Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Anticipation and Trepidation: Books On the Big Screen

Whenever a book that I have read is adapted for the big screen, I always look upon the event with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation.  Currently the movie Atonement is setting untouched on my shelf because I haven't been able to muster up the courage to watch it.  It is in no way a reflection on the quality of the film; in fact I heard from a friend of mine that it is a sweeping war drama and perfectly worth my time.  The main reason why I have not watched it is that I really enjoyed the novel that it is based upon and don't want to taint my positive feelings with the doubt brought about by an inferior movie.  

Sadly, there are plenty of poor adaptations and I don't think that the trend is going away anytime soon.  Due to the recession, studios are going to produce movies which have a built-in audience so as to better justify the expenditure. Though I can't speak to the quality of the book or the movie, Eat, Pray, Love is a good example of this phenomenon. The fact that millions of people purchased the book and its sequel, pretty much guaranteed that the movie would gross a lot of box office revenue.  There are other books on the literary scene that also command enough of a following to merit film production.  Good adaptations of literary works like Jane Eyre, Lolita or Anna Karenina will always have a big audience because many people have read and loved them over the years.  If one were to compare the sales of modern bestsellers to the yearly sales of the classics of literature, books like The Lovely Bones would be left in the dust.  Therefore there will always be a spate of adaptations some of them good, and a lot of them not so good.

Just because I have this venue to vent my feelings, I am going to take advantage of this opportunity and point out some of the worst offenders.  Granted, I am limited by the fact that I tend to avoid film adaptations, but I will still make a few accusations.  The Beach by Alex Garland is one of my favourite novels and it is the perfect Generation X thriller. When the movie came out I was unimpressed to say the least.  Firstly, they changed the nationality of the main character when Leonardo DiCaprio is totally capable of faking some semblance of a British accent.  Secondly, and more shockingly, the writer(s) completely changed the ending in order to make it more palatable to its audience.  At this time, DiCaprio was considered a huge heartthrob amongst teens and the ending of the book is dramatic enough to merit an "R" rating if translated properly to the screen.  This would have prevented a large portion of the target teenage audience from seeing the movie.  In my opinion, this is the main reason why they totally altered the ending beyond recognition.        

Another offender is The Other Boleyn Girl.  As someone who has read the book by Philippa Gregory and a lot of other books about the Tudors, I was pretty blown away by the amount of inaccuracies.  Natalie Portman's performance in the role of Anne Boleyn is great, but I was unable to enjoy it because I was too busy focusing on the factual liberties the writers took.  Firstly, it bugs me when writers change facts that don't need to be altered in order to service the plot.  The movie contends that Anne is the firstborn daughter, when in fact Mary is the eldest and this stuck in my craw.  What was the point of changing their birth order?  It just serves to undermine whatever historic credibility the filmmakers had.  Secondly, there is a very disturbing scene between Anne and Henry VIII which characterizes him as an abuser, when in fact Anne had a lot of power within their relationship.  Despite the way their marriage ended, Henry treated Anne with respect and went out of his way to accommodate her demands.  Immediately after seeing this movie, my friend Alysia stood outside the movie theatre and listed all of the historical and literary inaccuracies.  That does not make for a good viewing experience, but, as I indicated earlier, I relish every opportunity to vent.  

If you know of any good film adaptations feel free to suggest them to me.  Maybe I will gather the courage to take Atonement off the shelf, but if it doesn't work out, you will be hearing about it.

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