Monday, July 4, 2011

Monday will tear apart your childhood nostalgia . . . and she'll even be mildly sorry for it

Hello, girls! It’s Monday. And a holiday . . . in the US, that is. I hope, if you celebrated, that your Independence Days have all be relaxing and enjoyable. I celebrated the way I celebrate every year – with my birthday. My birthday was yesterday, and it was a very nice day – I got to spend time with my family (including my three-year-old second cousin once removed Tyler, who spent the whole day calling me “New Friend,” which was utterly adorable). I got mostly practical gifts (a new suitcase, a new messenger bag, badly needed dress sweaters) and quite a few books, but the best gift of all? Not having to pick the themes for the next fifteen weeks! :)

But I am excited to talk about Casey’s topic. So. Books into movies and how well down they are.

I used to be of the mind that movies would always always always be better than they’re movie counterparts, no contest. But then my brother started this series on YouTube called Books vs. Movies, and that taught me pretty quickly to really think about adaptations and whether or not they’re truly well done. Since he started that, I have realized that not only can movies be excellent adaptations of their inspiring material, they can, in some instances, be better than the books they’re based on.

So, I’m going to tell you about not just one favorite/least favorite, but my top three in each category.

Favorite Adaptations!

3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

I am well aware that any opinion on the Harry Potter movies is likely to be highly contested, but I for one truly enjoyed 7.1. I think the decision to split Deathly Hallows in half was a very smart one to make (though it bugs me that everyone else is now jumping on that wagon *coughTwilightcough*) because splitting allowed the film to tell a better story. I won’t even say “stay closer to the books” because I’m not a movie purist. Some of my favorite scenes from the movies have been ones that were added and not in the books at all. Keeping to the spirit of the story and to the overall story is what I find important, and 7.1 did that very well in my mind. What they added was engaging and interesting, and what was cut was well chosen and not obtrusive. They captured the spirit of the first half of this book, and I just hope the second half lives up to what they established with part one.

2. The Little Princess

Now, with Little Princess, we’re talking the Alfonso Cuaron film, not the Shirley Temple one. Just to make that clear. This movie was made in 1995, and they did a superb job with it. They took Burnett’s beautiful story about the power of imagination and used the medium of film to their advantage. I love the framing device – the Indian legend that Sara tells throughout the film echoes what’s happening in her own life and really makes that sense of imagination come to life. The choice to have the actors who play her parents also play Rama and the princess in the story scenes. The movie’s climax is heart-wrenching and gorgeous, and while there are a few things that they could have done better, overall the movie is incredibly well done.

1. The Princess Bride

This is one of my all-time favorite movies, and it is the perfect example, in my mind, of using the  different mediums of storytelling to their greatest advantage. If the movie had chosen to follow exactly what was set up in the book, it wouldn’t have worked. The literary device Goldman used was just that – a literally device. It would not have translated to screen. So instead of being married to the exact story, those who put the screenplay together looked instead at what the book was trying to do, and they found a way to do the same thing cinematically. Enter the framing device. It was brilliantly done, as was the choice to incorporate character backstory in the scenes and dialogue rather than flashbacks. It worked wonderfully, and is, I believe, part of the reason that the movie has endured and will likely continue to do so.

Now for my least favorites . . . those travesties to literature, to paraphrase Casey’s stipulations.

Least Favorite Adaptations

3. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Again, I am aware that I may draw dissent, but this movie was awful, easily the worst of all seven so far. Kloves (the screenwriter) got lazy and sloppy and instead of seriously looking at the story and figuring out how best to tell it, he picked the most exciting scenes and counted on the audience having read the book to fill in the story. Because say what you want about the movie and how great the special effects were or what have you, THERE WAS NO STORY. None. There was absolutely no throughline, and if you hadn’t read the book, you were completely lost fifteen minutes in. I know. I saw the movie with people who hadn’t read the book. It was just one action scene after another with no cohesion or connection either to itself or to the movies that had come before. And that doesn’t even start into the complete character destruction of Ron and Dumbledore (to name just two) or the horrible directing style and choices. But we will leave those things as a rant for another day.

