1. Watchmen is a masterpiece of a graphic novel written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons. The author has as much of a cult following as the novel itself; Moore is quite the character, a recluse and anarchist with a flowing beard and mane of hair. He hates Hollywood and has traditionally condemned film adaptations of his works. The novel itself also earned it’s following; the dark, political take on the superhero genre has won countless awards, including one that was invented just for it. Moore purposely gave it a unique structure (featuring a nonlinear timeline and multiple written interludes from other books and journals) just to make sure that no one would try to adapt it to film.
2. Zach Snyder, director of Watchmen, was not deterred by Moore’s structure. He’s made a name for himself as an adapter of graphic novels and video games, including Moore’s 300, and he’s been consistently praised for preserving the visual elements of the originals very well. In his adaptation of Watchmen, Snyder made some large changes, but stayed very true to the visuals, replicating the characters almost exactly (especially Dr. Manhattan). The film received mixed reviews, however, and many believe that the adaptation should not have been attempted at all.
3. While Snyder did stay true to the visuals of the comic, it proved to be impossible to replicate Moore’s structure, and it stunted the movie, according to critics. Much of each character’s backstory had to be cut, and Snyder ended up changing some major plot points. In the original story, Ozymandias is not a power-hungry narcissist; he is entirely well-meaning, if deranged, and he’s tortured by his decision to kill people. Also, in the book, the end crisis created by Ozymandias is blamed on an alien life form, while in the movie, it is blamed on Dr. Manhattan. As much as it has been criticized, the general consensus is that no one else could have done a better job; a great adaptation of Watchmen may truly be impossible.
http://reverseshot.org/reviews/entry/426/watchmen This source specifically talks about the use of violence, in both the original text and the movie. Violence is present in both, of course, but the author points out a key difference. In the book, the characters are not excited by violence, while in the movie it’s practically orgasmic (Dan can’t perform in bed until after he and Laurie kill a bunch of muggers). The movie adds in violence and gore and celebrates them, and the author adds that the movie “doesn’t inspire any reflection” upon violence, where the book does.
5. How does Watchmen, directed by Zack Snyder, deconstruct or criticize other super-hero comic book films and series? How and which ones?
Watchmen deconstructs the superhero genre by creating a different kind of hero. In direct contrast to heroes like Superman and Captain America, who are the quintessential “ideal” hero (patriotic, moral), the heroes we’re presented with in Watchmen are much darker. They are often shown doing awful things (Rorschach), or as being awful people (The Comedian), making it so the only thing that’s “super” about them is their powers/skills. This, however, makes them so much more human. They’re shown making mistakes, they are not morally absolute, they indulge in their vices–they are so much more real. By comparison, heroes like Captain America now seem unrealistic, and not just in the sense that they have fantastical powers. Their personalities are unrealistic; they’re too perfect. Snyder deconstructs the superhero genre by giving us the most disquieting and dysfunctional bunch of heroes we’ve ever seen, but also allowing us to see them succeed.
1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, published in 1999, is the third book in the Harry Potter series, written by English author J.K. Rowling. The series’ title character is a young boy who attends Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and the books follow his growing battle against the most powerful dark wizard of all time, Lord Voldemort. The series follows Harry over seven years, from his admittance to Hogwarts at age 11 to his final defeat of Voldemort when he’s 17.
However, Prisoner of Azkaban is the only book out of seven that does not directly involve Voldemort. In this book, Harry learns that he’s being pursued by an escaped convict, Sirius Black, who supposedly betrayed Harry’s parents to Voldemort and got them killed. While the first two books do involve some dark themes (Voldemort living inside another man’s body and manifesting himself as another face on the back of his head, a memory of him in a diary sucking the life force of a young girl and summoning a giant snake, just to name a few), Prisoner of Azkaban introduces a new and even more disturbing villain–dementors. Rowling describes them in Chapter 5:
“Standing in the doorway, illuminated by the shivering flames in Lupin’s hand, was a cloaked figure that towered to the ceiling. Its face was completely hidden beneath its hood… There was a hand protruding from the cloak and it was glistening, grayish, slimy-looking, and scabbed, like something dead that had decayed in water… And then the thing beneath the hood, whatever it was, drew a long, slow, rattling breath, as though it were trying to suck something more than air from its surroundings” (p. 83).
Dementors suck the happiness out of living things to incapacitate them, and then feeds on their souls through what is called a “dementor’s kiss.” Those who have the most intense bad memories are most affected by the dementors, so Harry naturally falls victim, recalling his mother’s piercing screams as she and his father were killed by Voldemort when Harry was an infant. Along with such painful memories, dementors bring with them a numbing cold that “went deeper than [Harry’s] skin. It was inside his chest, it was inside his very soul” (p. 83). Voldemort may be dark, as a murderous and snake-like wizard, but the dementors added a whole new element of horror to the world of Harry Potter, especially in the way they affect Harry specifically. Readers are more connected to Harry than to any other character, and are allowed the most access to his inner feelings and thoughts. This access makes the dementors all the more terrifying.
Of course, the story also introduces Sirius Black, a deranged and homeless-looking prisoner who’s escaped from Azkaban. He was put there for allegedly betraying Harry’s parents to Voldemort, and everyone thinks the reason he’s escaped is to finish the job and kill Harry. While Voldemort has, to this point, been a vague and menacing threat, Sirius’s direct pursuit and supposed lunacy is potentially even more frightening.
Another cause for growing darkness in the series, according to Jeff Jensen of Entertainment Weekly, is the characters themselves. As they enter their third year at Hogwarts, they also turn thirteen, and are thrust onto the roller coaster of adolescence. Hormones and teen angst begin to rear their ugly heads in our protagonists, and as their voices change, so do their personalities. From this point on, readers are presented with more and more grown up characters who face more and more grown up problems. Not only does Prisoner of Azkaban bring darker subject matter, but it introduces the characters with more challenges as they grow. So it is only natural that the movie adaptation should change as well to accommodate them.
