Monday, December 02, 2013

Movie Monday: The Books into Movies Edition

I spent a good bit of time over the holiday weekend watching the later films in the Harry Potter series, and my roommate spent a good bit of that time explaining things in the plot that didn't quite make sense to me because I've never read the books. Well, I read the first book, "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone", and liked it a lot, but I've just never gotten around to reading the other books. Finally, I asked her, "Will I understand the movies more if I read the books?"

Her answer, of course, was "Yes". So I guess I'm going to have to do that soon.

The whole experience got me to thinking about movies made from books, and how they can be frustrating sometimes. From what I understand, the Harry Potter series is a case in point. I've heard a certain amount of discussion about things that were left out of the films, and how that has displeased some fans of the books. But it makes sense. There is a lot of stuff in a story that takes seven books, some of them very long books, to tell. There is no possible way that everything in the books could have been portrayed in eight movies, even eight relatively long movies (the shortest, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2" (2011)is 130 minutes long, while the longest, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" (2002), runs 160 minutes).

This is reminiscent of "Gone with the Wind" (1939), which runs 220 minutes (excluding the overture, intermission, and other add-ons), while the book is 1,037 pages long in it's original (1936) edition. Now, I had read the book before I saw the film in this case, and I found it the most amazing thing - although there were clearly whole pieces of the book missing from the film, it felt like everything was there, very much as in the book. It will be interesting to see what is missing and switched around in the Harry Potter books as opposed to those films. I have no clue how the filmmakers managed to do that, but they did in the case of GWTW.

"Gone with the Wind", with its story of the Civil War and it's aftermath, told from the perspective of those who ultimately lost the war, has become controversial for its portrayals of some ugly realities of the time and for what are now recognized as simplistic portrayals of the conditions of those held as slaves during that time. But it remains a remarkable film, just as it was remarkable when it was made. This also actually reminds me of the Harry Potter films in a way, for in its time, GWTW was as eagerly anticipated as each of the Potter movies before they were released. Here is a trailer for "Gone with the Wind", prepared after it won multiple Academy Awards:

Another film that I found the same sort of apparent completeness was "Silence of the Lambs" (1991). I had read Thomas Harris's novel of the same name, which was published in 1988, and liked it a lot. So, when the film came out I went to see it, not with very high hopes that it would live up to the book's suspense. However, it seemed like the film followed the book as closely as films ever do follow their source material. The film also managed to keep me on the edge of the theater seat right to the end, even though I knew what was going to happen. That's some pretty good filmmaking there..

Of course, you can disagree, as Siskel and Ebert did, about "The Silence of the Lambs", as evidenced in this clip from their old movie review show. Siskel did not like it, while Ebert said that it mostly worked on its own terms. I do find it interesting that, toward the end of the clip, Siskel criticizes Jodie Foster's work in the film, considering that she went on to win a Best Leading Actress Academy Award for the role:

When I saw "The Trouble with Angels" (1966), I had no clue that it was based on a book. It probably said so somewhere in the credits, but when I was ten years old, I didn't really pay that much attention to the beginning and ending credits of films. As a matter of fact, I didn't know that it was based on a book until earlier this year. I was curious about the book, which was published in 1962 but takes place in the 1930s (it is a memoir, not a novel), so I requested it from the library and read it. I was amazed that the movie, although updated to the 1960s, followed the events in the book and even played down some of the events as reported by the book's author, Jane Trahey. Here is a scene from near the beginning of the film:

So, although films that originated as books can be very different from their source material, I've had some good experiences with films that seemed to follow their source material faithfully enough to be recognizable and to be nearly as good, if not as good, as the book. Sometimes, as was the case with "The Godfather" (film, 1972; based on the novel of the same name by Mario Puzo, 1969), the film is much better than the book. Certainly, it contains what might well be the most effective opening scene in any film, ever:

On the other hand, there is "Raise the Titanic" (1980). When I read the book "Raise the Titanic!" (1976), by Clive Cussler, I spent nearly the whole time I was reading thinking, "This is going to make a great movie." It was a very good book that I stayed up all night reading because I just could not put it down. When I heard it was being made into a film, I was very happy - until I went to the theater and saw it.

It is one of the worst movies ever made. There were something like 17 writers who worked on the script, which is a sign that things are not going to go well. It was horribly miscast - I will refrain from naming the cast to protect the innocent actors who got roped into making this thing. And it was just, well, awful. As proof, I offer this trailer, from the original release:

Just in case you don't believe me, even on the evidence of the trailer, that this movie is really bad, the fill film is available on YouTube. But if you go there, don't say I didn't warn you.

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