A Book is Just a Movie Waiting to Happen

December 18, 2011 § 1 Comment

I am inextricably invested in an outdated form of written art called “the book.” These “books” are made up of many pieces of paper glued or sewn together on one side such that they can be read in a fixed order. (“Paper,” for those members of the digital generations who would never have seen a book outside of a museum, is a thin, flat material made from wood pulp, i.e. ground up trees, that is designed to be written on with “ink,” a dark pigmented liquid that leaves a permanent mark.)

Ancient artifact called a "book."

I recognize that “book” has become a fairly abstract term used to describe various digital, written documents, but I can assure you that historically, books were physical objects used to house the written words of novels, poems, non-fiction, etc. etc., which is why  “novel,” a specific type of written fiction, has become nearly synonymous with “book.”

The written word existed in non-digital form centuries before the invention of the computer, or even the invention of film!

It turns out, therefore, that books and movies are different art forms with their own means of expression and experimentation! I thought books were just proposals for movies! A novel is more than a movie waiting to happen? Hollywood certainly doesn’t think so.

Many (if not most) films take their source material from books (usually novels but also nonfiction or collections of short stories — poems not so much, although heeey For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf! But even that was a play basically made up of poems…).

Everything from Drive to Die Hard was based on a book.

I understand that filmmakers need to take stories from novels so that they aren’t continually making Dukes of Hazard, Part 15 and its ilk, but there’s a difference between a book focusing primarily on plot and a book using myriad literary devices to make artistic statements beyond what literally happens.

Some filmmakers understand the differences between these art forms and use cinematic techniques to make interesting aesthetic and thematic points that are inspired by a book but not an attempt to filmically transcribe it. For Little Children, Tom Perotta altered his own novel for the screen, dramatically changing his original ending, exchanging it for one that plays out better cinematically. (Or maybe he made a political choice and decided that the protagonists’ casually enjoying a cigarette with a child molester in the final scene was simply too much for audiences to handle after all the other disturbing things in the movie.)

Usually, however, when Hollywood filmmakers attempt to turn a literary book — a book in which narrative perspective, visual/textual format, choices of syntax and diction, etc. are highly important — into a film, they approach the plot as the entire content of the book and think they can accurately translate a novel to film by simply having the same things happen to the same characters.

This winter, a movie version of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close hits theaters. It stars a cute, precocious child alongside Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. When I heard that Hanks and Bullock were attached to this project, I thought, “There are no main roles for people their age. The main characters are a child and three elderly people. How is Hollywood going to fit these big stars into a story that only has space for them on the sidelines?” I was immediately afraid that attaching star talent would distort the focus of the narrative, but my worry about such possible distortion is really a tiny issue within a larger cornucopia of NO — this book should not be made into a movie, and for many, many reasons.

This just makes me want to cry. Thanks, Hollywood; let's destroy beauty any time we have the chance.

How will a film represent important perspectival shifts in the narrative that are effected by the three separate narrators? How will the film represent Foer’s visually experimental use of text and image? His mixture of poetry and prose? Could a mainstream Hollywood movie even begin to do this literary masterpiece justice?

I, of course, have not seen the film, but I cannot believe that the answer is anything other than “Hell to the f#%$ no!!”

In the spirit of my outrage, here is a list of seven other upcoming films based on literary texts that seem like exploding car-wrecks of Oh gods, don’t do it! Spoiler: not all of them are terrible ideas! Another spoiler: most of them are.

1. The Beat work of the year is On the Road because they already did Howl. With James F’ing Franco. The 2012 take on Jack Kerouac’s twentieth-century classic will undoubtedly be of high quality, since it features the A-list cast of the guy with the sad goatee from the Country Strong trailer (and presumably also the movie, but I definitely did not see that and do not intend to — also, the new TRON apparently?),

This would be the saddest goatee I'd ever seen if it weren't for an awkward Asian guy I knew in high school.

someone I have never heard of from movies I have never heard of, and the cardboard cutout that stars in Twilight.

Calling her "cardboard" gives cardboard a bad name.