2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban‘s movie counterpart is also the third installment in a series of Harry Potter movies. It stars Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, and Rupert Grint and Emma Watson as Harry’s two best friends, Ron and Hermione. These three actors were constant throughout the filming of all eight movies, but they were one of very few aspects of filming that were so. Prisoner of Azkaban, released to theaters in summer of 2004, was directed by Alfonso Cuaron. Cuaron is most recently known for his Oscar-winning direction of Gravity in 2013, but before Azkaban, he was best known for the sexually explicit Y Tu Mama Tambien. Azkaban was Cuaron’s only Potter film; the first two installments were directed by Chris Columbus, the fourth by Mike Newell, and the final four by David Yates.
While he only directed Prisoner of Azkaban, the choices and changes that Cuaron made started a larger shift in style that was continued by future directors in the rest of the films. In comparison to Chris Columbus’s films, Cuaron was less concerned with keeping his film exactly like the books, and more concerned with expanding on larger themes and subtexts. As the series’ content began to darken, Cuaron picked up on what would become a larger theme among the last few books, and he reacted accordingly. Not only does the subject matter in Prisoner of Azkaban darken, but so do the filming techniques.
One Tumblr user condensed every single frame of all eight movies into a barcode, and the results are stunning (image in Appendix). The first segment is full of bright reds and oranges, representative of Chris Columbus’ two films, but right about where the third should be, the palette notably darkens, and never regains its initial warmth. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian points out that, compared to the first two films, Cuaron’s adaptation of Azkaban is “a touch muddier, a hint grainier in its look.”
Cuaron was also tasked with bringing the horrific dementors to life. Rowling’s description of them (on page 83 and mentioned above) was just as detailed as it was terrifying, and Cuaron and his team took her words to heart, creating a creature that would not be out of place in any modern horror flick. The dark and tattered cloak, the spindly, rotting hands, and especially the gaping mouth–all are products of nightmares, brought perfectly to the screen (image included in Appendix).
Cuaron’s film was met with generally good reviews, and it kept up with its predecessors in the series, grossing almost $800 million worldwide.
3. Since the first two books in the Harry Potter series had already been adapted to film, it was natural that this third one should be made. A huge market for them had already been established, and failure was nigh on impossible. Even with such prospects, those involved still strove to make a great film, and the general consensus is that they succeeded. Marian Kester Coombs, in her article Harry Potter Through New Eyes, calls it a “fine, fun movie,” and asserts that her only problem with the movie was caused by a plot device used in the book itself, and therefore no fault of the film. Sean Smith has even more praise for the film, stating that “The ‘Harry Potter’ books have finally gotten the wondrous movie they deserve.”
Many of the series’ most avid fans were disappointed by some of the ways in which Cuaron deviated from the original text. hp-lexicon.org is proof of this, listing all of the changes in chronological order and categorizing them by the type of change. Many of these are small, almost inconsequential details that only those who searched for them deliberately would notice. Some details, however, affect character relationships. In the movie, Arthur Weasley tells Harry about the dangerous murderer who may be out to get him, while in the original text, Harry accidentally overhears Arthur and his wife, Molly, talking about it. In the book, the Weasleys are basically Harry’s foster parents; they love him like one of their own children, and they seek to protect him from such frightening information. However, movie Arthur oversteps this line, perhaps overestimating Harry’s maturity level.
In spite of this, overall, the film was very faithful to the original story; the characters, plot lines, and general narrative are all preserved masterfully. Cuaron even follows the subtly growing darkness of the series in Azkaban, only making subtle changes that allow viewers to feel this darkness on an even deeper level. Alan Vanneman of Bright Lights film journal addresses some of the subtext that was beautifully inserted by Cuaron in the film that might not have been apparent in the book. He gives Professor Lupin, a werewolf who’s been outed and must leave the school, a line that rings familiar to many LGBT people; “No one wants, well, people like me, teaching their children.” This is a masterful interpretation on Cuaron’s part, especially given J.K. Rowling’s later revelation that she based Lupin’s ostracism for his condition on the archetype of a sufferer of AIDS. The stigma that comes with his condition was highlighted by Cuaron in the film.
Overall, while Alfonso Cuaron’s adaptation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was more deviant from the source text than the first two Potter films, it may be better off for it. Those films were so faithful to the text that they watched almost like plays onstage, while Cuaron’s film truly breathed and explored new territory. Of course, the source material also involved exploration for its characters, but in putting the story on film, Cuaron introduced techniques and subtleties that left a lasting impact on die-hard Potter fans and indifferent film critics alike.
1. As a whole, the Harry Potter series follows the adventures of a young wizard and his friends in their ever-growing battle against the most dangerous dark wizard of their time, Lord Voldemort. However, Prisoner of Azkaban does not include Voldemort; instead, it features a disturbed prisoner, Sirius Black, who escapes from prison to hunt Harry down. He is believed to be the reason that Harry’s parents are dead. However, we find that the opposite is true–he tried to save Harry’s parents, and only seeks Harry out so that he can know the truth. The book ends with his flight of freedom, thanks to Harry, who grows to see him as a father figure. The book’s literary merits are undeniable–the whole series is universally appealing, to people of all ages, and is one of the world’s most beloved series.
2. The film version was directed by Alfonso Cuaron, who we now know as the Oscar-winning director of Gravity. Cuaron directed only this Harry Potter film, though; the other seven were directed by a total of 3 others, and the previous two were directed by Chris Columbus. Though the book version was darker than the previous two books, the contrast is more notable between the films; under Columbus, the first two were mostly bright and fun, while Cuaron’s style allows for more intensity and darkness. He also used different filming and editing techniques, giving the film more of a sense of urgency than the other two. Overall, the film keeps up the momentum of its predecessors.
