Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On Movie Adaptations of Books - Part 1

I'm currently reading Fellowship of the Ring (technically, re-reading the first 11 chapters since I tried reading the book before), and it's got me thinking about the movie adaptations of the Lord of the Rings franchise, and movie adaptations of books in general.  So I present to you a series of three posts about this very subject.

I don't know that I can say I've "always felt this way" about the relationship between film and books, but I've felt this way about it for a long enough time: they're different beasts. Yeah, I'm sure this is a newsflash for everyone out there. The weird thing - and this just occurred to me - is that while they are two different forms of media, they are both presented in a similar manner.

I bring this up because that's usually the go-to argument about the differences between film and print; film is a visual medium, they say, while print is not. Wait a second - I understand what point you're trying to convey, but how is reading a book not visual stimuli? You use your eyes to read the words, and that activates your imagination. I guess it would be better to say that books are an intellectual medium - but then, so too can film be intellectual (see: Tree of Life*).

To get to my point faster, here's the question: if books and movies can both be considered to be engaging the same stimuli - albeit in different ways - how come movie adaptations of books are often major departures from the original source?  Unfortunately the answer is a little complicated, so uh...I hope you have some time set aside to do a little bit of reading.  The first difference is obvious - how we physically consume the media; second, the physical limitations of either media; and lastly, the difference is that they're the same.  What?  Yes, they are the same.  Bear with me - in three weeks, you will understand what I'm talking about.
I thought I would start out with the most obvious, which is how we physically consume either media.  To drill down a bit further, it comes down to how much time we spend with each form of story-telling.  When reading a book, we have the leisure to read whenever we want, and virtually whereever we want.**  Some people read at blinding speeds, while others take their time and read when they can.***  Unless you've borrowed the book from the library, it's there, ready for your eyes, whenever you wish.

Conversely, movies have an average running time of anywhere from 1 and a half hours to 2 and a half hours (with the epic movies, like Lord of the Rings, stretching past the three hour mark).  One could argue that outside of the theatre we have the same luxury as we do with books in that we can watch at our leisure, pause and start as we please; the truth is that films are made to make money in theatres****, not at home or on the bus to work.

Because of the time constraint, writers and producers often have to cut extraneous portions of the source material in order to present it on-screen in a reasonable running time.  This is especially true with large tomes (there's a reason why A Game of Thrones went to TV, not theatres).  As a result, what we see on screen is usually not a 100% true adaptation of the book.  And, in what's going to be a common theme in this essay, that's OK, because filmmakers are trying to make a film - just because they don't have an original idea doesn't change anything.

Dealing with a time constraint is the primary reason why die-hard franchise fans are often disappointed in on-screen adaptations of their most beloved stories.  What they really need to do is critique the movies as films, not as adaptations.  Yes, the strength of the story depends largely on the original source, but it's my opinion that you can't objectively say, "This movie was bad because it didn't contain X element that was present in the original book."  Usually there's a reason it was omitted from the screen adaptation.  What you should evaluate is what you see on screen, and how everything fits together.

Next week, we'll explore the physical differences of each media.  And after that, I'll explain why neither of the first two essays matter because both formats are the same.

* - To be fair, I don't actually know anything about Tree of Life except that the critics over at Filmspotting had a field day with this one, and it all went way over my head.  So I think it's safe to say that this film generated intense intellectual debate.

** - I'll thank you to not read while you drive.

*** - I certainly don't take several months to read a book. *cough*

**** - That's why they report box office gross, not weekly DVD sales.  Of course this doesn't apply if your studio releases movies direct-to-DVD.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Harperland: The Politics of Control (2010)

Harperland: The Politics of Control, by Lawrence Martin: A Review in Haiku form

Steve Harper, PM
He likes to be in control
Book takes aim, misses.

Honestly, I don't think I need to expand much more on that. The book tries to come off as a scathing account of how Stephen Harper has abused his power and has taken control of everything, but it barely goes beyond the surface of events that happened between 2006 (when Harper first took office) and 2010. Interesting, sure, but hardly an in-depth analysis of the Harper government. As an example of how in-depth this book was (or how much it wasn't), the last chapter would tell you exactly what the rest of the book covers.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Little Brother (2008)

Today I just finished reading my electronic copy of Little Brother, a 2008 Young Adult novel by Cory Doctorow.  I decided that I'm going to do a five-minute review of this book in my Five Minutes On segment of the Alternative Airwaves podcast, so this blog post will basically serve as the copy for that.

