Getting My Nerd On

I’m watching trailers for the new Death Note live-action movie…and holding my breath. The story has been Americanized, which is pretty hilarious given that Ohba and Obata were heavily flamed once the manga made it to the States for the strongly anti-American sentiments expressed in the manga/anime. And apparently, the live-action director wanted to make a “darker, edgier version”. Um…has he ever read or seen Death Note? It’s pretty dark and edgy in its own right.

I’m also a bit fascinated by the casting. I haven’t seen any complaints about the racial make-up of the cast, and I’m kind of amazed. Of course, in the manga/anime, Light looks remarkably American despite being Japanese, so that’s the harder one to argue against. But Misa (whose name is so radically changed it took a minute to realize who she was) looks more like Misa in the second Japanese live-action movie than in the manga/anime. (Japanese audiences never complained about that adaptation glitch. It was the first time I really thought about how that level of cultural sensitivity is very much an American thing…which makes it sound like I think other countries couldn’t care less about cultural issues, which isn’t at all true. They just don’t get hung up on the things we do.)

This reminds me that I’ve never seen the first Japanese live-action movie…and that no one will be able to play L as well as the actor in the second Japanese live-action movie (loaned to me when the high schooler I had introduced to Death Note discovered I had not seen either movie.)

I will see this one, but I imagine I’m going to be spending a fair bit of time facepalming, beating my head against a desk, or some combination thereof… At least I have roughly two months to wrap my mind around this.

Except…

I’ve now heard a disturbing rumor that there are no potato chips in the new live-action Death Note movie. That is just…unforgivable…reprehensible… How can they honestly think they’re gong to get away with that? Sure, I mean…we all hate the potato chips…but still… That scene seriously loses all its impact without the potato chips. (Really, it’s only one potato chip in that bag that gets all the scene-stealing glory. But by golly, it steals that scene for all it’s worth! And then they repeat it in the recap!!! I’m sorry, but the director will have to justify this if there is in fact no potato chip. The fan musical gave the potato chip its own song, for crying out loud.)

I… I can’t even…

 

I do realize I’m sitting here losing it over the possible omission of a bag of potato chips. And I’m having a pretty good laugh at myself over it. But if you’ve seen the Death Note anime, you understand. And if you haven’t, it’s on Netflix. Please fix this lapse in your anime viewing.

BBC Sherlock: An Intersection of Adaptation and Fan Fiction

To get ready for the Sherlock Holmes and the Internet of Things (SherlockIoT) MOOC that’s just started, I’ve been re-reading all of the Sherlock Holmes stories. It’s something I’d been meaning to do since I read Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World, because Sherlock Holmes is considered the original fandom. That is, it’s the first property that historians and anthropologists agree exhibited a lot of the activities we associate with fandom today.

Re-reading the stories has been interesting because between the last time I read them and this time, BBC has released a rather fun adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes world, bringing the famous detective’s world into our own times. So as I’ve read, I’ve marked up places where showrunners/writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss directly lifted material, and where they wove in something that caught their attention or that they felt was important for whatever reason. (I’ve also rewatched the last season, because it’s amazing how much I don’t remember those episodes. Heh.)

As I’m fascinated by the practices of adaptation and fan fiction, working through the stories with this eye towards analyzing how someone else adapted the material while thinking about how I was going to adapt an object for the class has been educational. Being able to see what Moffat and Gatiss chose to call out and how those elements were used in BBC’s Sherlock provides a bit of insight into what the two self-proclaimed fan boys felt was noteworthy from the stories. But then they layered in original elements, like the OC (original character) Molly, who was a wonderful addition to the modernization of the tale. Sherlock is a great example of what you can do while adapting material and how fan-created elements can co-exist peacefully within an adaptation.

I’ll be spending the next couple of months hanging out with the Sherlock Holmes stories, so there may be more meditations as I really think about what I see in the series against what we’re creating in the MOOC. It’s amazing how much you can see working with material and seeing how the people around you are interacting with that same material. (I think that’s part of why I enjoy reading fan fiction when I can.)

Adapting Avatar: The Last Airbender

I finally got around to watching The Last Airbender. I had been warned it wasn’t good, but it was downright painful. I’d read that Shyamalan claimed he consulted with DiMartino and Konietzko while making the movie, but there was a ton of evidence that showed that not only did he not talk to the creators, he never watched the show itself.

This was most plainly obvious when Zuko, trying to prove a point to Iroh, had a child in a tavern tell the story of how Zuko got his scar like it was common knowledge. In the cartoon, Iroh tells the story to Fire Nation sailors talking mutiny because they have only heard he was wounded in an accident, and Iroh wanted them to know the real story. In one well-crafted stroke, we learn about Zuko, Iroh, Ozai, and the relationships between Zuko and Iroh and between Zuko and Ozai, and we develop some sense of sympathy toward the rather unlikable Zuko, wanting him to find some sort of happy resolution for his personal issues.