3. The film version faithfully follows the plot of the book, as well as most of its characters, and it follows the tone of the book as the series begins to darken in content. The previous two films were pretty light and fun by comparison, but Prisoner of Azkaban takes a darker turn, both with the trajectory of the series as a whole and with the introduction of dementors. The embodiment of these soul-sucking creatures onscreen makes them even more terrifying by putting a ‘face’ (a decrepit mouth-hole) to the concept. The main problem that many critics have with the film is that, though it is a great film in its own right, it may not necessarily be a great adaptation of the original text. The main obstacle facing the movie’s creators was, of course, the huge and vocal fanbase of the books, including a large number of fans who want the films to be an exact replica of the way they imagined the books. Of course, this couldn’t be done, and many scenes had to be cut or shortened, but Cuaron also added in some subtext that may not have existed in the original stories. He introduced a new element to the character of Remus Lupin, a werewolf, equating his struggles to those of a gay man. (JK Rowling has said that she meant Lupin’s condition to be an allegory for AIDS and the discrimination that its patients face, so he was not far off the mark.)
http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=980DE2D81431F930A35755C0A9629C8B63 This article from the New York Times is a review, but it expands on the differences between Cuaron’s film and the first two Potter installments. The author points out that the first two movies were more similar to the books, but that they watched like ‘staged readings’ of the source material. In contrast, Cuaron achieves a trickier ‘translation’ in his adaptation; he sacrifices a more faithful adaptation for something that packs more of an emotional punch.
http://www.infoplease.com/spot/harrymovie4.html This article is unique in that it addresses what might happen with the future films in the series. (It’s honestly just eerie as the author speculates whether or not the main actors will return for the fifth movie.)
5. The way to defeat a boggart is to turn it into a figure of fun, using the spell “Riddikulus!” In a similar way, how does the film use comedy to keep our darkest fears at bay? Does this make the film escapist entertainment?
The film does use comedy to lessen our fears, but this does not make it an escapist film–far from it. Almost all media with this degree of action and intensity supplies some sort of comic relief, and Prisoner of Azkaban is no different. Humorous moments are thrown in to keep viewers from getting too wrapped up in the action, providing little bursts of light to an otherwise dark film. This does not make it an escapist film–in fact, it does the opposite. The fact that comedy is used to banish the fearful boggart is a testament to the power of humor and positivity; it doesn’t merely distract us from our fears, it helps us to banish them. The “riddikulus” spell is a deliberate and powerful tool in the fight against fear. The spell gives its users the ability to consciously overcome what it is they fear, not run away from it. To quote Professor Dumbledore, “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
1. The original novel was written by science fiction aficionado Philip K. Dick in the 1970s. It’s the story of a world immersed in addiction to a drug called Substance D, as told by a group of strung out addicts who simply float around in this world. The government has ramped up surveillance past even modern levels, making some of the book’s themes relevant today. The main character, known jointly as Bob Arctor the drug dealer and Officer Fred the narcotics agent, swims through his double life with increasing confusion as to his identity. This introduces another central theme of the novel: Dick’s philosophy of the real and unreal being inextricable shine through in this character. Is Bob the addict posing as a narc, or is Fred the narc posing as an addict? Toward the end, even he doesn’t know. His identity is in flux, while his stoner friends float around him, both entirely oblivious and paranoid at the same time. Dick’s inspiration for the novel came from his own gigantic speed habit, and the years he spent as part of the street drug culture in California. He wrote the book to serve as a warning to drug users, and he also supplies a heavy dose of anti-government paranoia.
2. The film version, directed by Richard Linklater, stars Keanu Reeves as Arctor and provides an all-star cast for his stoner friends (including Robert Downey Jr. and Woody Harrelson, who are both brilliant). However, they are not “in” the film in the typical sense; Linklater employed an animation technique called rotoscoping, in which the live action is filmed, but is then “painted over” digitally, creating an effect like that of a graphic novel. While it contains the same paranoia and anti-government sentiments as the book, these themes translate very well for a modern audience–post-9/11 and post-Edward Snowden, our world is just as fearful of a surveillance state.
3. In regards to characters, plotlines, events, etc, A Scanner Darkly is a faithful adaptation of the original story. In fact, Linklater’s decision to use rotoscoping actually helps to preserve the mood of the story in regards to the book’s focus on shifting identity/reality. The animation sometimes floats a little, shifting almost imperceptibly, making viewers question their own eyes–seeing how a befuddled addict might see, especially one like Arctor whose brain is falling apart. Critics also commend the translation of Dick’s humor into the film, where other film adaptations of his works have failed (i.e. Total Recall). However, a resounding criticism of the movie is that it lacks insight into characters’ thoughts, where the book expounds on them with artistic techniques of language by Dick. (Example: in the book, Arctor’s splitting brain is represented with intrusive snippets of Romantic poetry, and this effect is completely absent from the movie.) Another absence from the film is the mystical religious element from the book, specifically the scene were Arctor (now Bruce) discovers the blue flower at New Path. In the book, he achieves a sort of zen spirituality, while in the film, he simply observes. While most of the story’s themes and central elements are maintained, some crucial ones are missing.
4. http://sensesofcinema.com/2006/feature-articles/scanner-darkly/ This article, from one of our film journals, condemns the film as a poor adaptation and a ‘disappointment as a film about drug addiction and paranoia.’ The author asserts that those central themes are peripheral, and that the real beauty of the story lies in the unrealized romance between Arctor and Donna. Theirs is a love story made all the more tragic by Bob’s dependence on Donna’s normalcy before the ending’s final betrayal. In Bob’s drug-addled brain, in his uncertain and shifting sense of identity, she, and his love for her, are constant. This take on the film is unique, and the author compares it to Richard Linklater’s other works and their concepts of love.
5. To adapt A Scanner Darkly to film, the director Richard Linklater uses the “interpolated rotoscope” animation technique. What are the effects on the viewer of such a technique? Was it an appropriate technique for the film, in terms its themes and story?
The rotoscope technique applies certain visual effects to the movie that would not come through in a traditional film, and it is appropriate for A Scanner Darkly given its themes of uncertain identity and drug-induced psychosis. As mentioned above, the rotoscope technique has a tendency to shift a little under our gazes; at certain points, as camera angles changed, I noticed that the human figures seemed to float. Also, the animation was put to great use when trying to replicate the “scramble suits” that the cops wore to disguise their identities; different parts of different bodies morph seamlessly over each person, allowing each person’s concept of identity to blur further. Arctor sees people changing too, but not always in these suits–in a scene where he’s going over surveillance footage from his own house, he watches as the woman in bed next to him changes into Donna for a brief flicker of time. It is unclear whether this is a matter of identity or a matter of Arctor’s own hallucinations, caused by his addiction to Substance D. The rotoscoping puts a sort of surreal veneer over the story, which may have seemed unbelievable had it been shot live-action. It gives viewers a glimpse into the shifting, crumbling occipital lobe of an addict like Arctor.
