Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Movie vs. Novel

My friend the Author posted a review of The Road on her blog. I want to see the movie next year, the story line being moderately interesting and the cast interesting. Her review makes the story line even more appealing. (i.e., not just some post-apocalyptic meandering) The ’stuck’ part is my general philosophy: haven’t read the book? Don’t do it before seeing the movie. I’m looking forward to having a bit of free time around the holidays. After reading her review, I’m tempted to put it on my holiday reading list. But the movie’s coming out! What am I to do??

One of the most striking examples of why I cling to this Kinoweltanschauung ... L.A. Confidential The Movie. If you've never read the book, I recommend it in the strongest terms. It's huge. It's an epic work of modern American fiction. James Elroy writes brutally honestly. The violence was occasionally brutal. It's the first time I've ever had a "oh, god I can't look" moment while reading.

The film remains one of my all-time favorites. The multiple stories intertwine elegantly, an accomplishment few manage, much less manage well. It's a story of huge scope, with a cast of - if not thousands - hundreds. Yet the book is ... surprisingly different.

L.A. Confidential The Book is far more complicated than the movie. In an interview with Elroy, he expressed his enthusiasm for the quality of the screenplay, since he thought the novel was "just fucking un-adaptable". Thankfully he was wrong. The simplification of the story lines into the screen play is an example of the scriptwriter truly seeing the important events & facts. Rather like Lord of the Rings, where lines appear in the script in different places by different characters, but being artistically critical (rather then person-critical) are used where needed to make the screen play work.

The Mexican girl in the movie, who gets rescued by Exley, is indeed in the book as well, with a completely different role beyond "girl who gets rescued". Or Rollo Tommasi, who appears from a completely different direction (as Exley Sr. isn't dead in the book).

One is left realizing the film and the book are two very different creations using the same ingredients to achieve very different, if superficially similar, pieces. The movie, to be taken on its own merits, really needs to be seen without prior knowledge of the plot. Else one is left, sort of like Harry Potter, with the abrupt interruption your submersion into the story by realizing 'hey, that's not in the book'. It's easier to ignore things that are missing than things that have been added, no matter how effectively. Prisoner of Askaban being a good example: it wasn't just a matter of cutting things out, but how some integral information is put back in, done well, but a burp in the story flow, if one's already read the book.

One is, in the reverse, conflicted with the impact of the director's visual presentation versus your personal imagination. Having seen the movie version, I was left with the images of Guy Pierce, Russel Crowe and Kevin Spacey while reading L.A. Confidential. Whereas with Harry Potter or Master & Commander, I had a pretty clear picture from the books of what I thought the characters looked like before seeing the films. While I'm not so sure about Potter (having read Sorcerer's Stone a week before the movie), watching Lord of the Rings or Master & Commander was like putting on a jacket you are surprised to find fits so nicely: that's just how it ought to look, even if it's not how I had pictured it myself.

I've rarely been disappointed in a book, after enjoying a good movie. The reverse is, unfortunately, not true.

-- ed. - The Road got postponed to "some time in 2009" ... sigh ...


Anonymous said...

I LOVED "L.A. Confidential" and I haven't yet read Ellroy's novel. I look at the book vs. movie issue this way now, since I've written screenplays myself: a novel is written by an author, a screenplay by a screenwriter. Just as they have different "titles," so what they produce are two different stories, adapted to the two different mediums in which they appear. So, 2 writers taking the story and spinning it out in each their unique way....

I don't get so hung up on book vs. movie anymore. I've done both ways, reading before and after the movie, and find it equally interesting to see how two people have realized the characters and action.

"The Road" will be released, possibly sooner rather than later. Another Viggo movie is "Good," which may be released before the other and it's based on a play rather than a novel.

Anonymous said...

Should not the title of the post be Movie vs Novel?

Well written piece. I always shudder when a favor novl of mine is being turned into a movie.

I can only think on a couple of times that I was please with the results

The Shining is another good example. Shawshank as well

However when movies did into the fantasy sci fi realm the movie tend to lose the plot
< pun >
alsoSci fi and fantasy tend to be very long in term of page length so something is gotta be cut.

Gopher MPH said...

Wyldirishman - yes, it should. yes, it does now.

Often I think SciFi/Fan is the worse for wear, when put in a visual medium - There's quite a difference between "hmm, I never really imagined Eleanor of Aquitaine looking like Katherine Hepburn" vs. "hmmm, I never really imagined orcs looking like Peter Jackson's critters". Translating imaginary creatures and technology seems to be a very challenging aspect of these films. Unlike L.A. Confidential, where there really wasn't anything new to imagine/create. Not to dis' the creativity of the Set/Costume design, which is incredibly difficult, but a completely different aspect of the visual creativity. (and in this movie, absolutely stunning) I think the make-up-our-own-technology might make it more difficult for the set/costume people. After all, they need to incorporate the made-up alien tech/socio/physical/psycho aspects into the other visual elements, like doorways or clothing to accommodate alien physiology. E.g., Star Trek DS9: there's just only so much you can do with different shaped ears to distinguish between different species (being easier than multiple limbs or tri-partate symetry, which would have been astronomically more expensive to do), yet there wasn't really any further differentiation with clothing - I never saw anyone wearing anything like a burka or a nun's habit. At least the different species wore different earrings.

ccyager - I had a baking analogy in mind, actually - one can take eggs, milk, butter and flour and create either vanilla cake or shortbread. Same ingredients, quite different products, both yummy.

STFU & GBTW said...

Finally found a copy of "Nothing Lasts Forever" which is the book that Die Hard, the greatest action movie ever made, is based on. The book sucks.