Thursday, June 26, 2008

Read A Movie, See a Book

I've just read Charlotte's Web by E.B. White and viewed the two films based on his charming work. The first was a Hanna Barbera cartoon (1973) and the second a live action piece with heavy CGI (2006). As I watched these two films I started considering what happens when a story is taken from a written work and adapted and interpreted for a visual cinema.

Unfortunately, in most cases the adaptation is controlled by a studio with the profit margin a primary consideration. However, sometimes, the person doing the adaptation has such control over the process, or slips under the radar, and a remarkable work of art occurs that does justice to the original creation or even surpasses it.

Look at "Lord of the Rings". Now, I know that there are those out there who will roll their eyes and consider me a heretic for suggesting that Peter Jackson gave us something equal to Tolkein's magnum opus, but stop and ask yourself if he gave you something magical and epic, something that matches Tolkein in scope and wonder. No one could ever expect Jackson to transfer the book sentence by sentence. It would bore you to tears. The written word is experienced differently than the visual image. But did he capture the essence of Tolkein and at the same time imbue it with his own vision? I think the answer is yes.

What about some other classic texts that have been made into successful films? "To Kill A Mockingbird"? Poetic, beautiful in both print and on screen. "Something Wicked This Way Comes"? Bradbury took a mesmerizing tale about innocence and living in the present and turned it into something mundane. "Brokeback Mountain"? The text is a short story with potential, but the film is a riveting and tragic love story. "Silence of the Lambs"? Demme and Hopkins made that film. I won't fault Harris, but his work wasn't profound or especially well-written. Entertaining? Yes. But it doesn't rise to the heights suggested by the brilliant performance by Hopkins.


Charles Gramlich said...

I've got to disagree with you on a couple of things. First, I very much liked the movie version of Lord of the Rings, and I think the movie of "Silence of the Lambs" is a masterpiece. However, to my way of thinking both movies barely come within shouting distance of the books. The book, "Silence of the Lambs" is one of my favorite thrillers of all time.

There are some movies that top the books, though. "The Outlaw Josey Wales" is tremendously better than the book, and "Star Wars" as a movie is better than the book as well. It's very very rare for this to happen for me, though.

SQT said...

I thought Demme did a fantastic job with "Silence of the Lambs." Or maybe credit should go to Hopkins for bringing Lecter to life.

Personally, I enjoyed the "Lord of the Rings" movies better than the books. I'm sure that's a heretical stance by most standards.

Stewart Sternberg said...

We agree to disagree here Charles. I think both books you cite are good books, well...great in the case of Tolkien. SQT, I agree. I think without the film by Demme and Hopkins, nobody would know who Hannibal Lecter was today. I don't recall "Silence of the Lambs" being a widely read book. Another of Harris' books, "Black Sunday" was also better known for the film starring Robert Shaw than for the novel.

Travis said...

I think that the extended versions of the LOTR films do come close to capturing the scope of Mr Tolkien's work. The films do satisfy my need to be "in the world", and I am very pleased with Mr Jackson's interpretation.

But as much as I love those films, I must be immersed in the words of Mr Tolkien from time to time. No film can replace the experience of reading those words, at least for me.

Another example for me would be the Bourne films, as updated in 2002 with the sequals that followed. I enjoy Robert Ludlum's books, but sometimes he can be ponderous and wordy. The films stripped down to the action and I thought they were done well.