1. The original No Country for Old Men, written by Cormac McCarthy, is a sparse, bare-bones pesudo-Western set in 1980. McCarthy’s unique prose is dry, yet occasionally poetic, and the book cycles between description of action/landscapes and characters’ inner monologues, specifically those of Anton Chigurh and Sheriff Bell. The story details the lives of these men and their opposing philosophies; Bell’s belief in free will contrasts sharply with Chigurh’s strict adherence to the idea of preordained fate (shown in his methodical killing of almost everyone who crosses his path, as if they were destined to die). Llewelyn Moss’s character dances between these ideals as a morally conflicted young man, who steals money from a drug deal gone wrong, but then also seems to be a redeemable character through the rest of his actions. Author McCarthy does not use quotation marks (or much other punctuation), making it so prose and dialogue mesh together. He paces his novel meticulously, and spends most of it softly yearning for a simpler time in the face of cold modernity, conveyed through the musings of Sheriff Bell.
2. The film version, directed by the Coen brothers and starring Tommy Lee Jones (Sheriff Bell), Javier Bardem (Anton Chigurh), and Josh Brolin (Llewelyn Moss), was critically acclaimed and highly honored at countless award shows. Technically, it’s flawless–the cinematography is precise and beautiful, and its absence of a score captures the silence of Western landscapes in an way that’s unprecedented in its perfection. The movie is tied very closely to the original novel, which makes it difficult to differentiate between the two in their broader elements (storyline, narration, characters).
3. All things considered, this adaptation is very faithful to the original. The story and characters are almost identical, and the screenwriters lifted some dialogue directly from McCarthy’s pages. One main difference, however, is in the pacing of the story’s action. While the book is meticulous and drawn-out in its pace, the movie takes some liberties–some scenes, like Llewelyn’s chase away from the drug deal crime scene by gangsters, are rushed through in the movie. The movie also changed the pacing of Anton’s pursuit of Moss in the motels; while the book describes these in detail, the movie juxtaposes them in order to create and maintain suspense. Some critics have condemned the Coen brothers’ addition of humor to the story as well. The book has very little humor, but the directors added some (much needed) comic relief into an otherwise very intense movie; it changes the tone of the story, and not everyone appreciated the change. Lastly, the film had to cut much of Chigurh’s lengthy discussions with his victims before he killed them, which I think might have been a mistake. Without these, it’s harder to discern Chigurh’s motives for his actions, and that makes him more of a confusing character.
http://brightlightsfilm.com/no-country-for-old-men-breaking-the-rules/#.VMCR9S5RK3M This article, also from a film journal, addresses the lack of resolution as well, going as far as to refer to it as ‘controversial.’ The author compares the film to other movies who have defied convention and ‘broken the rules’ of movie making, including Psycho. By ending the movie the way they did, the Coen brothers defied the tradition of Westerns–not only do the good guys not win in the end, but no one wins. Both the ‘good’ and ‘evil’ characters live to fight another day, with no epic gun battle between them. In fact, Bell and Chigurh never even meet face to face.
5. While Cormac McCarthy’s novel has a smattering of humor, the film version of No Country for Old Men has much more. Is the patented mordant humor of the Coen brothers appropriate for McCarthy’s story, or does it do a disservice to the author’s intent?
Most dramatic stories are well served by a little comic relief. Macbeth’s Porter is the classic example, providing laughter that’s distracting from the heavy tension of the play, but not so funny that it’s out of place. Books and movies both do this in their own ways, but the book version of No Country for Old Men holds very little humor in its dry prose. Thesis: The Coen brothers managed to infuse a decent amount of humor into their adaptation, however, and they do so appropriately. The humor never feels out of place; it is often black comedy, which is appropriate to the mood of the movie. The humor is added in the most appropriate possible way, but it remains to be seen whether or not it does a disservice to McCarthy’s intent. It is impossible to know his intent for certain without discussing it directly with him, but the absence of humor in the original book was likely a deliberate choice. But maybe the book version didn’t need comic relief; it was paced more evenly, so it lacked much the intense suspense presented in the movie. The liberties that the Coen brothers took with pacing needed to be appropriately countered with some tension-relieving humor, and they did just that. It was a necessary addition in the wake of their other adaptations; without it, the movie might have been too suspenseful.
1. The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean is part of a relatively new genre of “creative nonfiction.” Orlean writes about LaRoche, a real person and botany enthusiast, and his orchid stealing operation in Florida. The book is based off her original piece in The New Yorker about this subject. The genre of creative nonfiction is called such because while the subjects are nonfiction, the author of the piece adds their own distinctive voice and thoughts into it. Orlean put her own spin on LaRoche as a fascinating character, where the rest of the world might have seen him as just some weirdo; her melancholic musings about a lack of passion in her own life give the book a unique tone that has been thought of as impossible to adapt to film.
2. The film version, called Adaptation, is a metafictional take on The Orchid Thief, screenwriting, and Hollywood itself. It follows Charlie Kaufman, a screenwriter (and the actual screenwriter of Adaptation, here played by Nicholas Cage) who has been tasked with writing a screenplay for Susan Orlean’s (played by Meryl Streep) book. Charlie is an anxious, socially awkward 40-something who struggles against the current of “sellout” screenwriters like his brother Donald (also Nic Cage). Charlie wants to stay true to The Orchid Thief, capture the spirit of it, while Donald (and his screenwriting teacher) advise him to add some “drama” and “action” or no one will want to see the movie. This ends up being a movie about attempting to make a movie that’s true to the artistic side, rather than being truly about The Orchid Thief and its subjects.
