Thursday, August 28, 2014

Classics Club Monthly Meme: August 2014

I wish I remembered to do the monthly meme from the Classics Club more often.  I think the last time I did one was... March?  Oh dear.  Anyway, here's this month's question:

What are your thoughts on adaptions of classics? Say mini-series or movies? Or maybe modern approaches? Are there any good ones? Is it better to read the book first? Or maybe just compare the book and an adaptation?




This is a subject that has come up a LOT in the last couple of years, since I really began interacting with other bloggers.  I've seen flame-wars erupt over people attacking or defending various adaptations.  While I do think it's great that people can take books so very seriously that they become irate over what they feel to be "unfaithful" adaptations... that's not me.  I love movie and TV show adaptations.  I can't get enough of seeing how someone will take a story and show me a new twist on it, bring out themes I hadn't noticed before, even give minor characters more development than they got in the books.



Don't get me wrong -- I don't love every adaptation.  There are times when filmmakers take things in a direction that I really wish they hadn't.  Or skip something I really loved in the book.  But the number of adaptations I love far, far outweighs the number I don't.



And maybe this is partly because of Hamlet.  I've seen probably ten different versions of Hamlet, and liked all but three so far.  But nearly every version of Hamlet cuts things out.  If you do the full text, you end up with more than four hours of story.  And Kenneth Branagh did a magnificent job of keeping audiences engaged with the full text, but not everyone can convince a studio to make a four-hour film, or convince audiences to see it.  So they trim the play.  The 1990 Mel Gibson version clocks in at 130 minutes, and it tells the whole story.  They cut out pretty nearly half the scenes, reordered several events, and the story is not only still there, it's still beautiful.  The 2000 Ethan Hawke cut is only 112 minutes long!  And it's so powerful it might be my favorite film version.  The 2009 David Tennant is a much more modest cut, running a full 180 minutes, but even there -- a whole hour of play is missing.  And is that a bad thing?  No!  The 2009 is brilliant.  Do I sometimes lament when a favorite scene or line is missing?  A little.  I'm much more likely, though, to cheer when a favorite line gets used, and not waste my time thinking about the ones that aren't there.



I believe an adaptation needs to be its own thing.  If you're just going to recreate a book, word-by-word and minute-by-minute, then what is the point?  That's what the book is for, or the play, or the poem, or the radio drama, or the amusement park ride, or whatever your source material is.  An adaptation should bring something new to the table, whether it's in period, in tone, in social commentary, in theme.  Otherwise, there's no reason to make it, other than thinking the book has a lot of fans and will make you buckets of money.  I'd much rather see stories and characters from a new angle than watch the same thing over and over and over.



The truth is, I'm fine with making changes to a story when it's adapted, as long as those changes serve the story being told in the adaptation and aren't just made because they felt like changing things.  You want to take Dr. Temperance Brennan from Kathy Reichs' books, put her in the DC area instead of North Carolina and Canada, make her socially inept, give her a completely different back story from the books, make her single instead of divorced with a daughter, and give her an FBI agent for a crime-solving partner?  Does that serve the story you're telling?  Go for it!  In fact, I love the TV show Bones, but I have quit reading the Kathy Reichs books it's based on because they annoy me.  That's probably the biggest example of me liking an adaptation better than the original, though there are others.



I'll tell you something that might shock you:  I prefer to see the movie first, then read the book.  If I read the book first, then sometimes I do get a little miffed over things that are left out.  Maybe not miffed -- more like I spend time thinking, "That's not how I would have done this."  But if I see the movie first, and like it, then I can go read the book too, and it's like getting an expanded version of a story I already like!  Like watching a three-hour director's cut of a favorite movie.  More to love!



Now, with all that being said... I can get especially excited when an actor precisely fits my concept of a character.  But I can get equally excited by seeing a new and original take on a beloved story.  As long as the story works, I'm happy.

23 comments:

  1. I like your take on watching the movie first (which is different from mine). It makes sense. I'm glad you did the meme this month!

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    1. Thanks! It makes sense to me too :-)

      And once I saw what the meme was, I HAD to do it, because I literally had two blog posts half-written about this subject. Just never got around to finishing either one, so I kind of took the best ideas from both and rewrote them into one post for this.

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  2. Great post! I never thought about watching the film first and then read the book so that the book can give you an expanded view of the plot. Interesting!

    I'm not much of a movie person already, so I am reluctant to see the film after the book. But some books I rather see a film version first before reading the book, such as War and Peace, because it is SOOOOO long and in depth that I need some insight first.

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    1. Thanks! For books I think will be difficult to get into, watching the movie first totally helps. Like Middlemarch -- I've been daunted by that book for years! Then I did Birdie's watch-along of the BBC adaptation, and I liked it so well I bought a copy of the book! Haven't gotten to it yet, but buying my own copy always significantly bumps a book up the list ;-)

      Obviously, any adaptation runs the risk of not matching a particular viewer's needs, but on a whole I find them worth the risk.

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  3. Excellent, excellent post, Hamlette!!

