10/24/12 – I stand corrected. I saw “Cloud Atlas” last night. I don’t know if it’s a great film, but three hours certainly went by fast. And I was pretty damn amazed at how they adapted this “un-adaptable” book. Film students will study it for years to see how it was done.
Of course, the film suffers from what I call Blockbuster Bloat – they got carried away with the CGI and the make-up, and some of the language in what my friend Melissa calls “A Master Class in Language” was converted into sappy screenplay clap-trap. BUT – and this caveat deserves upper-case – it’s remarkable for what they didn’t do. The connections between the relationships in the book are subtle; you feel how each character is connected more than you understand the specifics of those connections. And the Wachowskis and Tykwer restrained themselves from the urge to tie things up too neatly with a bow. They gave the audience credit. And that is really saying something.
I say, if you loved the book, you’ll like the movie. If you haven’t read the book, the movie will only make you love it more.
9/14/12 – The NY Times Tony Scott and David Carr on adapting books (and more) for movies.
7/25/12 – The “extended” trailer of “Cloud Atlas.” I rest my case.
Christopher Moore has written some of the most popular novels of all time (“Practical Demonkeeping” and a long list of others) and yet, none of his books has ever been turned into a movie. To which I say, thank god…considering all of the awesome books that have been massacred by the studios. Here’s a great interview with Moore about his dealings with Hollywood from a 2007 episode of KCRW’s The Business. He says he’s been paid millions for the rights to his books because they’re not like anything else out there, but they haven’t made it to the big screen because they’re not like anything else out there.
You could understand why the “Twilight” series have made such successful movies while Moore’s books (which often involve vampires!) have spent more time in turnaround than a Jerry Lewis character caught in a revolving door. Which isn’t to say that good movies can’t be made out of good books, it’s just that Hollywood – with its limited imagination and bureaucratic organization, often just isn’t up to the task. Usually one of two issues arise; either the material doesn’t lend itself to a cinematic adaptation in the first place or it’s so beloved that people’s passions get in the way of their better judgment. That might look like an inappopriate actor being cast because THEY MUST BE IN THIS FILM or a director’s sense that they need to put their own artistic stamp on the material.
The mere length of some books makes their translation a tricky business. Sure, the movies made from the 2,000+ pages of the Stieg Larsson’s “Girl” novels were eminently watchable. Should we care that even the European version(s) largely ignored the intention of the source material, which was to destroy the myth of the happy, homogeneous Swedish society?
Let me just say that great adaptations of difficult material may be the rule but there are grand exceptions…so grand in fact that they almost render my whole thesis moot.
I think the greatest modern example is Jean-Dominique Bauby’s “Diving Bell and the Butterfly” – the slim and entirely interior novelette written by a man with “locked-in syndrome” – he had to bat his eyelashes in code to his secretary to infer each letter of the book. If asked, I would have insisted that THERE WAS NO WAY ON GOD’S GREEN EARTH it could be successfully adapted to the screen. But Julian Schnabel transplanted the heart of the book into a movie that felt as if it was the longer piece Bauby would have created had the act of writing had not been such a chore. It makes me teary-eyed to think of it; for one person to understand another so completely is rare indeed. I should also note that Schnabel made “Before Night Falls” – a much better film than a novel.
Which leads me to “Cloud Atlas.” I’m just wrapping up David Mitchell’s epic novel-cum-writing master class…I’ve been just wrapping it up for about a month now because it’s one of those books you just don’t want to finish because you know the last page will bring on a mild depression. It’s so complicated yet so deft, so fun yet so heart-stoppingly literary that it terrifies me that they’re working on a movie version.
Now, it isn’t Hollywood in the strictest sense that’s making this movie (it’s being made in Germany) which should give one a glimmer of hope. But it’s somewhat troubled production history and it’s reported running time (164 minutes) and you get an idea of where the whole thing might be headed…and it aint good. Of course, I’ll go to the movie, but I’m afraid…very afraid.
I know what some of you are thinking; movies and the books they come from are apples and oranges, they shouldn’t be compared. They should be judged on their own merit. To which I say two things: 1) Judged on their own merits, many of these movies suck and B) Imagine how you feel when a great artistic image or song is co-opted for a commercial that degrades the original…it’s not OK with you, right? This isn’t a perfect comparison, but you get my point.
What’s your favorite book that hasn’t yet been made into a movie…and are you excited or nauseated at the prospect?