3. Of all the films we’ve watched in class so far, Adaptation is probably the most different from its source text. It runs along similar veins as Tristram Shandy in that it’s incredibly meta; it’s a movie about the difficulty of adapting a non-traditional book for the screen. The largest criticism of this semi-adaptation is that it’s just plain unacceptable; it’s Kaufman copping out of writing out a difficult script. By making this meta-movie, Jonze and Kaufman have deprived viewers of a real Orchid Thief movie, which, presumably, many would rather have seen. Some critics seem to think that this movie violated the valid expectations of viewers everywhere by not giving them a real adaptation. Other critics, however, in agreement that the book just wasn’t filmable, praised Kaufman and Jonze’s adaptation for its originality and nearly flawless execution.
http://sensesofcinema.com/2003/feature-articles/adaptation/ This article, from one of our research links, points to Adaptation as being more of an achievement in entertainment than as a “truly substantive work.” It points out the film’s limitations in comparison to Being John Malkovich (Jonze & Kaufman’s previous joint project), specifically pointing to the film’s ending as a deus ex machina. The most potent point the article makes is that, while the movie claims to be disdainful of Hollywood cliches and conventions, it never truly subverts them. It indulges them in its final moments without providing clarity as to whether or not satire was intended.
5. How does the film reflect the perils and pleasures of writing? How does the writing process differ, for instance, between Susan and Charlie? How about between Donald and Charlie?
This film, in its focus on three different writers, manages to highlight both the perils and pleasures of writing; each character–Donald, Charlie, Susan–experiences both. Susan Orlean, in writing the original Orchid Thief, seems fascinated and enriched by her encounters with Laroche. However, in spending time with this man, whose life is entirely dominated by a different intense passion every few years, Orlean becomes melancholy in her realization that she lacks such passion in her own life. In exploring the life of Laroche, she becomes dissatisfied with the way she lives, and this movie version of her ends up engaging in several destructive behaviors in retaliation, the most severe of which is the attempted murder of Charlie and Donald. Donald mostly sees the pleasures of screenwriting; he appears to put almost no effort into his pandering, formulaic script, and is rewarded with a six-figure contract. However, in the movie’s bizarre ending, Donald is killed; his journey to help his brother write his script ends in his death, and it’s hard not to see his death as symbolic. Out of the three, Charlie experiences the most pain during the creative process; he is crippled by stress and anxiety to the point that he becomes incapable of writing the script. His failure accomplish this task forces him to stare all of his perceived flaws and shortcomings in the face; his relationships suffer along with his livelihood. However, even he achieves some transcendence when the project is finally completed; he manages to maintain a sense of artistry while indulging just enough in Hollywood cliches to make the script sell. Adaptation does a great job of encompassing all of the not-so-glamorous parts of screenwriters’ lives; it pulls back the glossy veneer of Hollywood life and exposes the raw underbelly, in more ways than one.
Concept. Graceling is an exciting fantasy novel written by Kristin Cashore. The main character, Katsa, was born with a Grace: a special and extreme ability. People with Graces are marked by their eyes–each eye is a different color. Her Grace happens to be killing, so her malicious uncle, King Randa of the Middluns, uses her to do his dirty work, torturing people for information and often killing them. On a mission to rescue a kidnapped old man, she runs into a fighter from another land who intrigues her. She believes that he is also Graced with fighting, because he can hold his own against her. When they meet again, she learns that he is Prince Po of Lienid, one of their world’s seven kingdoms. They also learn that King Leck, leader of the kingdom of Monsea, orchestrated the kidnapping of the old man, who Katsa learns is Po’s grandfather. King Leck becomes the main antagonist of the story.
As their friendship grows, Katsa figures out the true nature of Po’s Grace—he is actually skilled in perception, making him essentially a mind-reader. He can fight well because he can anticipate Katsa’s moves before she makes them. Katsa feels violated, knowing that Po has been able to feel her thoughts and emotions the whole time, and mistrust briefly comes between them. Gradually Katsa and Po discover that, despite King Leck’s sterling reputation as a lover of animals and children, he is actually a sadist—he tortures the children and animals he takes in for pleasure, and a mysterious spell is hiding this horrifying secret from the entire country. The two realize that King Leck, who has worn an eye patch since childhood, must be Graced as well, and that he uses the eye patch to cover up his distinctive eyes. His Grace is persuasion, and he uses it to not only hide his sadistic activities, but to manipulate anyone who hears his words.
King Leck’s wife, Ashen, was under the spell of his Grace when she married him, but when his torturous eyes turn to their daughter, Bitterblue, Ashen’s fear and love for her daughter are strong enough to open her eyes. She escapes from Leck’s castle with Bitterblue, and they encounter Po and Katsa in the forest. Ashen is killed, but Po and Katsa rescue Bitterblue and hide her from Leck with the help of both of their Graces. Po is gravely injured in a battle with Leck and his forces during an attempt to assassinate the King, and so it is decided that Katsa and Bitterblue must leave him behind in their journey to safety. Prince Po has his own castle, and after a long and difficult journey that Katsa and Bitterblue barely survive, they arrive at the castle, only to find that King Leck has beaten them there.
Po is there when Katsa and Bitterblue are received, and Katsa is quickly taken up by Leck’s Grace; happy thoughts flood her mind, and she struggles to remember why she should distrust such a nice man. Only when Leck threatens to reveal Po’s Grace—which would put the Prince in insurmountable danger—does Katsa find the strength she needs to resist, and she kills King Leck. As the story comes to a close, Po confesses that the injury he sustained has left him blind; he can function normally, given his Grace of perception, but he is overwhelmed and sickened by his own helplessness and all the outside stimulation he now must take in. Although she loves Po, Katsa decides that they must separate, and she resolves to travel the country, teaching the land’s women how to defend themselves.
Katsa is the main character. She has fair skin, black hair, one green eye and one blue eye. She is short and slight, but strong. At the beginning of the story, she is Graced with killing, and is used relentlessly by her uncle, King Randa, to do his dirty work. This abuse has turned her cold, calculating, and wary, reluctant to trust anyone. She has a handful of good friends, including her cousin, Prince Raffin, around whom she can relax and show her capacity for compassion and fun. But otherwise, she is guarded and obedient out of fear of her uncle; if she refused him, he could turn her out on the streets, and the world’s knowledge of her Grace would make her life very difficult. She has strong morals, however, so when her uncle tries to force her to be unnecessarily cruel, she refuses, showing mercy to a helpless lord whose family owes her uncle money.
