolkien takes so long to say anything he might as well have been one of the Ents he was writing about. And boring! So very dull and boring. Who thinks they can get away with writing a 60 page chapter about some people sitting around talking? Fair enough, it was deciding the Ring’s fate (Council of Elrond, another hideously dull character), but he could have made things just a little more exciting.

There was such little motivation to find out what happened that it took me ages to finish the books, and I was rather unimpressed by this hefty slice of Tolkien’s work. It is a good thing, then, that the film is actually amazing. Top Ten easily, an absolute feat of film-making, direction, costuming, acting, stunt-creating… Really it baffles me how the operation took place. But I am exceptionally glad it did, or else I wouldn’t know about this marvellous world that Tolkien had created. So the world I love, but his initial medium and story telling abilities have a lot to be desired (in my opinion – bear in mind I really don’t like Shakespeare). But the films are incredible and in this case, I feel, that method of story telling was more appropriate as Tolkien’s work needed bringing to life. Which is easier – so much easier – with visuals, when you are missing the words.

For our second example, we are featuring ‘American Psycho’, another film I can watch again and again and again. And again. Lots really, I find it hilarious most of the time. More so than the book actually. Now I think this is a case where  both mediums are well-chosen – the book is brilliantly written, and it’s one of those rare ones that I’ve actually really enjoyed (much like ‘The Road’ and ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’), but similarly I don’t think the film does the book any injustices. I saw the film first – which obviously has the potential to sway my ideas – but the book gives you everything, it leaves nothing out and you don’t have to use your imagination for it. It’s all there for you to read, and so readable it is too! The film, however, is more one of those “films for intelligent souls” (other than something like ‘Love Actually’ or ‘Bring It On’. I cannot believe I just mentioned the latter…), in that it hints at various things, and the more times you watch it, the better it gets. Had I read the book first then seen the film, I would have felt a little cheated, and to the film’s disparagement, it is irritating and pointless when screen writers change names and situations for, what feels like, the sake of it. I think the film relies (or rather utilises extensively) a lot on its medium – it uses the visuals for all they are worth but this is good. I’m not sure if I could cope with a 180 minute epic about a serial killer who may or may not actually BE a serial killer.

(This picture comes from one of my favourite scenes in the film, where Christian Bale is about to take an axe to Jared Leto’s face but insists on discussing the merits and demerits of Huey Lewis And The News before hand. It’s genius!)

Our next example features (dare I say it) HARRY POTTER. Mainly because these really were written for children (or adults with no sense of decent literature), and it is a prime example that if the story is terrible to begin with, the film direction awful with cringe-worthy acting and a sickening script, the book so badly written it literally is like “wading through treacle” (thank you Mr Fry), then there is nothing you can do and you end up with a massive franchise that was based on TALENTLESS DRIVEL. Oh wait, that’s what happens nowadays anyway. One does really feel like it is a poor man’s Lord Of The Rings, and what’s the point in making a film that big if you’re not going to do a proper job? Also, to be fair to every film director that’s lent their name to the HP world, it’s not like you’re starting off with an epic book that is actually well-respected in the world of words so it’s not like they have the easiest job. But as we have proven above, there is an awful lot to be gained out of film adaptations, and you can attract a great many people who are just not interested in books: but they completely failed to do this and the films are on the same very low-level as the books. On the plus side, at least they kept a decent trend going. If it was not so clear that JK Rowling had pilfered everything from every fantasy novel ever written before hand, she may have got on better… Obviously everyone learns from what has come before them but you don’t need to be so blindly crude about it.

In essence, a lot depends on how good the author is at story telling, as I feel unless the film has a terrible script and many other things besides, then it is so much easier to sit absently mindedly in front of a screen for a few hours. So the author needs to grab your attention as it is so very easy to throw a book down in frustration (has been done frequently). I also feel the art of reading is being lost, or at least has been on the decline, so it is difficult to appeal to the average person – going to the cinema makes for a pleasant evening out, reading seems to be more something to do if there is not much else to do. It is a time filler more than the premiere of a new film is. I am of the opinion that film makers have it easier than authors, but they could still miss out so much detail from the book. They have the power to make a story much more exciting though, and that is an encouraging thought.

