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June 10, 2017

Saturday Evening Movie Thread 06-10-2017 [Hosted By: TheJamesMadison]

Purposefully Faithless Adaptations

Last week we talked about movies that tried to be faithful to the source material. This week, we'll look at movies that made no effort to do that. Instead, these movies took the original source material and made something completely different.


The Original Material Will Always Exist

the shining.jpg

"This adaptation of X book, ruined that book for me," some say, but the book still exists. You can still pick up that book, read it, and enjoy it for what you've always loved about it. The presence of a movie that "doesn't get" the book or whatever doesn't actually make the original disappear.

Example A: Stephen King who hates Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining.

King feels that Kubrick completely missed the point of the book. King has a variety of reactions to the novel, but the quote that I think gets to his problem best, detached from his own personal connection to the book, is this:

Parts of the film are chilling, charged with a relentlessly claustrophobic terror, but others fall flat. Not that religion has to be involved in horror, but a visceral skeptic such as Kubrick just couldn't grasp the sheer inhuman evil of The Overlook Hotel. So he looked, instead, for evil in the characters and made the film into a domestic tragedy with only vaguely supernatural overtones. That was the basic flaw: because he couldn't believe, he couldn't make the film believable to others. What's basically wrong with Kubrick's version of The Shining is that it's a film by a man who thinks too much and feels too little; and that's why, for all its virtuoso effects, it never gets you by the throat and hangs on the way real horror should.

Whatever your opinion of either movie or book, King makes a very good argument that Kubrick just didn't "get" the book and made something else. Does that make the movie bad?


Example B: Starship Trooper book fans who hate the Paul Verhoeven movie.

starship troopers book.jpg

"It's not the same as the book," is actually not a valid criticism of the movie's worth as a movie, although it can be in terms of the action of adapting the source material. And yet, the movie is a completely different creature with a different creative team around it.

One thing that I've said more than once in these posts is: Learn how to enjoy a movie on its own terms. A movie shouldn't require something outside of itself in order to understand or enjoy it. (My brother once almost punched me because I said the movie Fight Club felt like it was missing something and insisted that that missing piece being in the book didn't excuse its absence from the movie. He likes Fight Club. A lot.) The flip side of that is that previous interpretations of the same material, including the original material, should have no bearing on the movie itself. As soon as the lights go dark and the music starts, you are in a conversation with the author of that movie. The author presents the terms, and you need to either accept or reject the movie's successes or failures based on the work the author has put into it, not something that Heinlein wrote decades before.

It's fine to judge an adaptation a failure, as long as you are then able to separate that judgment and view the movie on its own.


Starship Troopers

starship troopers movie.jpg

I put off this post for more than a month so that I could get around to re-reading Starship Troopers in preparation. I really like the book. I do. Characters may be a little thin and it may get lost in some technical details at times, but it's interesting from beginning to end. It presents very interesting questions, especially around one's responsibility as a voter. (I think the point is to instill the idea that voting shouldn't be a selfish act, driven by personal gain, but by a desire to aid the greater good of the nation, even at the expense of one's own immediate interests.)

Paul Verhoeven didn't read it that way. In fact, he didn't even finish reading the book, calling it a "bad book". However, Ed Neumeier, the screenwriter, did finish reading the book. And what's possibly most interesting about the adaptation is that for all the complaints about how faithless it is as an adaptation, the movie matches the book plot point for plot point fairly closely (aside for some smaller stuff like Rico's dad doesn't die in the book but does in the movie).

But outside of those plot points is where the differences begin. Johnny Rico (aside from suddenly being white as opposed to most likely Latino) is largely the same, but joins up for different reasons. Carmen is barely a character in the book and is part of a love triangle with Rico (and a third, invented character) in the movie. Carl is also barely a character in the book, but seems to be a nice guy, while in the movie he's a fair bit more present and also a giant dick. Dizz, in the book, is a man, and in the movie she's a woman who's in love with Johnny.

And yet, it's not the character stuff that seems to make people angry, but two other things: the lack of the mech suits and the change in tone. The suits, as described in the book, are pretty cool. Described as resembling a giant gorilla, it greatly enhances the wearer's strength, requires very little training to use, and can jump long distances. I think that just this suit of armor is extremely appealing to many of the book's lovers, and its absence is at the very least disappointing (it was cut because the film couldn't afford the special effects around it). The differences in tone and theme are also given focus. The book is serious and sometimes philosophical with action elements. The movie is purely satirical with action elements. In terms of theme, Heinlein wrote about responsibility and civic virtue. Verhoeven made a movie about fascism.


Grading the Movie

join up now.jpg

As an adaptation, the movie version of Starship Troopers is pretty bad at conveying the message, actions, and characters of the book. Aside for the small stuff above (I look forward to people who prize plot above everything else telling me that the movie is terrible despite keeping the plot from the book they love), it "misses" the basic point of the book. I'd give it about a D- in terms of the actions the creative team took in converting the book into a movie.

However, taking the movie on its own, as someone who might have never read the book before would see it, I love Starship Troopers. It's smart, devious in effect, exciting, looks and sounds great.

The fact that it's a terrible adaptation doesn't limit my ability to appreciate the work of the creative team on the film. They made something new, and it's great.
But don't worry, friends. There's another version of Starship Troopers that's going to go before the lens at some point in the near future. Maybe at that time you'll get the mech suits and serious tone and discussions of civic duty that you love from the book. Until then, if that's all you want from something that bears the title of Starship Troopers, you can always buy another copy of the book. It's still there on bookshelves, unmolested by Paul Verhoeven.


So…

Is The Shining a good movie despite dumping the point of the original novel while Starship Troopers is bad specifically because it does the exact same thing?

Fight!...I mean…discuss civilly!


Movies of Today

Opening in Theaters:
The Mummy
It Comes at Night

Next in my Netflix Queue:
Last Year at Marienbad

Movies I Saw This Week:

Ichi The Killer (Netflix Rating 2/5 | Quality Rating 1.5/4) Poster Blurb: "Unable to keep to a single tone, the gore becomes numbing."

Dredd [rewatch] (Netflix Rating 5/5 | Quality Rating 4/4) "Awesome."

Gabriel Over the White House (Netflix Rating 1/5 | Quality Rating 0.5/4) "An actual sop to literal totalitarianism and literal fascism, and to make matters even worse: It's piss poor drama."

Split (Netflix Rating 5/5 | Quality Rating 4/4) "Shyamalan is back with an extremely effective thriller."

The Nice Guys (Netflix Rating 4/5 | Quality Rating 3/4) "Fun, but Shane Black did it better with Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang."

StarshipTroopers [rewatch] (Netflix Rating 5/5 | Quality Rating 3.5/4) "Hilarious, exciting, and completely depressing all at the same time. It's a great time at the movies!"

Contact
Email any suggestions or questions to thejamesmadison.aos at symbol gmail dot com.

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