We later discover, during a very difficult journey, that Katsa is actually Graced with survival. She is good at killing because of her ability to defend herself; her body can function on very little sleep, food, and water, she can tolerate extreme temperatures, and she has innate knowledge of things like starting fires, which plants are edible or medicinal, and possesses a perfect internal compass. She falls in love with Prince Po, who teaches her to feel, and helps her discover this new aspect of her Grace. She also grows emotionally due to Bitterblue, who she and Po rescue from King Leck; Katsa keeps her alive, awaking more compassion for a stranger than she thought possible. She ends up killing King Leck to save Po, and at the end of the book, she resolves to travel the country, teaching the world’s women to defend themselves. These trials have not hardened her further; they have made her more compassionate.
b. Prince Po is the youngest of the seven princes of Lienid. He has tan skin and dark hair, and one of his eyes is silver while the other is gold. He’s tall, broad-shouldered, and has a relatively thin build. When he first meets Katsa, he is an excellent fighter, and we believe that to be his Grace. He starts out cocky, even teasing Katsa as she fights him, and at the beginning of the book, their relationship is lightheartedly antagonistic. He reveals that his Grace is actually perception (or mind-reading), and though Katsa mistrusts him for this, they have already begun to fall in love. Po feels everything very deeply, and is completely in tune with the world around him.
c. Bitterblue is the daughter of King Leck, and while she is a child in the story, she is still an important character. She is the Princess of Monsea, and when Katsa and Po achieve their goal of killing him, she becomes the queen. She starts out as a frightened little girl who has just seen her mother die, and who has been resisting her father’s desire to torture her. She is initially timid and mistrustful, but comes into her own when Katsa teaches her to fight. Though she is physically very small and weak, she is quick and determined, and Katsa’s teachings help her to gain confidence. When she takes the throne of Monsea at the end, she is not entirely ready, but she is hardened and strengthened by her recent trials and rises to the occasion.
d. King Leck, king of the country of Monsea, is the story’s main villain, and rightfully so. His Grace allows him to manipulate anyone who hears his voice, and he can not only alter their perceptions, but their memories of their perceptions. He uses his ability to convince everyone that he is a lover of children and animals, when in reality, he takes them in in order to sadistically torture them. He got his wife to marry him with is Grace, and they had a child, who eventually becomes the object of his torturous fantasies.
e. King Randa is Katsa’s uncle, and king of the Middluns. He is the preliminary antagonist; simply a one-dimensional, power-hungry king who uses Katsa as a political tool.
f. Prince Raffin and Bann are Katsa’s friends in Randa’s court. Raffin is her cousin, a relatively happy and stable character, who is somewhat of a scientist. Bann is his assistant and friend, and together they are constantly experimenting.
g. Other minor characters include: Giddon, a lord in Randa’s court, Oll, a spy and friend of Katsa’s, Helda, Katsa’s maid, Ashen, King Leck’s wife and Po’s aunt, and Tealiff, Po’s kidnapped grandfather.
Themes. A central theme of the novel is identity. Katsa starts out as a relatively static character, but she learns more and more about herself as the story unfolds. She realizes that one of the most central aspects of her identity, her Grace, has been misinterpreted her entire life. She is not a killer—she is a survivor. Po also struggles with his identity; his Grace makes him such an attractive political tool that he hides it from almost everyone. He denies a central aspect of his identity, and revealing it to Katsa (eventually) allows them to connect even more deeply.
Another central theme of Graceling is the theme of power, and the different forms it takes. Katsa is arguably the most physically powerful character in the book; she can kill anyone who comes up against her. But others have emotional power over her. Her friends keep her compassionate and merciful, and remind her that there are good people in the world. Her uncle also holds emotional power over her; his threat to turn her out on the street is dangerous because she would lose her only friends, and with her reputation, it is doubtful that she would be able to make new ones. The threat of emotional isolation scares Katsa into being obedient. King Leck is also an example of a different kind of power—his Grace enables him to bend anyone to his will. His power is psychological, which makes him incredibly dangerous. Even Po’s power is dangerous; he has emotional power in that he can know in an instant how someone feels, how they are going to react to something, or how they will choose to act in any situation. All of these characters wield tremendous power, although in different forms, and are influenced by the power that each of the others possess.
Location. The setting of the book changes often; crucial action takes place in castles, in forests, in mountains, and even on the deck of a traveling ship. Katsa, Po and Bitterblue travel between at least three fictional countries—the Middluns, Monsea, and the island of Lienid. The sequences indoors and on the merchant ship could be shot in a studio, but most of the other scenes should be shot on location. Lienid is a glorious island kingdom, so I’d suggest a rocky but tropical Mediterranean location, possibly off the coast of Greece. Monsea’s snowy mountains could be shot anywhere with mountains, with the Rockies likely being the easiest. The scenes of travel through forests and countryside could be shot in the northern US or Canada, and some should ideally be shot in grassy clearings between trees.
Katsa moves to pass Po as he blocks her path to her chambers. He moves in front of her once more, and she strikes out at his face. It’s a feint, one that he ducks away from easily, but she then jams at his stomach with her knee. He twists out of the way so the blow misses him, and lands a punch to her stomach. She jumps and kicks at his chest. He falls to the ground, and she throws herself on top of him, striking him in the face several times, and jabs her knee into his side before he throws her off. She leaps on him again, but as she tries to pin his arms, he flips her onto her back and pins her with the weight of his body. She curls her legs up and tosses him away, and then both are on their feet again, circling, crouching, striking out at each other with hands and feet. She kicks at his stomach, barrels into his chest, and they topple to the ground again. A few more blows are landed before Katsa hears Po’s laughter. She laughs as well.
Katsa [to Raffin]: “Where is he?”
Po [coming into view]: “There’s something I need to tell you, Katsa.”
K [to Po]: “You’re a mind reader. You’re a mind reader, and you lied to me.”
P [quietly]: “I am not a mind reader.”
K: [yelling] “And I am not a fool, so stop lying to me! Tell me, what have you learned? What thoughts of mine have you stolen?”
P: “I am not a mind reader. I sense people.”
K: “And what’s that supposed to mean? It’s people’s thoughts that you sense!”