2. Since remaking Shakespeare with $#@%@&$ garden gnomes wasn’t enough, we’re facing another Romeo and Juliet, starring the talented Hailee Steinfeld from last year’s (very good) remake of True Grit, opposite a young British actor/model named Douglas Booth, who apparently acted in Pillars of the Earth and modeled for Burberry alongside Emma Watson.

He's pretty in a very Chace Crawford kind of way. So, not attractive to me at all, actually. But seriously, are we sure this isn't a picture of Chace Crawford from Gossip Girl?

Of course, in this one he looks like Justin Bieber. Double "no" on that one, then. Ew ew ew.

But speaking of Gossip Girl, Ed Westwick has been cast as Tybalt, which could turn out to be genius, since he is deliciously evil as Chuck Bass.

"I am going to devour your soul with my eyes and then drink a delicious Scotch."

But really, even if this film is pretty good, it’s just unnecessary. We’ve already got the classic Zefirelli film, as well as Baz Luhrmann’s modernday gang saga Romeo + Juliet, and if that’s not enough for you, there’s bound to be a production of the play happening at a local theater company and/or the local high school at any given time.

3. A film version of Paradise Lost is slated to come out in 2012, starring Bradley Cooper as Satan. I heard “film version of Paradise Lost” and began to bang my head against the nearest available surface, so it took me a while to learn that Bradley Cooper is going to play Lucifer. Paradise Lost is Milton’s great legacy for many reasons, one of which is the character of Satan, who is not only the poem’s (btdubs, this is a poem, y’all) most compelling character, but who is often identified as the hero. The idea of Cooper as Satan actually excites me — he has the perfect smooth-talking sex appeal combined with a dark glint in his eye. To reuse my earlier phrase, I think he could be deliciously evil in this role. However, I don’t think this role should exist.

This is the sole teaser image that Legendary Pictures has released so far. So the Devil's not going to be rakishly handsome?

Paradise Lost could be an incredible stage play — and at some point in history, I’m sure it has been — but I just don’t see it working as a film, unless perhaps it is shot in a strange, experimental, independent aesthetic. Since the director‘s best-known movies to date are I, Robot and the 2009 Nic Cage vehicle Knowing, I seriously doubt that will happen.

Others attached to this project include I-think-she-used-to-date-a-Jonas-brother-or-something Camilla Bell, I-used-to-be-in-Oceans’ 11-but-now-I’m-just-in-a-parody-of-Oceans’ 11 Casey Affleck, Spencer’s working-class (horrors!) boyfriend from Pretty Little Liars, and Rufus Sewell??

Rufus Sewell is not taking the news of his involvement well.

I adore Rufus Sewell and think that he is a really top notch actor, from A Knight’s Tale to The Holiday to more artistic and serious movies like The Illusionist, so I wonder about his involvement with this project. Maybe it will be more legitimate than I anticipate? A seventeenth-century epic poem doesn’t exactly seem like a blockbuster waiting to happen, so maybe the director is taking it seriously. Oh wait, the film’s going to be in 3-D. Never mind.

4. Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming adaptation of The Great Gatsby could be truly incredible, and I’m hoping it will be. Like Tim Burton, Luhrmann is a love-him-or-hate-him kind of director, with a very apparent and consistent aesthetic, but I’m definitely on the “love him” side of things. His Romeo + Juliet is phenomenal, even though Leonardo DiCaprio may chew the scenery a bit (the scene after Mercutio’s death when he’s driving the car? Really??), and I think Moulin Rouge is a goddamn masterpiece, so haters can shut it.

IIIII will love this movieeeee, until my dyyyyiiiiiing daaaaaay!

Anyway, this latest film take on Fitzgerald’s classic novel will reunite Luhrmann and DiCaprio, with the latter playing the titular hero, and will feature Toby Maguire as Nick (the novel’s narrator — that could work, I suppose), Joel Edgerton as Tom (Edgerton has the perfect rough edge to play the suave but violent Mr. Buchanan), and Carey Mulligan as Daisy, the girl who motivates Gatsby’s every choice from the moment he meets her.

And she glowed with the light of a thousand angels...