Part of the problem was that Shyamalan decided to take a story spread out over twenty episodes (489 minutes) and condense it down to the length of a single children’s movie (103 minutes). Had he really been trying to distill the season into a single movie, he essentially would have had to summarize each episode in sequential five-minute segments in the movie. The season’s story is a beautifully woven, coherent story, but there are also hooks set up for events that come in the two later seasons. When so much care was taken with the writing to begin with, how do you decide what’s “truly important”? I can see where the challenge originated, but Shyamalan decided to look away from that well-crafted story and focus the last third of the movie on the last three episodes of the season, which meant only focusing on those bits of the season’s story that either led to that moment of the story, or that allowed for fight choreography (because that’s an appropriate way to celebrate pacifist Aang), or that allowed for intricate special effects.

Rather than adapt a nearly impossible situation to a single movie, Shyamalan should have taken a more transmedia approach, instead telling a story of the world recovering from the Fire Nation’s control or set in main characters’ adult lives (something we get a fleeting glimpse of in The Legend of Korra). It might have been a better movie.

Extended Book Trailers

I don’t remember what provoked it (it may have been finally seeing The Hunger Games), but I’ve decided to start calling movie and television adaptations of books “extended book trailers”.  I know that book trailers themselves have been around for a while, giving upcoming books a little movie trailer boost in their marketing.

But in this day and age, when people are more likely to hear of a book and then wait for the inevitable movie or television series to come out, movies have effectively become highlight reels or really long movie trailers advertising the books they’re based on. But that got me to thinking. There have been many cases where I have loved the book and felt the movie fell flat. For example, I have strong issues with some of the Harry Potter movies (mostly everything in the middle, although they all really had their own issues). The books handed us this richly developed world, with all sorts of interlinked side stories that not only fleshed out the world but set up later plot points, and the movies focused on a single strand through the books (or, in one case, focused on the director wanting to put his own personal stamp on the Harry Potter world to the general detriment of the story he was supposed to be telling).

But there are also cases where I would never have watched the movie or television series if I had read the accompanying book(s) first. My favorite example of this is Pretty Little Liars, which I watch faithfully even though I stopped reading the series after Book 8 (and getting through Books 6-8 was painful). I found those books sleepy and predictable, and am grateful the show’s writers aren’t following the books and are having a little fun twisting things back and forth (sometimes ad nauseum). It is fun, though, to follow discussions on the show where readers are still trying to map events and major plot points from the books onto the show. It shows just how invested people really get in seeing a favorite story in more than one medium.

How do you guys feel about this trend of adapting books to movie or television? Do you read something and then hope it does or doesn’t get turned into something suited to a screen? Have you ever watched something based on a book and had it inspire you to seek out the book itself?

Reimagined Stories

Have you read the Harry Potter books and seen the movies? I have. Enjoyed them all. But when someone asked me what I thought of the second half of Deathly Hallows, my response was, “You could see David Yates all through it. It’s a shame, because he did such a thorough job with the first half.” I’ve never been terribly complimentary toward what Alphonse Cuaron and Mike Newell did to their respective books, either. There were plot points that were important to me that didn’t make it in or felt too summarized in the movies. But Rowling was involved in the movies, and she didn’t seem to be overly disturbed by those missing elements, so I feel silly for even complaining about them.

I react the same way to X-Men. My friends who are hard-core fans have long complained about all of the problems in the cartoons and the movies, and my response has always been, “Yeah, but Stan Lee was involved with those. He was fine with the changes.”

We so often look forward to movies based on favorite books. We want the world in our head to appear on the screen. We want to see what the moments that really touched us looked like. Then we see the movie and walk out disenchanted because it was nothing like what we imagined. That’s because movies are creative adaptations- often marked as “based on the books by” or “inspired by” so we will keep our hopes in check. But some of us take it really personally when the director’s vision doesn’t match either the book’s own descriptions or our own imaginations.

By and large, though, creative adaptations can be lived with. On the other hand, what I call “second chance reimaginings” take a little bit more patience. This is actually a new territory for me. I’ve seen many movies, television series, and cartoons based on books and comic books, but I’d never seen one that claimed to be based on the books where I had to add in the word “loosely” to calm myself down.

Have you ever seen or read Pretty Little Liars? While I’ve seen the entire series so far (and I’m not ashamed to admit it), I’ve only read the first four books. Unfortunately, I read through them quickly enough that I learned who A was and who Alison’s killer was before the series made it that far.

Except it didn’t. The first A never materialized (because there is apparently another A in the second four books). And the series has left some doubt as to whether or not the killer actually killed Alison. So reading those four books didn’t actually spoil anything in the series for me. In fact, outside of the character’s names and favorite pastimes, I had a hard time seeing the connection between the two. That’s because the Pretty Little Liars series doesn’t creatively adapt the books. It seems to tell a “But this is how it could have happened” version of the same story, and I find that just fascinating. I don’t know what led to it, or if that was Shepard and Alloy’s plans for the series (since Alloy published the series to begin with), but it opens the door to wondering what other books would be well-received in this reimagined format.

