Sunday, November 23, 2008

Adaptations

Like many another movie adaptation, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen makes alterations to its source, in this case the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill. Some of the changes may have been well-intended extrapolations from the story. Among these were adding Tom Sawyer and Dorian Gray to the cast of fictional Victorian adventurers.

At least one change, though, seems to have been a taming, not to say censoring, of the comic. Moore explained in an interview that Allan Quatermain's attachment to the narcotic drug taduki might have rendered him vulnerable to opium addiction had the taduki supply dried up. Thus the comic has a soon-to-be fellow league member finding a sick and withered Quatermain half-dead in a Cairo opium den. In the movie, Sean Connery's robust Quatermain makes a rather more dashing entrance. Whether this change is due to Connery's role as an executive producer is a matter for speculation.

In another notable change, the movie has a male British functionary act as agent in recruiting members for the league. Moore had given that key task to a female character, the league's first member, Mina Murray. Moore's Murray is more prickly and more fully rounded a character than her screen counterpart. The comic also has an especially evil character refer to Murray as a "smelly lesbian," an edgy reference absent from the movie.

What's your take on these changes? What other notable book-to-movie changes can you think of? Feel free to speculate about the thinking behind those changes.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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25 Comments:

Blogger Loren Eaton said...

Although I know films require changes the subject material (the visual medium is different, after all), it's the rare movie that leaves me feeling as though it treated the source fairly. For example, Peter Jackson's pulpy take on The Fellowship of the Ring probably had Tolkein rolling in his grave. Also, anything with Will Smith in it requires corruption of the original (i.e. I Am Legend, I, Robot).

November 23, 2008  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

[Ahem] That should have been "films require changes in the subject material."

Need. Coffee.

November 23, 2008  
Blogger Martin Edwards said...

Hitchcock's Suspicion completely reversed the ending of the source material, Francis Iles' Before the Fact. The end of the book was much more chilling. The change was supposedly made to preserve the 'nice guy' image of the star, Cary Grant.

November 23, 2008  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

An article I just read talks about the dangers of sticking too close to the source material:

"Blindness may also belong to a category of literary adaptations—including Gus Van Sant’s Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1993), Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), and Alan Rudolph’s Breakfast of Champions (1999)— whose dogged faithfulness to their sources inadvertently prove just how unfilmable the books were in the first place."

The article is here:
http://www.cinema-scope.com/cs36/feat_anderson_blindness.html

Damned if you do...

November 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Loren: Will Smith = Corruption. Got it.

When I saw the posters for the movie version of I Am Legend , I thought that if Will Smith was the last man on Earth, the second- and third-to-last must have been his manicurist and his hairdresser. It was only later that I learned how highly regarded Richard Matheson's novel was.

I recognize that some changes may be dictated by the natures of the media. That's why I singled out changes in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen that were not at all so dictated.

In one case -- Election -- I saw a movie, liked it, bought the novel on which it was based, and found the book far inferior.

What I'd be interested in is the extent to which the vanity and power of a star forces alterations in a script. Mel Gibson did this in Payback, his version of Richard Stark's novel The Hunter. I also found myself shaking my head in wonder at what crap the movie Analyze This was. Then I saw that Robert DeNiro's own Tribecca Films was involved in some capacity, which made me suspect that the movie was a vanity project to some extend. Perhaps League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was, in a small way, something similar for Sean Connery.

November 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Need. Coffee."

What the heck were you doing commenting at such an ungodly hour of the morning anyhow?

November 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Martin, if I remember to do so, I will seek out Francis Iles' novel and also watch Suspicion again. Any case involving Hitchcock is of special interest, both because he was so superlatively good a moviemaker and because he had such a history of making radical changes to his source material. My favorite example of this has long been his removing the thirty-nine steps from The Thirty-Nine Steps.

November 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Damned if you do, all right. That article might well serve as a warning to think three times before adapting a novel.

November 23, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I take John's point and excuse my French but that film was a f*cking travesty. The comic's whole stance was to satirize the Victorian Boys Own Adventures, something the movie didnt even attempt. In fact the movie played a straight bat when they should have been nudging it over short leg for a four.

November 23, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I missed the follow up to the whisky post two posts below, but Marco just sent me that Watchmen link. It is hilarious. So do yourself a favour, finish the book, click and enjoy.

November 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I'd make what I think is the same point, though in a slightly different way. The movie seemed to me an utterly routine post-Star Wars action/adventure story, while the comic was anything but. I'd call the comic more a critical retelling rather than a satire of Victorian adventures, but the point is a fine one.

Oddly enough, the movie's wisecracking Edward Hyde was faithful at least in spirit to the comic.

Since I don't have Norm "Uriah Robinson" by my side, what does "nudging it over short leg for a four" mean?

November 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Marco just sent me that Watchmen link. It is hilarious. So do yourself a favour, finish the book, click and enjoy."

I shall report back once I've done so. Thanks.

November 23, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

It's a good thing James Cameron didn't claim that "Titanic" was based on Walter Lord's "A Night to Remember," and yet both stories were based on a real event!

November 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I just read that A Night to Remember describes the Titanic disaster "in straightforward fashion." I'm not sure Cameron's movie does that.