I completely adore Carey Mulligan and cannot communicate strongly enough how glorious I think this casting is. Beautiful in a unique and interesting way, Mulligan will be able to portray Daisy’s enigmatic and elusive attractiveness much better than someone more conventionally pretty, like talking mannequin Blake Lively. And more importantly, Mulligan has the hard-core acting chops to make Daisy both inescapably enticing and repulsive as a human being.

Admit it, you want to hug her, too. Also, is it just me, or is Leonardo DiCaprio getting younger?

The above is an actual still from the film that has been released to Entertainment Weekly, so click on over to EW’s website to see a larger version of it, as well another photo that shows Nick and Gatsby alongside the woman (Mulligan) who makes their worlds go ’round.

Baz Lurhmann’s trademark colorful, visually-packed, explosive aesthetic is the perfect one to take on the rich (both aesthetically and economically) world of Gatsby and the Buchanans, so I look forward to this film as one that potentially does the book justice while approaching it on the terms of an entirely different artistic genre. I defer to you, Mr. Luhrmann.

5. The Bell Jar starring Julia Stiles. You must be joking.

I love 10 Things I Hate About You, of course, like anyone who grew up in the 90s; as a literary nerd, I appreciate its erudite jokes and copious Shakespeare references. I even thought that Miss Stiles was good on Dexter and that role made me think of her as a real actress rather than someone who used to be weirdly popular but stopped making movies after about 2004 — a bit like the male version of Freddie Prinze Jr, though I never thought she was that bad.

But her hair WAS that bad...

Yes, Julia, I don’t have anything against you, per se, but I will if you do this movie!! Sylvia Plath’s mournful, psychological novel telling the story of a mental illness so similar to her own is devastating and beautiful. You were in The Prince and Me. It had a tractor race. Sylvia Plath stuck her head in an oven; she went through enough in her life without this monstrosity degrading her legacy.

Save the Last Shreds of Dignity?

6. James “Mega-Douche” Franco has decided that he’s a director now.

The "mega-douche" is also known as a "gross douche" -- 144 times more douchey than a regular douche.

Franco has announced he is in talks to direct film versions of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. Understandably, this announcement prompts the urge to kill myself,

Hello, sweet death...

but I will stave off these instincts, for you, my dear readers. So: though a number of McCarthy’s books have been made into successful films — including All the Pretty Horses, No Country for Old Men, and, to a lesser extent, The Road — his violent and devastating 1985 novel presents a serious challenge to the filmmaker willing to take it on. Blood Meridian features a truly horrifying villain, and casting an actor up to the role is a tall order, though Javier Bardem was reportedly fantastic (I never got around to seeing it! I’m sorry!) in his portrayal of another murderous McCarthy character in No Country for Old Men, so it can be done — I just wouldn’t leave it to James Franco to get it done.

James Franco: perfectly equipped to be incredibly pretentious, grow a gross mustache, not much else.

7. Then there’s As I Lay Dying. Full disclosure: I wrote my undergraduate literary critical thesis on  As I Lay Dying, so I feel intense affection for it, along with a special ownership. My thesis focused on character consciousness and narrative voice — important to a novel that has 59 chapters and 15 separate narrators — things that I don’t think film could adequately represent. Franco is already on record as saying he’s going to “be loyal to the book” by essentially destroying the importance narratorial perspective plays in the novel. Neat-o. So As I Lay Dying as a film = NO

And since one thing is never enough for multitasking addict Franco, in addition to directing, he’s also planning to write the screenplay for his movie based on Faulkner’s 1930 masterpiece. Hell, he’ll probably want to play Darl, too  — and that makes me want to cut a bitch.

Specifically this bitch.

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§ One Response to A Book is Just a Movie Waiting to Happen

  • allenavw says:

    The way you talk about books and movies is exactly the same way I feel. I absolutely loved this post. I’ve been on a kick for the last six months reading the classics and just reading this post has made me feel woefully behind! I’m reading The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron right now and I’m finding it hard to get through. I’m not identifying or sympathizing with the main character at all. So I’m kind of side tracking onto The Sisters Brothers right now. Which I already love.

    Anyways, I’m majorly digressing!

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