2. 1940s Pride and Prejudice

So I, unlike most, am no fan of Keira Knightley’s Pride and Prejudice. I found the to be historically inaccurate on several levels (which is just inexcusable, I’m sorry), Knightley’s portrayal of Elizabeth to be utterly uninspired, and their version of Darcy to be angsty and irritating. Also, the screenwriters’ dialogue was entirely out of place next to Austen’s. But that’s neither here nor there, since the truly heinous adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is the movie made in the 1940's. The women are all dressed like Southern Belles from the 1860s and Darcy was whining and, again, irritating, but I could have looked past those things, if not for the end. Oh Good God, the end of this movie. Talk about killing the spirit of the book! If you don’t know the story, this won’t mean anything to you, but basically, in this movie, Lady Catherine’s confrontation with Elizabeth over whether or not she’s going to marry Darcy is just a front, to test Elizabeth’s love for Darcy because Lady Catherine’s been behind the match the whole time! So, basically, they remove any power Darcy had at all, as he needs his aunt to go catch his girl for him, and they also, you know, eliminate the recognition of one of the main conflicts of the movie – that Elizabeth is socially beneath Darcy in a time when such a match would have been met with what, you know, AUSTEN WROTE IN THE FIRST PLACE! I just . . . I have no words. None. Except that if you want to write that story, then write it! The hatred to love is a common enough trope that you should have no problem with it. But don’t choose to tell a classic story if you’re just going to turn around and change what makes it classic. This same note is given to the 1980s adaptation of Northanger Abbey.

1. The Little Mermaid

Yes, I’m about to bash a cherished and treasured Disney film. Brace yourselves. I get so much dissention for this opinion, but Disney’s Little Mermaid was awful. Not only did it mangle Anderson’s beautifully tragic short story almost beyond recognition, it didn’t replace what was heinously ripped away with anything worthwhile. Now, I have problems with pretty much all of Disney’s animated fairy tale films prior to Beauty and the Beast, but I have a bigger problem with The Little Mermaid, and I’ll tell you why. Those other movies – Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White – have awful messages, yes, but they’re pretty faithful to the story they’re based on, singing animals notwithstanding. They started with Perrault’s stories and they pretty much ended with Perrault’s stories, awful messages and all. But The Little Mermaid was different. First of all, despite what many people believe, the Little Mermaid is not an oral tradition tale like those others, passed down through cultures and generations. It has an actual author – Hans Christian Anderson. It was a short story written in the style of oral tradition fairy tales, and Disney completely ignored that in favor of giving the story a happy ending. But even that, I wouldn’t take too much issue with – after all, Ponyo is essentially a retelling of Little Mermaid with a happy ending, and I liked that movie just find. No, the difference is that in giving their movie a happy ending, Disney completely destroyed Anderson’s beautiful and moving message of sacrifice in love and didn’t replace it with anything else. That’s my problem – not that they changed the end, but that they took this beautiful and tragic but necessary lesson that love requires sacrifice and that sometimes the happiness of those we love is more important than our own selfish wishes, and replaced it with: act like a childish, petulant teenager, defy your father, change your physical appearance, and go after that guy you don’t know at all, and not only won’t you get punished, someone else will clean up all your messes and you’ll get whatever you want in the end!    

And that’s all the love and rage we really need from me this week. I look forward to hearing your own thoughts!

1 comment:

  1. Totally agree with you about The Little Princess; I enjoyed the 1995 movie adaptation much more than the book, especially because of the parallel story told.

    Also agree that HP:GoF was the worst Harry Potter movie because of the lack of story, and the biggest thing for me was Harry finding Crouch dead in the woods and then NOTHING ELSE IS SAID ABOUT IT!!!!

    Glad that my first topic was able to inspire some interesting ideas.