To Be a Movie, Or Not to Be? What a Question!

     It is tricky when attempting to convert a well-written (or even poorly written, for that matter) novel or other piece of literature into a thoughtful, inspiring, intelligent (and, one hopes, Academy Award Winning) cinematic counterpart. Some movies have faithfully done justice to their written roots, while others just methodically butcher them until the thought of seeing it (the movie) again makes one feel lethargic. Directors and movie studios have been bringing classic (and not-so-classic) novels to the big screen for decades. But what makes a novel worthy of becoming immortalized in celluloid for generations to come? And how does one faithfully adapt said worthy novel to the movie-going crowd? Diligence, insightfulness, and skill--these are but a few of the requirements needed.

     Film adaptations are responsible for a number of things. They visually portray what one would normally picture in one's head; they help to graphically explain parts of the novel that would otherwise be confusing; and they include as much of the literary content as possible without running on for two days straight. If someone were to adapt Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment into a lengthy twenty-seven hour director's cut exact presentation, I would probably sit at home and entertain myself with reruns of Bonanza, while playing chess with the wall, rather than pay my hard-earned $4.50 to sit through it. That is also another responsibility of a faithful book-to-screen transfer: while paying attention to all other aspects, keep it entertaining.

     This year I was exposed to several novels and their cinematic counterparts (both in and outside of class). One that sticks out as being a poor adaptation is William Wyler's 1939 version of Emily Brontë's 1847 Wuthering Heights. I can understand making what would normally be considered "boring" movie in the name of art, but this movie just is flat-out dull. And its Mexican version, directed in 1954 by Luis Buñuel, is no better.
     "Do you love me?"
     "Mucho."
     Let us not also forget about the fact that all the characters were vampires (as are all Mexicans). Now, a good adaptation I saw was A Streetcar Named Desire. It was a brilliant adaptation. It made me loathe Blanche (Vivien Leigh) and discover that Marlon Brando is a movie god. This brings me to another point: selecting the right actors for the roles.

     Brando is immortalized as his Stanley. It is definitely one if his defining roles. No one but him, I feel, could have played the part with as much charisma and skill as he did. An actor must be able to portray his or her past the way the author envisioned the character. The audience will be able to subconsciously realize if the actors make the cut or not.

     One movie I saw this past year was Fight Club. It blew me away and forced me to see it in the theatres a total of six times. I went out and got the novel it was based on and fell in love with it as well. So, it is my favorite movie and my favorite book. The adaptation is beautiful. The movie kept the book's integrity to a "T." I am also convinced that no one but Brad Pitt could have pulled off the role of the character Tyler Diden. The script also managed to keep several direct quotations (which is good because some are just so great) out of the novel. This is essential in converting the book into a movie: Keep the same feel (and sometimes lines) in the script as there was in the book.

     Cinematography is also vital to the movie version of a book. The camera angles would be dynamic and innovative. Sweeping shots and close-ups can help to bring an audience closer to the story and characters if both appeal to the viewers. When someone says, "That's a cool shot," he or she found that particular angle or technique appealing. That is what one wants: to appeal to one's target audience.

     Okay, first off let me say, I am 100% TOTALLY AGAINST CENSORSHIP IN ANY WAY, FORM, OR METHOD AT ALL WHATSOEVER!!! I feel that if directors and other film makers want their movie to be a certain way, or depict a certain something, or anything, they should have the right to do it as they see fit. It is their vision, their act, their decision; and no one has the right to tell them otherwise. They did what they did for a reason; and one does not have to like it, one does not have to see it, and one damn sure does not have the right to judge them. Now, having said that, I want to discuss this topic. If a movie needs to be expanded on something a novel hits on, or just has a scene because the director feels it is necessary, it should. American Psycho is a very good film and novel (though I have not read it, I have been told it is good), but very controversial. The movie was forced to cut some material in order to avoid an NC-17 rating. Other films that have to endure this are as follows: A Clockwork Orange, Eyes Wide Shut, South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, and American Pie.

     While the others are good movies, let me touch on Eyes Wide Shut. Stanley Kubrick was a phenomenal film maker. His movies are artistic, provocative, offensive at times (though that was their intention), and beautifully crafted. In this movie, there is a rather lengthy orgy scene that was altered (that is, edited digitally) from its originally intended form in order to protect the fragile society of America. Never mind that Europe got the unedited version (I guess Europeans can handle it?). No one had the right to modify his vision except him. Everything has purpose--even controversial material in movies. I feel that nothing should be altered just to give the public what it wants, but sometimes one has to play by the rules.

     Updating a movie adaptation of a novel or play into modern times is touchy. One might make something grandiose and ingenious, and one might make something horrid and miserable. Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet are two classic stories that have been modernized for the screen. True, they pull off their goals well, but they are not the originally intended versions that Shakespeare most likely had in mind. Let us say I want to update Jack and the Beanstalk so that it is about a family that lives in the ghetto and Jack must sell his grandpa's car to get money for his gambling addiction. Now he gets some "magic" beans that are really hallucinogenic drugs that cause him to see a castle inhabited by a killer midget. (Actually, I really did make this movie in high school). Some people will laugh at this; others will not. It all depends on how they see the update in comparison to the original story.

     Sound effects and music greatly enhance or deteriorate the cinematic adaptation. Fight Club, for instance, had great sound effects and a powerful score. They helped to boost the mood of the movie. Jack Clayton's 1961 The Innocents, based on Henry James's 1898 The Turn of the Screw, also had great sound effects. All in all, though, it is the responsibility of the directors in making the movie successful. They are the ones who have to tell all involved what to do, bring their vision to the screen, and pull everything together in a methodical manner. I hope I can accomplish this faithfully, seeing as how I want nothing more than to be a successful major movie director (and writer).

     Movies are America's favorite pastime (forget baseball). When they are based on books, novels, or stage plays, they have to work with already layered-out material. The work must be put together right. Several movies have succeeded at this (i.e. Jurassic Park, The Silence of the Lambs, Fight Club, American Psycho, The Green Mile, A Clockwork Orange, etc.), while others have failed (i.e. Congo, both versions of Wuthering Heights shown in class, Thinnes, etc.). Basically, it comes down to what the film makers feel is necessary, and the audience's interpretation and response. But at the same time, one cannot please everyone.

Jakob Bilinski

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