P [earnestly]: “No, Katsa. Listen. I sense people. Think of it as my night vision, Katsa, or the eyes in the back of my head you’ve accused me of having. I sense people when they’re near me, thinking and feeling and moving around, their bodies, their physical energy. It is only… [swallows] It is only when they’re thinking about me that I also sense their thoughts.”
K [screaming]: “And that’s not mind reading?!”
P: “All right. It does involve some mind reading. But I can’t do what you think I can do.”
K: “You lied to me. I trusted you.”
Graceling is, at its roots, a coming-of-age novel. The young protagonists face unimaginable challenges in their elaborate and unique fantasy world, but the foundations of the novel show them on a journey of self-discovery. They grow and mature as they learn about themselves, their abilities, and their capacities for greatness. This world is captivating, its action is fast-paced and gruesome, but its characters are completely relatable, especially to a teenage and young adult audience. The text begs to be filmed; words on a page can only convey so much of these characters’ emotions. Truly seeing what they feel through the eyes of talented actors will elevate this text to new heights. This will not be a film about travel; much of the book’s travel sequences will be shortened or cut. It will be a film about an impossible quest against insurmountable evil, and the power of connection against all odds.
1. The Hours, by Michael Cunningham, was inspired by Virginia Woolf’s first novel, Mrs. Dalloway. Cunningham replicates Woolf’s style, which was, at the time of its writing, groundbreaking in its experimentality; she wrote in stream-of-consciousness, which made Mrs. Dalloway famously difficult to adapt to film. Cunningham, too, wrote in a stream-of-consciousness style, though it’s been done so much since Woolf’s time that it is hardly groundbreaking anymore. The novel follows three strong female characters–Virginia Woolf herself, as she writes Mrs. Dalloway in the 1920s, Laura Brown, a suicidal 1950s housewife tortured by monotony, and Clarissa Vaughn, a modern woman dealing with the slow AIDS death of a past lover. All of these women are united by Mrs. Dalloway, and all three have deep emotional ties to both Mrs. Dalloway and to literature in general–Clarissa as an editor, Virginia as an author, and Laura as a reader.
2. The film adaptation, while thought to be impossible due to the unconventional narrative structure of the book, was actually extremely well done. It has an all-star cast–Meryl Streep as Clarissa, Julienne Moore as Laura, and Nicole Kidman (+ prosthetic nose) as Virginia Woolf. All of these women are exceptional actors, and some give the performances of their lives in this film; each portrays a tortured, complex, and thoroughly nuanced and dynamic character, and they all brim over with emotion and passion. The movie follows the women’s lives separately, but gives them each little nuances to show audiences that they are indeed connected–each character breaks eggs into a bowl, some put up their hair in the same way, some prefer the same types of flowers. Their connection is made obvious as they wander along their separate timelines.
3. As mentioned previously, the style of the novel is not very conducive to film, but if we’ve learned anything from this class, it’s that nothing is impossible. Director Stephen Daldry and screenwriter David Hare both adapted the book beautifully into an almost seamless narrative on screen. One of the major changes from the book, though, that critics seem to revile, is the connection the director chose to make between the characters’ separate storylines. At the end, Clarissa meets an aged Laura, who turns out to be Richard’s mother, who comes into town after his suicide. We learn that Laura left her family, and that Richard hated her for it, but the final scenes show Clarissa and her daughter Julie both sympathizing with Laura’s struggle. She knew she would kill herself if she stayed with her family, so she left, saved herself, and the final scene is one of forgiveness. Many critics think this disrupted the perfect triangular structure they’d managed to believably maintain throughout the movie, keeping the characters’ lives separate but parallel.
http://www.chasingthefrog.com/reelfaces/thehours.php This brief article addresses a couple of factual disparities in the movie regarding Virginia Woolf’s life, including especially the rather poetic final letters she leaves for her husband and sister in the movie.
http://www.traditioninaction.org/movies/004mrTheHours.htm This article is a review, but I had to include it because it’s absolutely disgusting. The author not only disapproves of the movie’s tendency to glorify death, but she is also a raging homophobe. She is “repulsed” by the “lesbian tendencies” of the three main women and refers to the movie as a “moral abyss.” This article is by no means a scholarly argument–I was more repulsed by it than the author was by the movie–but I felt I had to include it for its painful one-sidedness and cruelty.
5. “At one point, Virginia Woolf’s sister, Vanessa Bell, says that a writer is lucky because he or she gets to live the life they’re living, and the life or lives of their characters. How does the film show that this kind of imagination can be unlucky? And how does this correspond with the experience of a film viewer?”
The film (and the book) show just how unlucky a writer’s imagination can be. Virginia is the obvious case here–she imagines a world in which she is allowed to roam free, torturing herself on the page by torturing Mrs. Dalloway. She is preparing for a party in her normal, everyday life, but all the while contemplates suicide as she realizes just how different this matronly life is from what she wants. Woolf imagines this character escaping from her binds, and so Woolf herself is able to imagine suicide as a viable option. Laura Brown, though not a writer, is also tortured by her imagination; she is so stifled by her mundane housewife role that she, too, considers suicide as part of a long battle with depression. She lives an entirely different life in her mind, prompted by her secretive reading of Mrs. Dalloway, and only when she breaks out and achieves her imagined life does she avoid death at her own hands. Lastly, Clarissa Vaughn is tormented by her imagination, but this time, she is imagining the past, not some ideal future. Clarissa knew happiness once; she mentions thinking that it was the beginning of happiness, but that it turned out to be the real thing. Since then, it’s been gone, and she’s romanticized the past with Richard so much that her average present is eating her up inside. While it is a writer’s gift to be able to imagine and live multiple lives, for these women, it was a curse.
This also parallels the viewers’ experience when watching a film, but maybe not in such a crucial way. These women are all made miserable by the vibrancy of their imaginations, while film viewers are, more often than not, enriched by the experience of someone else’s life unfolding onscreen. I think it’s a personal thing–I consider myself lucky whenever I walk away from a film feeling anything, good or bad. The main difference, I think, between the film viewer and the writer, is that the viewer chooses what movies to see, when to see them, etc. The writer, on the other hand, always has the movie playing in her head.