    I think sometimes you will have an absolute favorite adaptation (or there will only be one--because the others are so twisted and/or messed up), but I think part of the fun of the whole thing is in seeing how different versions emphasize different themes, turning a different facet of the story to light and illuminating a different angle... :-)

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    1. Thank you!

      And yes, personal tastes are all so different that each person will totally have a favorite if there are multiple adaptations available. I love the original 3:10 to Yuma and never want to see the remake again. I love The Magnificent Seven and only liked The Seven Samurai okay. I love the Timothy Dalton version of Jane Eyre and only liked the Ciaran Hinds and Michael Fassbender versions. And so it goes. What's great of having different versions is that there's something to suit everyone, and also, like you said, each one can bring out different facets of the story. Like with the Hamlets -- some emphasize the friendship between Hamlet and Horatio, and some sideline Horatio almost entirely. Some play up the rivalry between Hamlet and Laertes, and some barely involve Laertes at all. Etc.

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  4. Very sensible post, Hamlette! There may be many flame-wars in the blogging world about adaptations, but I do think the majority of people (aka The Ones who don't write blogs about it) think the same about adaptations as what you've written here!

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    1. Hee! That's true -- those with strong opinions one way or the other tend to be the ones who invest the time and effort into blogging about such things.

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  5. This is good stuff. My usual strategy is "Oh, there's a film coming out based on a book? Quick, lemme inhale the book in a month so I know what it's about." That's how I got introduced to The Hobbit. But I loved the book, and I also love the first two movies, so I think we're okay. I think that reading a book will always be better than watching a movie, because there's so much to stimulate your imagination. But if it's a well-made movie that covers the important point of the story, and it makes people want to read the book, then there's no reason to start "flame-wars". Kind of like P&P 2005.

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    1. Thanks! I think for my life right now, there's also a time issue -- I can squeeze in 2 hours of viewing much easier than 12 hours of reading.

      And the book isn't always better, but nearly ;-) I like the movie The Apple Dumpling Gang MUCH better than the book, and it's completely different. That's really rare, though.

      (I love P&P05. And P&P95. I don't see at all why it should be an either/or issue.)

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  6. Well said! I used to be one of those people who raged on about adaptations being bad (with the exception of some Austen favorites), but I've come to find that they bring unique perspectives to light, as you mentioned. I find it interesting to compare someone else's view of what they read to my own. It works as long as I don't expect it to be perfect! Side note: I love Bones, too! I haven't read the books, though, so I can't really compare them.

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    1. I think if you want an adaptation, or even a pastiche, to exactly suit your ideas of a book, you have to direct or write it yourself. Which could be a lot of fun :-) But not always feasible.

      Isn't Bones delightful? I started watching it during its first season, though I'm a couple seasons behind now because I no longer have time to watch stuff on TV much. I catch up with the DVDs as I can. I started watching it for David Boreanaz, but I've kept watching because the whole cast feel like my friends now :-)

      The books are REALLY different. Other than a forensic anthropologist named Dr. Temperance Brennan, they're nothing alike. I liked the first 2 or 3 pretty well, but then they started getting repetitious and a bit predictable. My mom really likes them, though. I think she's read almost all of them.

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  7. It is delightful! I'm some seasons behind as well. I was watching it on Netflix and had to stop when I was pregnant (two and a half years ago!), because I'd get too emotional and upset. I should start up again; I miss it. And how funny--I started watching it for David Boreanaz, too! I knew him from Buffy and Angel, of course, and so that's why I started. Stuck around because the whole show is just so well done!

    That's how the Sookie Stackhouse series was, too! With the exception of the first season and the fact that the main character is named Sookie Stackhouse and works in a bar in Louisiana, you wouldn't know that True Blood is based on the series. Even the genre feels different! In that case I like the books better, though. More humor and mystery, less sex. The last few books--not worth it. If you read that series, maybe just stick with the first half. Unless you have to know what happens to all of the characters. I just don't like how she wrapped it up.

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    1. I'm about 3/4 of the way through season 5 of Castle, and when I finish that, I'm going to finish off season 7 of Bones, which is where I left off.

      Boreanaz' Angel is extremely important to me, and so in some ways I was almost hesitant to start watching him in another role, but Booth is so very different from Angel that from the first episode I knew I wouldn't feel conflicted in any way. I love what a charming actor he's become -- I read an article once that compared his acting style to Dean Martin's singing, that he makes his work look effortless, and I was like, "Yes! He's really got that vibe."

      I've never felt pulled toward the Sookie Stackhouse books, largely because I know I would never want to watch the show. Good to know they're very different! I may give one a try sometime.

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    2. I love Castle, too! Nathan Fillion is fantastic. I've only seen random re-runs of that show, though. I need to watch it from the beginning.

      I know what you mean about his acting! And Booth is basically the opposite of Angel. Other than the whole tall, dark, and handsome thing, obviously.

      Even if you don't get into the Sookie Stackhouse series, I'd say it's worth it to read the first book. It's a really quick read, and Harris gives a unique spin on vampires in modern society.

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    3. Mmmmm, isn't Nathan Fillion sweet?

      One of the things that cracked me up endlessly when I first started watching Bones was how Booth was the one who used all the pop culture references, and Angel was always the one who didn't get them, and that just... felt deliberately funny on the part of the show's writers, and I appreciated that.