Little Brother (2008, Tor Books) tells the story of Marcus Yallow - AKA W1n5ton - a 17-year old high school student in San Fransisco who delights in outsmarting his school's attempts to keep tabs on him.  After a terrorist bombing of the Bay Bridge, the Department of Homeland Security institutes sweeping measures in an effort to stop any future attacks.  When he finds that he no longer feels safe in his own city, Marcus decides to fight the DHS and restore freedom to the country that he loves.

I really liked this story.  It's classified as a Young Adult novel, but it has some fairly mature themes for the age level that it's targeting.  And let me re-emphasize that I like the story, but not so much all the sidebars about all the hacks Marcus is able to implement.  I understand that these explanations are quite relevant to move the plot along, but it feels like a text book about cryptography and network hacking dropped in between a pretty intense story.

That's why I gave the book three stars over at Goodreads.  The story was good, but it was bogged down by a few too many detailed explanations.  I suppose that's Little Brother's version of TNG's technobabble.  Still, despite these small problems, I thought the book had a lot of neat ideas and presented a fairly convincing picture of what our society might look like five to ten years in the future.

Just a few notes about Little Brother: As if the title wasn't a dead giveaway, Doctorow drew plenty of influences for this story from George Orwell's classic 1984...If you read this book and are interested in making any of the cool things Doctorow mentions, check out this page: http://www.instructables.com/member/w1n5t0n/...There are a couple of afterwords at the end of the book by Andrew Huang and Bruce Schneier, some pretty big names in the field of hacking and security...Doctorow included a very comprehensive bibliography with some interesting reading material and various links; well worth checking out if this book gives you big ideas...Speaking of interesting reading material, one work that specifically sticks out from that bibliography is Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, surely a compelling read...And lastly, this book contains several references to some pretty cool historic events that ocurred in San Fransisco and of the people that made up the counterculture; definitely worth checking out that rich history.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

His Girl Friday (1940)

I have a 5-minute review of this coming up in my next podcast, but I felt in the mood to actually update a review blog I set up months ago.

I wrote a haiku about it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


I haven't written here in a while; so why not write about a controversial topic? I don't think anything is as controversial these days as piracy - the "scourge of the Internet". I don't know if that's an actual quote from somebody, but let's pretend that it is.

To clarify, I'm thinking of a specific branch of piracy.  I don't believe that music piracy - as rampant as it likely still is - is a hot-button issue anymore.  To put it simply, people are finding ways to legally support artists they like (something music fans have always said they are willing to do) in models that now work.  There's also a lot of music available legally for free online if you know where to look (and it's not hard to trip over all of it).  I'm not thinking of the piracy of films either - I think the movie industry has done a much "better" job locking down their content.

My target today is book piracy - specifically, e-books.  I don't think anyone can make their morning commute on the bus without seeing at least five people reading from their various e-readers.  They're everywhere, and have exploded probably a lot faster than the publishing industry ever anticipated (mostly thanks to the Amazon Kindle). Blah blah blah - this is old hat now in 2011.  Long story short: we now have the same technology that was introduced in Star Trek: The Next Generation: the PADD.  Moving along...

Wait, can I back-pedal for a second and point out that this isn't going to have any kind of reference to statistics?  This is largely an anecdotal piece.

Where was I?  Oh yeah, e-book piracy.  I'm indifferent to e-book piracy - that is to say, it's a gray area for me.  Would I download an epub version of a book I don't own?  Probably not (unless we're talking books by Cory Doctorow, which are freely given away); I consider that to be piracy.  But if I get an e-reader (which I might quite soon), what if I want to read one of the books I already own on my shelf?  I really don't think I should have to buy it in another format if I already have it on my shelf.

I suppose it's the same argument as music - if you own the CD, why re-buy it as an mp3?  But the difference there is that it's really trivial to put a disc in a CD tray, and rip the music to your computer's library.  Not so easy with books, unfortunately.

And, books are one of those things that friends and family usually give to us (or lend).  If I'm given a physical book to read, is it still piracy to download an ebook format if I don't feel like lugging around a physical copy?  That's a tough one, and the answer is both yes and no.  Probably I should read the physical version.

Anyway, I really don't know where I stand on this, as you can tell from this wishy-washy post.  Originally I was going to include some statistics on book piracy but I got lazy.  So uh...hooray for e-readers?