Saturday, 25 May, 2024

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Cinematic Reading



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Does any film based on a book is necessarily not as good as the original? Are there books that are suitable for the transfer to the big screen and some that should be buried within their cover? And what the hell does Colin Firth has to do with it?

Whoever follows this blog might think I am one of those obnoxious people that tend to brag about not having a television, hate everything that reeks of cinema and can’t stand the smell of popcorn in the air. If this is what you think then you are probably right, or at least kind of right. I am one of those klutzes that like telling they don’t watch TV, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t like cuddling on the sofa with a good quilt and a bowl of disgusting dietetic snacks in front of a star-studded Hollywood blockbuster. All in all, the cinematic medium is just another way to tell a story, and I never say no to a good story.

The problem begins when the captains of the cinematic industry decide to take the literature world that is so important to me and turn it into summer blockbusters filled with expensive effects or light family movies. Don’t get me wrong. I have no objection that the authors will earn some extra royalty cash. God knows the big money isn’t waiting on the prose shelves of the nearest bookstore. But if you already took the book I read and rebuild it on screen, please do it properly. Don’t put words in the character’s mouth just because you couldn’t think of a better way to squeeze in some important exposition, don’t add unnecessary action scenes just to add suspension or show how smart you are, and don’t ever delete important scenes. In short, don’t dare to change a thing. You chose to produce this film because you like the book, so why the hell are you so inclined to destroy it?

It’s not that we lack example for films that managed to transfer perfectly to the big screen. Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy did a great job (in spite of Liv Tyler and the nonsense he added towards the end), the first season of Game of Thrones, Mother Night with Nick Nolte in one of his best performances (to my opinion, yes?), Stanley Kubrick’s immortal cinematic adaptation of The Shining, and we can’t refer to Stephen King without mentioning the perfect Stand by Me and The Shawshank Redemption.

On the other hand, we can easily find films that managed to ruin books, or at least waste the poor viewers’ time, after they were caught in the film’s swirling PR and couldn’t escape before it was too late. David Lynch’s pretentious and hallucinated Dune, the last and otiose part of The Hobbit, Apt Student that even Ian McKellen couldn’t save (though I have to say that Stephen King’s original story was even worse), The Golden Compass – the first part of His Dark Materials trilogy – that was so bad no one ever bothered producing the continuing parts, Stardust that I tend to lie to myself that isn’t that bad (but who am I kidding?), and I know that I am taking a big risk when I am writing that I don’t fancy the Harry Potter films.

But this isn’t my only problem with those cinematic adaptations. Oh no. what bothers me most is the way they block the reader’s imagination. When I read a book, I usually paint in my mind the landscapes and the characters. I can describe in detail how Voland looks when he sits on the benches of the Patriarch Ponds, I have no problem drawing Landsman’s Messy room in the Zamenhof hotel, and I am quite sure that if you will sit me in front of a police sketch artist I could produce a pretty convincing portrait of the fearless Cormoran Strike. What about Mr. Darcy, you might ask? Well, he looks exactly like Colin Firth.

Why? Why everyone reading Pride and Prejudice has to automatically imagine Mr. Darcy played by Colin Firth? Why whoever reading Fever Pitch cannot help but identify with the protagonist, played by Colin Firth? Why the hell can’t we read Bridget Jones’s Diary without seeing Mark Darcy’s reflection in the mirror, in the image of Colin Firth? And why, for the love of God, don’t they ever cast anyone else to play literature parts. Yes, I know that John Cusack won the leading role in High Fidelity, but guess who would play the part if they decided to keep the film in the UK.

But even if Colin Firth didn’t manage to stick his head into the cinematic production of the book you are currently reading, it is most likely that the beloved publishing people wouldn’t miss a chance to change the cover of the book to show the picture of the cast that was selected to play the characters in the parallel film or TV series, if to promote the book among the enthusiast viewers or the other way round. So now, even if you haven’t seen a single episode of Game of Thrones, forever you’ll have the image of Sean Bean sitting on the iron throne imprinted in your brain, and if you will read The Hours by Michael Cunningham, you might mistake Nicole Kidman for Virginia Woolf, or if you would read Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down you might think that he didn’t manage to write a decent book since About a Boy.

And still, after all, despite all the disappointments and the unnecessary over dramatic changes, nothing makes me happier than the knowledge that a book I love is going to cross the line and become a film. The thought about the new perspective I might experience with a piece I know front and back, the possibility that it will renew it and hand it over to me in a shiny gift wrap, can fill me with a vibrating excitement. This is why I can’t get mad about the rumors about the upcoming production of The Name of the Wind (although I would rather Patrick Rothfuss devote himself to important matters – writing the third part of the trilogy) and this is why I am waiting since 2011 to the TV series that is supposed to be produced some day based on American Gods, and this is why I wouldn’t linger before seeing The Yiddish Policemen’s Union when the Coen brothers finally decide to make it, or when somebody will do the world a favor and produce a movie based on Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book.

Maybe I should start a new section for cinematic adaptations reviews.

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