Today’s Booking through Thursday:

1. In your opinion, what is the best translation of a book to a movie?
2. The worst?
3. Had you read the book before seeing the movie, and did that make a difference? (Personally, all other things being equal, I usually prefer whichever I was introduced to first.)

Peter Jackson did an amazing job bringing the Lord of the Rings trilogy to the big screen. Making three films instead of cramming everything into one was a stroke of genius on his part and allowed him to tell the tale properly. Having read those books, oh, a gazillion times in my life, I was very worried about what the result would be. I followed the online forums for bits of news, and when the official website was launched–with a first look at the main characters–I was very pleased by the look of the film still in production.

I understand that, even with the space afforded by three extra-long movies, some trimming needed to be done. Tom Bombadil? His songs and rhymes are lovely, but they really don’t do anything to move the plot along. Replacing Glorfindel at the ford with Arwen? Um…well…I should ‘fess up and state that I generally did not like how much Arwen was in the films. I guess this was an attempt to take advantage of a famous actor in the film and perhaps to add a prominent female role (in the books, Arwen doesn’t do much except sit around and make a banner for Aragorn). That said, I’ve no doubt that Eowyn could kick Arwen’s ass any day.

There were a few more changes I didn’t like (such as not having Frodo rest his head in Sam’s lap when they’re in Mordor–rumor has it that this was changed out of fear that homophobic American audiences would be too skeeved), but for the most part I think Jackson got it right. His attention to detail was amazing. I loved all the little things he included (but didn’t necessarily explain, due to lack of time) as little “nods” to people who know the books well. When the great hall in Moria filled the theater screen, my first thought was, “Yes! That’s exactly how I imagined it!”

As for worst adaptations…well…The Scarlet Letter with Demi “What-the-Hell-Were-They-Thinking-When-They-Cast-Her?” Moore is up there. I’m sure there are more bad adaptations out there, but I’m having a hard time thinking of any. Maybe they were so bad that I’ve just repressed the memory.

There are two upcoming book-to-screen adaptions that I am both anticipating and dreading. One is The Golden Compass, which comes out in December. I read Pullman’s trilogy several years ago and was utterly amazed by it. Early in the production of the film, the director announced that he was excising religion from the movie (those of you who’ve read the books are probably saying “Are you serious?” to yourselves right now). I think it’s back in, though I’m not sure–I’ll have to see. The trailers look stunning, and Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman are perfectly cast for their roles. Let’s hope the final cut does the book justice.

The other upcoming film I’m worried about is Stardust, which is based on Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name and comes out next month. Again, another amazing, fantastic tale (though this one–certainly not shallow mind-candy–does not have the heavy-hitting philosophical content of Pullman’s work). Gaiman wrote on his blog a while ago that he was pleased with what he’d seen so far, so that gives me hope. (Here is Gaiman reading the first chapter of the book, if you’re interested.)

7 Responses to “Celluloid”

  1. JDon 12 Jul 2007 at 5:34 pm

    I love fantastical books and movies, too! _The Golden Compass_ and _Stardust_ are new to me, I’ll have to look them up. I love the fact that CGI helps brings these other worlds to life. Definitely go-to-the-theater types of films!

    But I’d have to say that my favorite adaptation is the BBC version of _Pride and Prejudice_, although, because it aired as a miniseries (just a guess here) perhaps it doesn’t count as a novel-to-movie type of thing?

  2. Meion 12 Jul 2007 at 5:37 pm

    Haha! You’re totally right about The Scarlet Letter. I could not BELIEVE what I was seeing as I watched it!

  3. Imperatrixon 12 Jul 2007 at 6:10 pm

    I was going to say LOTR as the best adaptation. I *hated* #2 in the theaters — the first 20 minutes seemed so rushed, jumping from one character group to another too fast. But we bought the extended version DVD and the pacing in that one was much much better in the first 30-40 minutes (they clearly cut lots of it for the theatrical version).

    My daughter really didn’t like the adaptation of Ella Enchanted. She felt they lost some of the strong girl subtext she really liked.

    I turned off Branaugh’s Hamlet early on. Just couldn’t get into it.

    Mei: you shoudl definitely check out the His Dark Materials trilogy (Golden Compass is #1). The written story is fabulous!

  4. --Debon 12 Jul 2007 at 6:16 pm

    I loved the LOTR movies . . . and hey, at least they ultimately decided against having Arwen toting a sword–there was a brief moment there, where they sent Liv Tyler for sword lessons. (Shudder.) And, no, I didn’t love the way Arwen was portrayed, but at least L.T. looked fabulous. My biggest quibble? Having Faramir drag Sam and Frodo to Osgiliath, where Frodo came face to face with one of the Nazguls on that bridge. One of the nine who chased him all over the Shire–and, mere feet away, so close to Sauron, he’s going to be thwarted by Sam tackling Frodo down a flight of stairs? Um, I don’t think so! (Not to mention how far off track and behind schedule that would have taken Frodo and Sam in relation to the rest of the story….)

  5. Callistaon 12 Jul 2007 at 10:41 pm

    As for the possible gay interpretation of the LOTR movies, even without that scene Americans still managed to call them gay. *rolls eyes*

    Come see my answers:

  6. Marshaon 13 Jul 2007 at 9:45 am

    JD: Run, do not walk, to your nearest library or bookstore and pick up The Golden Compass and Stardust. I truly think you’ll like both.

    Mei: Yeah, I’m still in shock from that one!

    Deb: Yes, that was another bit that made me shake my head and wonder that Jackson was smoking when he came up with those changes. The change to Faramir was especially troubling, since Tolkien wrote him as a bit of a foil to Boromir in that he (Faramir) wasn’t tempted by the ring.

    Callista:In spite of the changes he made, Jackson was fighting a losing battle on that front, I’m afraid.

  7. Pixieon 16 Jul 2007 at 11:34 am

    I’ve got the same mixed feeling about The Golden Compass movie — the books were so full of imagery, I’m not sure how that magical feel will be depicted in the movie.