Thursday, July 14, 2005

From Book to Film

Since I mentioned a film adaptation of a book yesterday, I thought I would talk a bit about book/film adaptations I've experienced. First, a couple of films that I saw before I read the books. Having discovered the talents of Johnny Depp, I picked up Chocolat based on the novel of the same name by Joanne Harris. I thoroughly enjoyed the film (more for the performance of Judi Dench than Johnny Depp, to tell the truth since the latter is not in the film very much, and I'm a big fan of Judi Dench, who seems to steal every film she ever appears in !) and I decided to read the book, which I enjoyed. Years ago I saw the film version of Roald Dahl's Matilda before I had ever read the book - I enjoyed the film for the performances of Danny Devito and Pam Ferris, and I enjoyed the book, but not quite as much: maybe Pam Ferris' headmistress was just too scary to compete !

Being a fan of both Tolkien and Harry Potter, I've seen the film versions of The Lord of the Rings and the HP films. The first LotR film bowled me over, and although there were changes and omissions that disappointed me, I was carried away by the awesome scenery and the ensemble cast, and I decided I was prepared to cut Peter Jackson some slack and watch the other two films. The first Harry Potter film annoyed me, although not as much as the second (snake chase anyone ?). After I saw Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, I swore not to watch Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, not least because it's my favourite book of the series so far. However, a friend of a friend who was staying in Oxford for a month or so, invited me to go and see it with her, and I felt it would be churlish to refuse. I was very glad that I did not refuse as Alfonso Cuaron's vision restored my faith the HP film franchise (although it remains to be seen what any of the other directors make of it - I've heard some worrying things about the fourth film !). I had decided, during the time of watching the three LotR films, that I had to accept that films and books were two quite different mediums, and that it would be easier and probably more enjoyable if I remembered this and treated films adapted from books, and the books themselves as separate entities. It also helps if I'm not passionately attached to a particular book. I think I was accepting of the film versions of Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the first film of which I saw for the first time a few weeks ago), and Chocolat because I had no particular attachment to them. On the other hand, I've been reading the Lord of the Rings regularly for 20+ years and I'm very passionate about it. And Harry Potter ? Well, I'm a bit less passionate about those books, but I do know them extremely well from reading them so often in order to write papers on them !

So I will go to see the new version of Charlie with an open mind and a certain amount of interest to see what Depp and Tim Burton have made of this children's book.


Mrs. Coulter said...

The problem with the first two HP films is precisely that the director attempted to recreate the books too faithfully. Of course, you can't put the whole book into a film aimed at children (they couldn't sit long enough), so the movies ended up being rough episodic skeletons, instead of coherent stories.

There were definitely things that I was sad to see Peter Jackson cut and change, but I also recognize that there is no way to make a coherent and sensible film out of even a third of a 1000 page book without cuts and changes. I thought that he did an excellent job with it, even if I didn't always like the specific choices he made. The extended editions are also much more satisfying, though they are far too long for theatrical release.

The one real, true complaint I have about Jackson's changes is his decision to cut the Sundering of the Shire entirely. It seems to me that the changes wrought in rural England by the coming of the Industrial Revolution are a major thematic for Tolkien, and eliminating the section entirely does some serious violence to his authorial intent.

Michele said...

I agree with you that Jackson's omission of 'The Scouring of the Shire' was very disappointing. I have long argued that it is an important part of the final section of the book, because it allows the Hobbits to prove to themselves that they have truly grown up, as Gandalf suggests when he leaves them to visit Bombadil.

Also, the situation with Frodo having far less fame than Merry and Pippin, or even Sam, is reminiscent of the situation faced by returning veterans of the First World War (an experience with which JRRT would have been very familiar, of course). Much as the prophet has no honour in his own country (to borrow a phrase) so, too often, a returning veteran has little honour in his own country. The fact that so many FWW veterans who returned to the Home Front found themselves out of work and unwanted, was (to my mind) a disgrace. I don't agree with war for the sake of war (although some wars have to be fought), but I do believe in honouring those who have worked to make it safe for me to live in my country.