Friday, November 5, 2010

Books to Movies: The eternal struggle

In preparation for the release of Part I of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” I have been watching a lot of Harry Potter with a lot of different people who want to see the last one but never seen or read any before it. While watching with these various groups, something interesting was said.

While watching the sixth one, I was asked about an event and I said “I don’t know, that didn’t happen in the book,” to which the person I was watching with replied, “Then why did they put it in the movie?” And I realized this was something I’d never really given it much thought. But I have an answer and it’s quite simple: You will never see a perfect book adaptation.

I am always hesitant when Hollywood gets its hand on a book I’ve come to enjoy, but that’s because 9 times out of 10, they are entirely disappointing. Why can’t Hollywood just get it right? I mean, it’s right there in print – just put it on the screen and make us all happy.

I go back to Harry Potter to illustrate my point and I apologize to those of you unfamiliar with them. In the sixth movie there is a scene where a rather important location is destroyed that doesn’t occur in the book. This was the scene that prompted the question for the column. The only reason I can figure out for this happening is that there are a lot of readings in the sixth book about the destruction going on in the wizarding world outside Hogwarts and the muggle world – but you can’t exactly read newspaper articles on film and have a stimulating experience, can you?

This is where adaptations fall short. Most novels contain some sort of internal monologue that is essential to the plot. When you must transfer this monologue to film, it has to be turned into dynamic scenes in order to be decent cinema. The same goes for important internal realizations made by characters – they just don’t transfer! And when a filmmaker tries you wind up with a cheesy tricks that make a movie bad very quickly.

It almost takes a bit of magic to make a good adaptation of a movie (please note that “good” is a relative term that here means “above decent”). It’s possible because movies like “Holes” exist. But they are rare. Just a thought the next time you watch a movie based on your favorite book. Keep it in mind.

What's Wrong with "Glee?"

In terms of message, this season of “Glee” is staying true to itself and urging its viewers to do the same. Musically, however, the show has fallen flat.

When the show began last May and continued in September, it couldn’t decide what it was, but by episode 5, it had hit its stride and the familiar phenomenon had begun. This Tuesday brought episode 5 of season 2 and I’m still unsure where I am as far as feelings on this season. For the most part, I feel its missed the mark. And the problem lies in one word: Themes.

The first 13 episodes of “Glee” had no real musical theme and when they did, it was simple and unnoticeable, like in “Ballads.” When the series returned in April, however, themes seemed to be a more prominent, well, theme. It started off with “Hello” where every song had that in the title and the week after that, “Glee” had its famous, although only slightly better than mediocre, Madonna episode, and it seemed that themes were here to stay. This season, we’ve seen no end of theme episodes since “Britney/Brittany,” which was the worst theme episode yet (an hour of Britney Spears music video remakes and no discernable storyline).

Some themes are better than others. For instance, I thoroughly enjoyed last season’s “Ballads,” “Bad Reputation,” “Dream On,” “Theatricality” and “Journey” as well as this season’s “Duets,” which reminded me of the first real “theme” episode the series ever had, “Ballads.” But when the theme gets too specific, I think “Glee” loses what drew us (or at least me) in to start: how Ryan Murphy and his team were able to transcend the written word and layer on emotion through song. The music of “Glee” used to compliment the story. Now it seems the story is written to compliment the music.

So, what’s wrong with “Glee?” In a word: Themes. Hopefully they’ll get back to the show we love and drop the heavy, themey episodes and get back to the story with music. Otherwise, the show may be jumping the shark sooner than we hoped.

The Hunger Games

Post apocalyptic America is a place called ‘Panem.’ The central government in the Capital restructured the land into 13 districts, each responsible for a specific industry based on where they are and what natural resources they possess. They cannot travel outside their districts and most are poor and starving. The only wealth is in the Capital. So the districts revolted, a rebellion which the capital swiftly crushed, wiping out District 13 entirely.

Now to commemorate that, and remind the people of Panem of their might, the Capital puts on The Hunger Games once a year, in which a boy and girl from each of the 12 remaining districts are chosen in a lottery system to be put into an arena and they fight to the death over days. The last adolescent left standing is the winner. It is televised and mandatory for all to watch so that they remember the power of the Capital.

This is the backstory of Suzanne Collins’ brilliant trilogy, “The Hunger Games,” which I consider to be the best young adult series since “Harry Potter.” And that’s saying a lot. Now why am I writing about this in my TinselTalk column? There are whispers going through the entertainment industries about these books. I want to give you the opportunity to read them (or devour them as I am) and love them without understanding their appeal before Hollywood gets a hold of them, you see them plastered everywhere in pop culture and they lose their appeal to you. Like “Twilight.”

I have a love hate relationship with pop culture. I love it because I find a lot of things I enjoy reading/watching because they become popular and that’s how I hear about them, like “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “Harry Potter.” But there are also some things, like “Twilight” or “The Hunger Games,” that I began to enjoy on the cusp of them becoming full blown pop culture phenomenons. In the case of “Twilight,” I’ve been turned off by what the fans have become which has caused the entire series to lose its appeal and made me question why I liked it in the first place.

Give “The Hunger Games” a go, before Hollywood gets their hands on it. And look to it to be coming to a movie theater near you in the next few years. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if this was the next “Harry Potter,” like “Twilight” was supposed to be.


The trailers for the first installment of the final Harry Potter are all over the internet and Warner Brothers is billing it as the conclusion of the “Motion Picture Event of a Generation,” and to a certain extent that is true. But that statement has me thinking: What had been the greatest motion picture event of our generation?

Is it “Titanic?” 11 Oscars, including Best Picture, went to this epic from director James Cameron. It’s sweeping cinematography, fantastic cast and timeless love story have made it a favorite amongst movie-goers, but it has also become a bit of a punchline. And it’s mainly female fanbase leaves room for questioning if its female appeal ruins it greatness.

Is it “The Lord of the Rings?” Tied with “Gone With the Wind” for the most Oscar wins, its final film swept every category it was nominated in. It redefined the epic movie, broke ground with its special effects and the risk that New Line Cinema took with these films is, most likely, never to be duplicated. The success of it was almost a fluke, because well the books were popular, the cast were relatively unknown as was director Peter Jackson. But like the Fellowship, are these films too much of a “boys club” to be the greatest film of our generation?

Is it “Harry Potter?” We grew up with the books and the movies. For most people our age, it was a definer of our childhood and no one after us will understand the exhilaration associated with a new book coming out and a new movie being released. These movies have broad appeal, but with Warner Brothers proclaiming it the “event of our generation,” is it possible they’re overstepping themselves?

Is it an animated Disney Classic? “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “The Lion King” are just a few of the gems we saw released as children. “Beauty and the Beast” was the only animated film nominated for Best Picture under the old “5 nominee” system and remains, in my opinion, the best film Disney has ever made. Is this what we’ll be remembered for? Are these what will define us?

What do you think we’ll be remembered for? What’s the best movie of our generation? Did I list it here? Did I miss it?