It also leaves me hesitant to read the rest of Pretty Little Liars or start The Lying Game.

Having experienced both creative adaptation and “second chance reimagining”, I’m not sure which I think is better. Both leave room for appreciation, derision, and discussion, but the reimagining really leaves you with little room to think, “Ooh! I wonder how they’ll interpret this event”, because you don’t know if it’s really coming or not.

A Vision, Censored

I got to thinking about this while watching a poorly organized Bring It On marathon this afternoon, but it must really suck to be a movie director in this day and age where many movies eventually end up on television. I’ve seen Bring It On: All or Nothing more times than I can count, on a variety of stations practicing a variety of censoring edits, but it wasn’t until watching it on MTV this afternoon that I discovered a song I’d never heard before. Apparently, ABC Family, E!, and USA all took it upon themselves to edit out the song playing in the background when Brittany first arrives at Crenshaw Heights…and I had no clue.

And I felt badly for that director.

As I sat there watching more bizarre edits being made, I realized it must be difficult for a director to watch their work (or hear about their airing from someone else). The director spends a lot of time making these tiny decisions that we overlook for the most part, and somebody comes along, says they want to air the movie, and proceed to butcher the movie to make it “acceptable”.

That doesn’t seem fair, and it can’t be easy to watch your carefully considered decisions edited out because some uptight soccer parent was afraid their child might be exposed to a little assertiveness. It’s something to be aware of, I suppose.

Fairy Tales as Historical Fantasy

I grew up with fairy tales, and the princess was always in some big, frilly, pink, sparkly dress… or she was in a dress that called to mind Medieval Europe. Then, one day I watched a version of Cinderella where everyone was in period garb right up until the ball, and then the women were all in one of five different ballgown styles, any of which would have graced a contemporary prom.

The costume designer had clearly tried to make the gowns blend into the fairy tale castle and the provincial costumes favored by the men, but the disconnect was there. Given that fairy tales come from all over the world and all different time periods, it made me start wondering why interpretations are inevitably set in a Medieval or Renaissance setting, or refer to those time periods in some fashion.

I’m reading the Elemental Masters series by Mercedes Lackey, and I find them interesting. Each one is a retelling (some more successfully than others) of a fairy tale, and they’re all set in Victorian England. Corsets knock the wind out of a Water Master. A medium is sent away to school in England while her parents do missionary work in Africa. They don’t break that setting, and it’s refreshing.

They’re considered historical fantasy, something I’ve thought about a hundred times since my days in a Renaissance LARP. I’ve tried to capture it in themed movie afternoons that provide the background to my work sometimes. It’s interesting because fairy tales in and of themselves are historical. They were a means of teaching, a means of entertaining, which makes them perfect to my work.

Reacting to an Adaptation

Last week, a coworker loaned me the first second Death Note movie after she found out I’m a fan of both the manga and the anime. It was subtitled, which I don’t enjoy, so it took me most of Sunday to get through it. What I found really interesting was how they took elements from all along the manga and compressed them into this movie. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking, “Wow, this is a very creative adaptation.”

On Saturday night, a friend patiently sat through my tirade on a Wired article about Warner Brothers revitalizing the Tomb Raider franchise roughly a year and a half after completely giving up woman-led action movies. In my ranting, I ended up professing my love for the first movie because I felt it was a strong adaptation of the games and condemning the second for being little more than trendy. I’ve known other Tomb Raiderfans who’ve felt the same way.

Books and video games have been adapted to television shows, cartoons, and movies for decades now, and fans are quick to scream when the adaptation doesn’t reflect their own impression of the book or game in question. A well-done adaptation can be shredded by the fans because a beloved character was left out, or a setting doesn’t look the way the fan artists have drawn it. We’re quite vicious about it sometimes.

Sitting there Sunday night, adoring the actor who brilliantly played the rather inhuman character L, I realized I’ve heard very few complaints about this movie. But it is an adaptation, and I’d fill up a page of notebook paper trying to list everything that was changed. But no one really seems to care.

I wonder…is our search for a close adaptation a cultural thing?

Fairy Tale Design

This afternoon, I was watching the version of Cinderella with Brandi, which ends with a fairy-tale wedding. Except Cinderella’s dress was more in line with the fashion of when the movie was made.

It got me to thinking about the “fairy tale” look. When somebody tried to dress up “fairy tale”, the look is invariably steeped in medieval or Renaissance fashion. While people like Charles Perrault and the Grimms were recording folk tales throughout this time (or the 1800s, in the Grimms’ case? Ed– I was right.), most of the tales had been passed down orally for hundreds of years. Many of them actually traveled from various corners of the globe to become part of another culture’s lore.

As a result, trying to assign a “look” to any fairy tale is far more tricky than just slapping a corset over it and calling it “authentic”.