Tag Archives: Narnia

Go For The Heart

Does anyone remember the movie Eragon? That horrible movie based on an alright book? It was a movie so poorly made and objectively bad we could ignore how crappy an adaptation it was.

But what about when it’s a crappy adaptation too?

M. Night Shyamalan cost himself his credibility when he put out The Last Airbender. Let’s ignore the crappy script, acting, and direction for a second. The movie was pretty. The tidal wave at the end going towards the ship was absolutely gorgeous. But, the script, acting, and direction were crap; like it or not. But more than that, the film complete missed the point of the TV show.

Avatar is an incredibly layered show. Not only do we have the intricate relations between the protagonists, but we have the background complexity of the war between the countries. The heart of the show was the dynamic between Aang and crew; the big quest and saving the world was the plot and vehicle. You couldn’t have one without the other. Airbender replaced the characters with cardboard cutouts and put the quest front and center. Bending is cool and the Fire Nation must to be defeated! Screw everything else, this is what matters! To the surprise of no one, it sucked.

How would one go about making a proper adaptation of Avatar? By necessity, cut out much of the little adventures along the way but keep moments that help us establish characters (Katara and Sokka taking Aang in at the Southern Air Temple, Sokka growing trough meeting the Kyoshi warriors, Zuko choosing to rescue Iroh, etc), even if it means rearranging/combining them (an event on Kyoshi Island could result in Aang going Avatar and needing Katara to console him while Sokka and Suki help defend the island). All the while keeping that spirit of adventure. It’s not so important to hit every plot point as it is to make sure the heart of the work is there.

Let’s do another comparison! BBC put out an adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in the late 80’s. It was alright at best, hit all the beats that the movie needed to to stay ‘true’ to the book and it worked well enough. It just.. wasn’t Narnia. Then came the new one in 2005. Due in no small part to advances in special effects, Narnia really came alive and proved itself to be a fantastic movie.

It wasn’t the most faithful adaptation of the book, though. The characters were all aged up by a few years, we saw the bombing of London, the characters had baggage, and the climatic battle was accentuated. But the spirit was there! The heart was the same! The movie captured that magic that makes Narnia Narnia. That’s what made the new one so much better.

Take a cursory look at some of the really good adaptations these days: The Help and The Hunger Games for example. Both of them don’t follow the book blow by blow, both skip or change parts of their books, but both still remain true to the spirit of the book. The Help still deals with treatment of, er, the help, and attitudes towards them during the early 60’s. All the main characters stay true to themselves and are undeniably them. Katniss and her struggle to survive in a hellish battlefield are still there in the film of The Hunger Games. The brutality of it all is retained through the carefully reckless use of the camera, the dynamic between Katniss and Gale is quickly well established, and The Capitol and inhabitants shown for what they are. The spirit is there.

The Lord Of The Rings stands as possibly the best adaptation. Peter Jackson glossed over several plot points, changed characters considerably (Aragorn takes most of the journey to attain the regality he takes up immediately in the books), and even altered just where the books are divided. But the core was still there. The themes of the smallest being able to change the world, of standing up to the impossible, of living for more than yourself; it’s all there! The movies may be structurally and narratively different, but it still feels like The Lord Of The Rings.

Why?

‘cuz they went for the heart.

Also: buy my book In Transit! It’s not an adaptation and probably wouldn’t work as one; so it’s a book!

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On A High Note

There’s this quote I read once but for the life of me cannot find (no, not even on the legendary internet). Well, starting an essay with a quote is pretty trite and I think I’ve averted that, so there.

Anyway, CS Lewis was once asked why he chose to end The Chronicles of Narnia after ‘only’ seven books. He essentially said that it was better to end it when people wanted more than to end it when people were tired of it. Y’know, end on a high note (title drop!).

In 1995 Bill Waterson decided it was time to bring an end to Calvin and Hobbes. After ten years of adventures of the eponymous boy and his stuffed tiger it was over. Everyone wanted more. Seventeen years later we – I – still want more. They’re good stories, full of life and imagination, silliness and insight. But he ended it how he wanted to and when he wanted to. We got a conclusion, and it ended. Now it’s fondly remembered as one of the best comics ever.

Compare that to, say, The Office. The show is several seasons along and, by most accounts not what it used to be. Not to say it’s not still entertaining, it’s just not as good as it used to be. Fun as the show is, the general populace doesn’t really care too terribly much about it anymore. We’re (almost) tired of it (maybe). If it ends now in seventeen years we’ll be discussing how it was ran into the ground and how good it was at first. It’s not that it outright sucks anymore, it’s just that, well, it doesn’t measure up to what it used to be.

The Star Wars movies are another great example. When Return of the Jedi concluded the Holy Trilogy in 1983, that was it. People loved the movies. People wanted more. But we wouldn’t get more: it was over.

Only it wasn’t. Come 1999, we got The Phantom Menace; more Star Wars! A dream come true! But, for reasons that are for another rant essay, they didn’t measure up to the Holy Trilogy. Yes, we were excited for each new installment, but, well, we slowly realized that we didn’t need them. We got what we wanted and it wasn’t quite what we had hoped for. Look, the prequels aren’t the worst movies ever, they just, well, aren’t the Star Wars we grew up with. Maybe it would have been better to leave us clamoring for more.

It’s not always by choice, though. I would do quite a lot for a new episode/series/anything of Firefly. There were only fourteen episodes created before the show met its untimely cancellation. Each of these episodes was a terrific example of good science fiction; telling stories about people and their lives, the artificial family they formed, and the adventures they got up to. But it was canceled. And it ended, leaving us (you know what’s coming next) wanting more. We did get more, a very satisfying conclusion that brought it to a definitive end. But still, another few episodes of Firefly would be nice, wouldn’t they?

It doesn’t matter if we get more, though. The show was fantastic and the movie Serenity tied everything together. What better way for it to end?

Well, not ending would be a better way.

Point remains, though. It’s easy to follow the temptation to keep giving the audience more. It’s what they want, it’ll shut them up, and you’ll get money. Just keep doing it until the audience drifts away and loses interest. Once your source of income’s gone, well, that’s it then. Done is done, time to move on, right?

No. Think about posterity. Find a conclusion, end it well. Give your audience closure and leave them with fond memories of your work. Let them be satisfied with dissatisfaction.

The final strip of Calvin and Hobbes is arguably one of the best of the entire run. It’s Calvin and Hobbes looking at freshly fallen snow and getting ready to go sledding through the woods. “It’s a wonderful world, Hobbes ol’ buddy…” says Calvin, “…let’s go exploring!”

Now that is ending on a high note.

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