1. Pride & Prejudice was my first taste of Jane Austen, and I must admit, as a 16-year-old girl, I was smitten with it. Honestly, I’m still quite taken with it now. In 10th grade, we explored the book’s humorous satire regarding gender relations and classism as well as its comedy-of-errors style. Austen has a signature voice, satirical and yet connective, which is what made many of her books irresistible. Pride & Prejudice explores the lives of Britain’s politically conservative 18th century gentry class, specifically the “selling” of women from families and their potential as tools for economic advancement. Austen’s novel explores these themes, but also turns them on their heads, allowing her protagonist, strong-willed and intelligent Elizabeth, to choose to marry for love, rather than for her family’s gain.
2. Bride & Prejudice is Austen’s novel, put in a modern and global context. Director Gurinder Chadha (behind Bend It Like Beckham) combined traditional Bollywood cinema with the style of American musicals and regular cinema to create this unique hybrid of a film, which is still largely based on the plot of Austen’s novel. Though it was written in 18th century Britain, the novel has lent itself well to multiple film adaptations–however, Bride & Prejudice may be the one that is most different from the original novel. It takes place in both a different time and different country, bringing the story to light in an entirely different culture. Amritsar, a small Indian town, is now the setting, and the mysterious suitors hail from London and Los Angeles, respectively. Austen’s familiar plot plays out on a global scale, and is peppered delightfully with traditional Hindi dances and adorably cheesy musical numbers.
3. As with most film versions of older novels, modernization is often the largest point of conention. Modernizing a novel like Pride & Prejudice, set in the 18th century, carries with it the possibility of appealing to a much wider audience, but it also risks being very unfaithful to the original story. This seems to be one of the largest successes of Bride & Prejudice; in order to modernize a plot about arranged classist marriages, it appears to have paid off to use a culture that had a more recent history of such unions. It still feels contrived and risky in this respect, however; this stereotype of Indian culture is being displaced as of late. Another issue many have with the adaptation is the snuffing out of Austen’s distinctive authorial voice; her narration is dry, yet humorous and endearing, part of what has kept generations of readers interested in her books. Narration like this, in any book, is almost always lost when translated to film, and so it is with Bride & Prejudice as well.
http://www.janeausten.co.uk/bride-and-prejudice-bollywoods-pride-and-prejudice-extravaganza/ This source is a comparison of the book and movie written by someone who greatly admires the original Austen works, and she exalts the movie as just being more Austen greatness that fans will eat up, regardless of the content. She also talks about how Bride & Prejudice emphasizes the close relationship of Mr. Bakshi to his daughters, as he is the calm where Mrs. Bakshi is the storm. She points out too how we are able to empathize more with Chanda (as opposed to Charlotte) because in marrying Mr. Kholi, she will not inherit the Bakshi estate, as would have happened in the original story. Chanda is more forgivable, not only by Lalita, but by the audience.
http://revistas.um.es/ijes/article/view/ijes.12.1.118181/134241 This source is a critical article from the International Journal of English Studies. It addresses Bride & Prejudice as a transnational and multi-genre film, and it analyzes the movie’s interpretation of the East-West culture clash in a modern context.
5. The character of Mr. Collins in the book is represented by Mr. Kholi in the film. Are they a good match? Why or why not?
The Mr. Kholi-Mr. Collins match is perfect, I think. I knew who Mr. Kholi was supposed to be as soon as he showed up on screen, and he was everything I wished Mr. Collins could have been. He was insufferably annoying, a bumbling idiot, and made to look like the least attractive possible option for Lalita, just like the original Mr. Collins. I thought the adaptation of him to fit the movie’s modern Indian-American context was great; he is an accountant in America, successful enough that Mrs. Bakshi practically insists that Lalita marry him, and is just as disrespectful to Lalita in his proposal (it is still all about him, not her). Mr. Kholi may be even funnier than Mr. Collins with the addition of the visual element, especially at the dinner table; I almost cried laughing when Lalita described watching him eat as being “like looking at a Jackson Pollock painting.” The family cannot respect Mr. Kholi because of the way he cast aside his home and culture to assimilate in America, just as (most of) the Bennetts could not respect Mr. Collins for his primitive and selfish philosophy about marriage.
1. The original Tristram Shandy is a book about writing a book. Author Laurence Sterne attempts to pen the life story of the unfortunate Tristram, but he struggles with it so much that the story becomes a book about writing a book. Sterne experiments extensively with narrative form, anticipating more modern styles of literature in the process; he is reflexive, satirical, and experimental. Sterne ends up deciding that the book is impossible to write.
2. Just like how the book is about writing a book, the film is about making the film. It’s filmed like a pseudo-documentary, featuring Steve Coogan playing Steve Coogan playing Tristram Shandy. The film focuses simultaneously on the adaptation of the book and the lives of the actors. They have their petty fights and explore their fragile egos, and the entire thing seems like a mockery of hollywood life and filming in general.
3. The book was thought to be unfilmable, and honestly, the movie neither supports nor refutes this statement. The film adaptation is about as good as it can possibly be–while it isn’t necessarily “true to the book” (it really can’t be), it captures the tricky, experimental, meta quality of the book. The book experimented with narrative structure in ways that can’t be translated well to film, but the film adapts these in its own way.
http://www.avclub.com/review/tristram-shandy-a-cock-and-bull-story-4117 This article from the AV Club addresses something that none of the others have. It states that the funniest scene in the whole movie is when they call Gillian Anderson to be in the movie and play the part they’ve spontaneously decided to add, and Robert Brydon’s subsequent clumsy flirtation with her. It’s important because it seems like they missed a lot of the humor that translated from the book.
5. How is the film a mockumentary (a documentary parody) and a parody of a “making of” film? And is such a project within the spirit of Sterne’s novel?
The film is a mockumentary in that it is filmed like a documentary, but none of the reality that’s shown is actually “real.” Steve Coogan is really playing an altered version of himself–similar to his normal life, yes, but exaggerated to the point of satire. It’s a parody of a making-of film in that it’s really a making-of a making-of film; what’s supposed to be real about the film is also acting, giving another layer to the parody.. This is completely in the spirit of the original novel; the original is a massive satirical parody of writing books, full of experimentation, and the film does the exact same.