By the way, at least one part of the world is hoping for a rekindling of Titanic mania. In Belfast, I visited the once-thriving shipyard where the Titanic was built and saw the drydock where she is said to have sat. Plans call for -- and we in America are familiar with such things -- a big retail/commercial/entertainment development to coincide with the Titanic centennial.

November 23, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Its all explained here

November 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Talk about your gnomic utterances. Thanks.

I did learn something about cricket from said Urian/Norm, keeper of the Crime Scraps blog, when I visited him in Exeter during an England/West Indies test match.

Between Norm, the colleague who sits immediately to my right at work, and you, I have now talked cricket with fans from India, Australia and England. I can think of no Pakistani, Bangladeshi or Sri Lanka acquaintances off the top of my head, though I have just established ties with a South African crime fiction blog.

November 23, 2008  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

Peter,

I wasn't aware that Payback was an adaptation. Interesting. That makes me want to pick up Stark's work now.

November 24, 2008  
Blogger Dana King said...

Finally! A question I actually know something about.

I agree with Loren: film requires changes because of the differences in the storytelling media. They should remian true to the story and spirit of the book, though.

A few favorite examples:

JAWS - the movie leaves out an entire subplot where the chief's wife has an affair with the oceanographer. The subplot made the book drag; its omission was a definite imporvement.

THE BIG SLEEP (Bogart version) - Ending is changed and Eddie Mars goes out in a hail of gunfire. Not a good idea, worked against the general thrust of the story.

THE BIG SLEEP (Mitchum version) - reset the story in what was then contemporarry (70s) London. Bad idea all around.

THE LONG GOODBYE - I don't even want to talk about this abortion of what might be Chandler's greatest book.

THE MALTESE FALCON - Almost a literal, word-for-word adaptation, except for the scene where Spade and Brigid O'Shaughenessy spend the night together. In the movie, Spade checks out side, sees Wilmer waiting, and says she'd best saty with him. In the book, there's no one there, and Spade says there is, so she'd better spend the night. I understand this was a concession to the Hays OFfice, but it did leave an aspect of Spade's character out of the movie.

THE GODFATHER - The movie cuts the whole "Lucy Mancini in Vegas" subplot, which is a great improvement, because it went on forever and all you really cared about was when they'd get around to killing Moe Greene.

November 24, 2008  
Blogger paulbrazill said...

The Burglar. Starring Whoopee Goldberg.ahem.

November 24, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Loren, you can find all you need to know about Richard Stark's Parker novels here. The Hunter can be especially confusing, since it was made into a movie called Point Blank starring Lee Marvin, and the book was later rereleased under that title as well.

The Score is my favorite of the Parker novels, and I liked The Black Ice Score a bit less than the others.

If you've seen the Mel Gibson movie and you then read the novel, I'll be interested to learn what you think o the differences between the two. One quirk of the movie adaptations of the Stark novels is that the Parker character is never called Parker in the movies. I suspect this has to do with with Westlake's refusal to surrender rights to the character's name.

November 24, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ahem is right. Lawrence Block and Whoopi Goldberg is not a combination I've waited for all my life.

November 24, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Finally! A question I actually know something about."

Dana, your modesty is excessive and your enthusiasm contagious. Your examples point up the truth that a novel can more easily accommodate lines of development that would clutter up a movie. perhaps a word is worth a thousand pictures.

Your mention of Jaws caught my attention because it also came up in another blog's recent discussion of writing exciting climaxes (and yes, the blog post made the inevitable climax joke). The author of the post was an author of books, so I was especially interested to note that all (if I recall correctly) all her examples of effective climaxes were from movies.

I've always wondered why that Mitchum version of "The Big Sleep" was set in England other than that the movie's producer came from there. An interesting footnote is that its opening sequence is a virtual copy of a sequence in "Harper," which has Chandler connections all its own.

I wonder if the end of Eddie Mars in the Bogart "Big Sleep" catered to a perceived belief that movie audiences want a clear delineation between good and evil.

Speaking of the Hays Office, I've always wondered how the horse-racing conversation between Bogart and Bacall in the second version of the Howard Hawks "Big Sleep" made it out the studio door.

November 24, 2008  
Blogger Dana King said...

The horse race conversation is worth watching the whole movie for. I can only suspect that, if anyone from the Hays Office quesitoned it, the producers could have asked what exactly was objectionable about it. The Hays guy probably couldn't get past their professed indignation that anyone could imagine they meant such a thing. That's as artfully worded an exchange as has ever appeared in a movie.

November 25, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I found it interesting that the horse-race conversation was not in the original release of The Big Sleep, but rather was inserted in the 1946 rerelease. The producers (and I think I've read of Harry Cohn's connection with the movie) apparently felt confident enough that they could get the scene through whoever would have been looking over their shoulders.

Also, I don't know the history of the Hays Code, whether it might have slacked off in the mid-1940s, for instance.

November 25, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"if anyone from the Hays Office quesitoned it, the producers could have asked what exactly was objectionable about it."

Jay Ward, a writer and voice behind Rocky and Bullwinkle, once explained that some influential person once objected to a scene in which Rocky and Bullwinkle were in being cooked in a pot and looked about to be eaten.

You can't do that! That's cannibalism! the powerful person complained.

Is it really cannibalism, Ward replied, if the creatures about to be eaten are a moose and a squirrel?

November 26, 2008  

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