      I'll try the first Sookie book sometime, then. I tried the first couple of Anita Blake vampire hunter books too, a few years ago. They were fun, but not my favorite.

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    4. Yeah, I thought that was funny, too.

      I read the first Anita Blake book, but it was a long time ago and not really my genre at the time. It would probably be a little more in my element if I tried them now. Not sure if it's worth the time when other things are more intriguing, though!

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  8. YES!!! Very well said, Hamlette! SO agree with you. I have seen multiple versions of Jane Austen's stories and while I do have my favorites, I still enjoy watching them all. As you said, adaptations are different from the stories they are based on. And so long as any changes made fit with the story they are filming, then I can get behind it. In fact, that's usually how it works for me. Each adaptation usually has just something a little different and special about it that make me want to watch it again. Now I won't deny that there are exceptions to this, but overall it's true.

    Film is so very different from books, it simply has to be. There's no way around that. I guess I'm not enough of a purist that I can enjoy a story regardless if everything happens exactly like the book. Because I know that's really not possible anyway. Plus! When it's a story that I love, I am HAPPY when more movies/mini series are made because it means I have that many more films to fall in love with! As well as, a new adaptation may just have the actor/actress that perfectly fits the story in my head versus an older adaptation. Or not.

    I just like them all. Bring on the adaptations! I'm always willing to watch it at least once. :)

    (Incidentally, I tagged you for a post. I linked to your other blog, but please feel free to join in wherever! Or not at all. You may be tired of things like that, so no pressure to join... Okay? :)

    http://flowersofquiethappiness.blogspot.com/2014/09/20-things-you-might-not-know-about-me.html

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    1. What is the worst that can happen, anyway? You watch it, you don't like it, you never watch it again. Like you, I'm willing to give most movies one chance. Like you said, film is different from books. It's different from stage plays too. Every medium has its own challenges, and things that work in one will never work in another. But they also have their own strengths -- in movies you can convey things with a single reaction shot that would take paragraphs to write. Similarly, it's harder to get into characters' heads in a movie, so you necessarily don't have the depth of understanding a book can give.

      Thanks for the tag! I am exceedingly fond of tags :-) And strawberry tarts...

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  9. I agree with almost everything that you said about this post and loved it! There are quite a few adaptations that I've found disappointing but there are many more that I love. Most of my favourite movies and miniseries are adaptations.

    The only way in which we differ is that I try really hard to read books before I see their adaptations. I don't always manage it - sometimes an adaptation is too tempting! - but I try. I can understand why some people prefer to see adaptations first. It's just that from personal experience I've found that if I watch an adaptation first that I will ALWAYS have the actors from that adaptation in my head when I get round to the book. Personally I find that annoying. A friend of mine has that problem too. She saw Sense and Sensibility 1995 before she read the book and was sooo upset when she couldn't get Hugh Grant out of her head as Edward Ferrars. She can't stand Hugh Grant. I don't like him usually but I don't mind him in a few movies. Anyway, this is getting off-topic.

    I'm completely with you on the flame wars. On the one hand it is wonderful that people can feel so passionately about a story that they have very clear ideas on what an adaptation should be like. But a lot of the time people can get very, very personal and aggressive about these things. I know you're a fan of Pride and Prejudice 2005 so you MUST have seen how aggressive the 1995 fandom can be! They accuse the 2005 fans of not understanding the book properly and all sorts of nonsense.

    People often talk about "definitive adaptations" and "adaptations that bring the book to life" but I don't think they exist. I think that all an adaptation can ever manage to do is to reflect the personal vision of its screenwriter/director.

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    1. Yes, I can see how having an actor in your head for a role could be annoying. For me, usually if the book characters are written strongly enough, they'll take on their own selves and block out the actors, most of the time. And if they're not strongly written, then an actor in my head can be helpful.

      Sometimes, when I've seen multiple adaptations, bits of more than one actor will show up in my head. Like when I read P&P, sometimes I see my mental Elizabeth and Darcy, and some scenes have one actor or another in that moment. Which amuses me.

      Or when I read Sherlock Holmes stories, I have my own personal Holmes that I see and hear when I read, unless I consciously want to switch to Jeremy Brett or Benedict Cumberbatch -- then I can easily read a whole story with one of them in my head, but only if I really want to.

      I have actually been reduced to grinding my teeth and wanting to cry in frustration by some rabid P&P95 fans. I am very, very cautious about following any blog that has a "P&P95 Forever" button on their sidebar. You never can tell -- some of them are lovely and calm and sweet, and some of them can't wait to bludgeon anyone who disagrees with them.

      I love your last paragraph. My views exactly!

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    2. I have to say that the 1995 version is my favorite. But I'm not going to eat you! Each of the versions I've seen have different benefits and downfalls, so you can prefer whichever one you want! Really, I'm cautious about following any blog that seems intensely set on any specific adaptation, you know?

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    3. I honestly like the 1995 almost as much as the 2005 -- it really is brilliant.

      I've found fanatical fans of any genre to be tiresome.

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