It’s difficult to please fans of a pre-existing work when adapting that story from one medium to another. I try and give a lot of grace when watching a movie that’s based on a comic or book that I’ve already fallen in love with. You’ve got to understand, a movie is a completely different animal than a novel, and a director has to make certain decisions when deciding what to include, exclude, and change. You can spend up to 30 hours in an authors world, but when that work is translated into a movie you might only have two hours. There’s a huge difference, when you think about it, and capturing the completeness of a novel in so little time isn’t always easy. In my opinion, truthfulness isn’t nearly as important as strategic brevity.
In the past few years, several of adaptations have come out that are based on works of which I’ve a previous history. While, as a fanboy, I’m prone to hate the films for what they’ve left out, I find myself impressed with what they’ve included.
Based on the outstanding novel by David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas is a monster of a film. I read the book in 2009 and have been a die-hard David Mitchell apologist ever since. I was instantly excited when I heard The Wachowski’s and Tom Tykwer were adapting the novel into a film. The three had worked on the script since 2007 and had the full support of David Mitchell for the entire process. That all bodes well. What’s more, I read a an article from Mitchell in which he discusses the differences between the movie and the book. He writes “I met the three directors in 2008, and their plan to foreground the novel’s “transmigrating souls” motif by having actors perform multiple roles (each role being a sort of way station on that soul’s karmic journey) struck me as ingenious.”
He’s right. That cinematic decision in ingenious. It captures the tone of the novel without being a part of the novel, and it works as a much needed mechanic when translating. Cloud Atlas is a triumphant novel and, thankfully, a great adaptation.
Life of Pi
Yann Martel won the Man Booker in 2002 with Life of Pi, his sophomore effort. It quickly became a college standard, and for good reason, it’s a complex look at religion set in an intriguing story about a boy, a boat, and a tiger. I was skeptical when I heard that director Ang Lee would be adapting the novel. I’ve not been a fan of his and am still recovering form his attempt at Eric Bana’s Hulk. Luckily, Life of Pi‘s graphics, plot, acting, and over all direction were miles apart form the 2003 comic-movie disaster. Lee’s interpretation makes Pi’s struggle as believable visually as Martel’s novel does emotionally. It’s a fair adaptation too. Ang satisfies any fan with his true-to-the-book story telling. He even takes the risk of including the religious aspects of the story.
I’ll be honest, however, I did not enjoy the movie as much as I did the novel. However, I’d say this is more due to the medium than the attempt itself. Life of Pi is a story that lends itself to a book much easier than to a movie, because it’s a widely philosophical and introspective story.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
Brian Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series is legendary. It’s some of the best comics that have been produced in the past decade, and it certainly does a lot to capture the feel of a generation. Everyone was excited when Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright signed to adapt. He captured the original work perfectly. The casting, special effects, comedic timing, they couldn’t have been better. I love the Scott Pilgrims comics, I’ve read them all multiple times, but I think the movie might actually be better. A big theme in Scott Pilgrim is music and, more so, youth-music culture. While the comic does a lot to capture that, it can’t really stand up to Wright’s ability to actually use music. If I were ever to teach a masters course on film adaptation, this would certainly be on the syllabus.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World was a unique case, being that I already loved the previous works from both the author and the director. However, I think they both fit perfectly. This is what an adaptation should be. It serves a purpose it makes a case, and it delivers.
The Swim Team
Finally, in doing some light research for this post, I came across something interesting. We all know I love Miranda July, especially her short story The Swim Team. Well, it turns out there’s an adaptation of that story in the works as well. I don’t know much about it, but you can learn more by visiting the film’s site. In the mean time, here’s the trailer.