Thursday, 18 April, 2024

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American Gods - אלים אמריקאים

Cinematic Literature – Does STARZ’s American Gods Live to the Expectations?



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Does the TV series based on American Gods manages to live up to the expectation and to the original book or does it fall into the usual traps that are waiting for it in the transit to the televised medium? The critic is leaving his comfort zone and try his luck with a television review.

As I have mentioned before, unlike many literal people, when I hear that a book I like is being adapted to film I do not tear my clothes and throw dust over my head. On the contrary. It’s hard to explain the excitement that fills me, but I just love laying back on my couch and watch the scenes that lived until that very moment in my mind come to life and get their own shape. Of course, most of the times what emerges on the screen is just a distant relative of the literary work that I cared for so much when it was on the pages of the book, but when the words transform properly into images (did anyone say Lord of the Rings?), the result can be breathtaking.

This is why when I first heard in 2011 that one of my all-time favorite books is being adapted into a TV series, and by no less than HBO, I couldn’t be happier. OK, maybe I am exaggerating, but I did know that I have something to look for. I had never in my life waited for a TV series as much as I did for American Gods. Take your nerve-racking wait between the last seasons of Game of Thrones and multiply it by six. Meanwhile, HBO decided to leave the project and handed the reins to STARZ, which are responsible for some very successful series, such as Black Sails, Da Vinci’s Demons, Boss, and Outlander (that I didn’t manage to survive the first episode).

A year passed, then another, while this project is kept in low profile and occasionally the mouse finger clicks on the link to IMDB to check if there is any news, and the obvious answer annoys the eye, when suddenly two years ago, rumors started to flow about the casting of the major roles in the show. Learning from past disappointments, I didn’t allow myself to fluster by unofficial hearsay. But then, with no warning came this trailer:

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Again, all the ancient expectations that woke six years ago floated back to the surface, with them, the fear that the producers of the show will manage to ruin this book that I am so emotionally attached to. I know, this trailer did look promising, but no one can assure me that everything that was cut out of the trailer isn’t pure rubbish.

This is why when the first episode of American Gods finally aired a few months ago, a great sigh of relief could have been heard all around my neighborhood. I had nothing bad to say about this episode. I mean, as long as I shut my mouth about the annoying way Jonathan Tucker is playing Low Key. But besides that little detail, the episode was quite similar to the book – both in the storyline and in the atmosphere. Something about the colors of the show, with its black that is more of a dark gray and the deep red that scratches the bottom layers of the Bordeaux and the dim lighting that joins them next to neon lights that manage to collect everything that that book builds with blood and sweat and visualizes it accurately.

When I watched the second episode, I was still high on the fumes of the first episode, so I didn’t pay much attention to the little changes that started to appear in the transition from the book to script. I convinced myself that there had to be a good reason that had something to do with adapting the story to the small screen or to current times, all in all, it’s been more than 15 years since Neil Gaiman wrote the book, but as more episodes arrived the changes grew larger, until the grand finale of the season that to the show to a totally different path the one we knew from the book.

Some would say that I’m being petty because you can’t expect a book to survive the transition to television with no changes, which are probably there to help it in its new environment. But the changes made in this show are much more significant than just an added scene here and there to strengthen the story or to add some important exposition that could have passed in the book in a sentence or two. We’re talking about changes that turn the series from one that is broadly inspired by the book than one that is based on it. Actually, after the final episode of the season, even someone that read the book six or seven times (as I did) can never guess what is coming next.

Again, even if it’s not really a bad thing, there are many more problems with American Gods – the show. First, its pace. It seems that the producers of the show fear they don’t have enough materials to fulfill their contract with STARZ, so they squeeze any drop of plot they have on top of a whole episode, even if they could seal the deal in twenty minutes. This is how Laura Moon’s story fills the entire fourth episode of the season as if Bryan Fuller and Michael Green are trying to force feed the viewers with information because they don’t trust them to understand it by themselves with a subtle approach. This happens again in the seventh episode that focuses entirely on Essie MacGowan and the fairy tales she brought with her to the new world. Strangely, they decided to emphasize between her and Laura Moon (quite bluntly, if I might add) by casting Emily Browning for both parts, all just to make a point or two about Laura’s personality. Besides, the significance they gave to her character is way stronger than it should be, to my opinion. From a somewhat secondary character (though one that the book cannot exist without), Laura’s role in the show is quite central. I don’t know if it is because the producers felt they lack a strong feminine character or because they liked the morbid love story between her and shadow. Whatever the reason is, it wouldn’t bother me so much if it didn’t feel so artificial.

Emily Browning – American Gods
Emily Browning – American Gods

But more than anything, what bothered me most in this series is the soundtrack, I mean, how much can you hear this annoying shrieking jazz in the background? There are so many music genres that are identified with America, so why do we have to suffer those semi high-pitched trumpets whenever someone is telling a story?

So yes, I’ll definitely watch the second series when it’s aired sometime next year, but for me, it is not American Gods, but a not that successful imitation of the original. In the meantime I could console with rereading the book.

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