To Watch:

‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ (1962)

‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’ (I sincerely hope the film is an improvement: how can it not be with James Mason!)

To Read then Watch:

‘Moby Dick’

All Thomas Hardy novels I’ve missed out (the only decent ‘classic’ around, clearly)

‘Brighton Rock’

Mezzo Forte Monday, Pt 1.

Where Did They Go Wrong?

My cynical view on all musical ventures this week points, much like the gleaming eye of Sauron, to the intellectual, and somewhat frequently misunderstood, souls that make up the Manic Street Preachers.

Having mildly forgotten them for a few years, a close contemporary of mine, Mr Thomas J Bench Esq (who has earned the right to this title, as he is attending a wine tasting tomorrow), enthused about me making him a Manics-themed playlist, thinking this would be a much more personal insight to the back catalogue of this rather odd band. Despite the aforementioned Bench insisting James Dean Bradfield “screams” on too many occasions, and deems them, as a band, acceptable (not a compliment from him), this was a good opportunity to re-live the panda-eyed days of when you first discover the truthful, gritty, desolate, (maybe a little gloomy?), and incredibly realistic view the songs of these Welsh poets and musicians take. And you realise, when it gets to listening to the ‘Holy Bible’, for the 14th night running, and you think you begin to understand Richey, and you think the lyrics “speak to you”, that life is, actually, fantastic. Not depressing, fantastic.

And then you get to this age, and you think “… Aw… How infantile.”

HOWEVER. The musical merit is still there, and it attracts a plethora of fans. My least favourite being the 40-year-old males at the gigs, who should be at home with their wife and kids and not pushing me aside to get to the front (especially not when they could sit on you and kill you), not thinking it’s ok to abuse other gig goers (we all want to see Nicky Wire in a dress don’t we…), and especially not in bloody leather jackets. Aside from them looking ridiculous, the amount of sweat produced by every adoring fan gets passed from person to person, thus making leather stick, thus making lots of pain. Idiots. Aside from the pain of getting your lungs crushed and having literally toe-space to stand on. Having said that, they still were lots of fun.

I’m tempted to say their lyrics make the band. Their subject material is out of this world – who would write a song that sampled a quote from the Nuremberg Trials at the start? Can you really reference more ’80s phenomenons than they do in ‘Patrick Bateman’? No, you can’t, because you are neither Nicky Wire or Richey Edwards. I am of the opinion I learnt more through the Manics than through the education system, leading me on the read up about everything they wrote about, and inspiring me far more than school or university ever did or ever could do.  So technically I have an awful lot to thank them for, but similarly if they actually DID something with their music, I would have a hell of a lot more.  I am so ridiculously SICK of the mundane set up of their songs. The dismal realisation that, yes, it’s yet another Manics album that has interesting subject material (and, let’s face it, much more interesting than anything that’s “in” (charts or otherwise) at the moment, as I really couldn’t care less if some “pop diva” met a bloke and now he’s not interested in her anymore… Oh so boring), BUT HAVE THEY EXPERIMENTED MUSICALLY? Have they bollocks. And it’s so frustrating when you know what they can do and what they have done! Just another collection of “verse, chorus, verse, chorus, solo, chorus, chorus, end”. Really, it’s just not interesting anymore. And no they are not bloody “back on form”, which is a quote I read every single time a new Manics album is out, but then again I wouldn’t wish for them to break up. But I feel I am “done”, whereas new music from them is concerned – I am quite happy with what they’ve already offered to the world. Similarly, I am done with seeing the hits played at gigs. I wish for rarities! So much more exciting than hearing the intro to ‘A Design For Life’, again.

On the plus side, they can also do this:

And this:

And even this!

I feel perhaps that I am disappointed in the somewhat less inspiring song format they have chosen to take, and that they don’t do seem to do anything with their music. Maybe their early albums hinted that they would? Maybe they should have packed it in a long time ago? Maybe I missed out properly on when they were really there, but it’s not all doom and gloom – there are some other exceptional bands in existence (YES REALLY), and methinks the Manics only need to hand over to them now.

Hello Sea Power!