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’

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‘The Road’ – Cormac McCarthy. (CONTAINS SPOILERS)


Well. This book’s quite moving isn’t it. Eye-opening. Enthralling. Amazing? Amazing.

I quite liked it yes. YOU NEED TO READ IT. EVERYONE needs to read it.

I am rather interested to see the film now – even more so than I was, except most cinemas don’t seem to be showing it much or at all currently.. Alas!

So. Cormac. I finished this last night curled up in a comfortable bed with Lapsang Souchong, listening to Classic FM. These are all things I am now that much more grateful for. Be warned, recovery time is definitely needed, post-reading.

Despite being easy to read (in that you don’t have to read a sentence twice to understand it – a rarity at the moment I find), McCarthy sucks you into the world of ‘The Road’ – I believe “suck” is an appropriate word here, as it’s not really an enjoyable world and you wouldn’t want to live here anyway. The frailty of life is so disturbing you HAVE to know what happens – you have to find out whether they get through this. I think Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn for those uncultured types) said of his character “the man”, that he is essentially learning from the child throughout the whole journey. This is indeed true to a certain extent, as the boy has qualities that the man lost a long time ago – innocence, faith, types of wisdom the man cannot cling onto – but then both characters need each other far more than you first realise. This is quite representative of the need for community in human life, as the boy needs the man to find him food, but the man needs the boy to continue human life. Is the man driven by his love for the boy and his survival, or by his own survival instinct? The two are surely almost the same, as even if the man is going to die, life can still continue after he is gone.

300 pages Cormac? How the hell did you do it? It’s all the same! Yet all so good. So how did you do it? The plot just revolves around two males fight for survival in a post-apocalyptic world. I certainly could not have made this last so long.

I was slightly fascinated by the sick images McCarthy conjured up, like the humans being held captive and being harvested for food, and, worst of all, the idea of a new-born child being wheeled around on a spit. How is that survival instinct?! To kill something newborn? To kill life? Moronic characters.

I suppose it was also slightly moronic of me to not see death coming (I was racking my brains as to how it was going to end), as they had survived for so long, so why stop now? But the death was so mortifying! So utterly tragic and so sad. He has led the boy through so much and kept him alive for so long that it just seemed so cruel this would happen. But was this some sort of moral tale? That the boy had faith in human life so he survived and was saved by “the good ones”, was able to continue to “carry the fire”, and live? And the man was not allowed to do this because he saw no hope in humanity apart from in his own son? The boy showed his naivet√©, but brought a ‘freshness’ to the view on human life – he seemed to know there was some good left in the world and that it was worth fighting for. I was almost as terrified as he must have been when they were at the beach and the boy was ill. Now that would have been a depressing end to things wouldn’t it.

So much of the time you don’t even have the emotional capacity to consider what they have lost, as you are so caught up on what they still have to lose. This does make you think about our lives now, and appreciate that we do have community, we don’t eat each other, we are able to experience still the first snowdrops in spring, or a good pint on a warm summer’s evening, the cosiness of the bed after you’ve tumble dried the bedsheets and the warming glow of the open fire. In your living room. And if you don’t have time to consider what they already had lost (a wife, friends etc), then you don’t really have time to relate it to your life, so you don’t get to consider what it would be like losing your life partner or best friends, and yet someone you still attach yourself emotionally too them and begin to understand their situation. HOW does the author do this?! I say only “begin to understand”, as I don’t think anyone could really comprehend such a situation unless they’d lived through it, which is currently unlikely.

I found the end of the book somewhat more abrupt than I thought it would have been – I needed more words McCarthy! Although it was a very good ending, and it was an actual ENDING. Unlike in books like ‘Disgrace’ (Coetzee) and ‘The Bell Jar’ (Plath-o-rama). I adore good endings. Despite them sometimes, especially in this case, being ones that actually make you cry. There was a glimmer of hope though, as the boy is found and he survives, and there is a girl his age. Is this what they had been fighting for? The boy grew up very suddenly too, although this was no bad thing. As soon as the man died, the boy was almost the new man – he went from being helpless to carrying the fire in a matter of pages.

I found it odd how the weather had continued yet life had died, although I imagine this just shows how nature will always be there – it was very much a nature over humans book. There were also times when I couldn’t put the book down because the characters hadn’t eaten for days and I needed to know they found food. I couldn’t relax otherwise. It was also ironic that a weapon used to take life (the gun) was their saviour on so many occasions, and their hope for life also. Very odd. But well crafted.

Just one small criticism Cormac. You cannot punctuate to save your bloody life. And I swear you make up half those words. Is “crozzled” really a word? There was a fair amount of American-English in there, something which I don’t normally care for, and how, really, is it possibly for such an author to miss out apostrophes?! Has no one proofread this? Do you not need a system Cormac? Is it not called Language? Did no one tell you each new sentence NEEDS A CAPITAL? I also do not care for mangled English, yet somehow the vast quantity of it in this book didn’t actually detracted from my enjoyment of it. Another plus for McCarthy, his words and story telling over take everything else.

If ever you are feeling bad thoughts about the world, you must read this book. It is a necessity.