-Article/rant by Paul Ewbank-
I assume most of you know what Room 101 is, but just in case, it was a TV show inspired by Orwell’s 1984 in which celebrities argue the case for their specific pet peeves to be banished forever into ‘room 101’. Naturally I have often pondered what would be on my list. Aside from the obvious things like Bruce Forsyth and people who put empty pistachio shells back in the bowl with the rest of the nuts (there’s literally NOWHERE else you could put them that would be as inconvenient), one phrase which would definitely rot in the depths of room 101 if I had my way would be “I liked the book better than the film”. Why? Too many times I have found myself in variants of the following scenario:
Person 1: have you seen the new X film?
Person 2: Yeah. It was ok. I preferred the book.
Person 1: Yeah. The film misses loads of bits out.
Person 2: And they changed loads of it.
Person 3: I actually thought the film was better.
At which point persons 1 and 2 exchange a sad looks that says “poor person 3. He just doesn’t get it like we do. Poor, uncultured boor.” Well I got news for you, you smug pseudo-intellectual pansies, so listen up. Book? Long. Lots of pages. Can be read over many days. Film? SHORT. Has to hold your attention solidly for two hours. OF COURSE IT’S GOING TO MISS THINGS OUT! And before you give me that crap about the film having changed your favourite part of the book, let me remind you that CHANGE is not a synonym for RUIN. Altering your favourite work is not a capital offence, it’s a new interpretation. A fresh way of looking at it. Don’t throw a massive hissy fit just because your poor brain cannot comprehend anything being different to how you expected it to be.
Now I’m not saying that every single film adaptation is better than its book original. Heck, I’m not saying that most films beat the books. All I ask is that an adaptation be treated as what it is: a separate entity. No longer should different be treated as inherently bad when it comes to changing the source material. And to prove it beyond any doubt, here is a selection of apocalyptic and dystopian films which are unquestionably (and by ‘unquestionably’ I mean ‘according to me’) better than the book they were based on. Bring the controversy. Bring it on, bitches.
A Scanner Darkly
Ok, this one probably won’t be very contentious on the grounds that no one has really heard of either the book or the film. Read my Phillip K Dick review for a full synopsis of both. Dick has had a pretty rocky relationship with adaptations, most of which grab a couple of cool ideas from his works and discard all the twisty, messy details, opting to create more mainstream (although not necessarily bad) blockbusters like Minority Report and Total Recall. Scanner breaks this trend in that it’s an incredibly faithful adaptation: taking more or less every detail from the book and rendering it in trippy, shimmering animation and drugged-out dialogue. The distinctive look, unhinged performances and mesmerising score add whole new dimensions to the film and concepts from the book like the scramble suit and some of the hallucinations are brought fully to life by the stunning visuals. I’d recommend checking out both, but the film of A Scanner Darkly is not to be missed.
I’m not gonna talk for long on this one as I’m not a massive fan of Blade Runner or its source, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (There’s one thing they got better in the film straight off- the title…), but Blade Runner is indisputably the better work. The book had a lot more of Dick’s signature mind warping unreality obsession, but the film’s questions about life and artificiality are far more interesting. Plus, Harrison Ford.
A Clockwork Orange
I really did like the Anthony Burgess novel, and yes there’s a lot of good stuff in it that didn’t make the film. But, that opening shot. The meshing of ultra violence and Beethoven. The brainwashing sequence. Malcolm freaking McDowell. The visualisation, score, and headlong plunge into farcical comedy on the part of Stanley Kubrick’s awe-inspiring adaptation make this one a no brainer, droog.
Ooooh, now we’re getting controversial. At the risk of enraging half the nerd universe (who of course are all avid readers of ABLOGALYPSE), the graphic novel was…ok. It was nicely drawn and it had some interesting characters and twists on superhero clichés. But, I’m sorry, it was also massively ponderous, pretentious and muddled. Watchmen the book belongs to a subset of dystopian fiction which seems to think of itself as being extremely important. As such its schoolboy politics are treated like divine proclamation and the self-important ramblings of its characters take up half the book and are incredibly grating. The worst part is that a whole subculture has been taken in by it; apparently acting like a revolutionary, incisive masterpiece is enough to make people think you actually are one. Peel away the pretension and there’s surprisingly little left. Just a half decent superhero story and a naked blue guy on Mars.
The film, being an attempt at a faithful adaptation of a basically unfilmable comic by ultra-fan Zack Snyder, shares a lot of the problems of its source, and adds a few of its own. The thing is interminably long, pointlessly explicit and makes frequent use of lowest common denominator references and song choices, but it looks absolutely fantastic and for the most part does away with the political and social commentary crap that bogs down so much of the comic. Trimming away the pretentious excess (Tales of the Black Freighter, all that nonsense about the incidental characters) allows the remaining existential ruminations and superhero inversions to feel a tad less pointless. I did miss some of the extra detail in the character’s backstories, but it’s a worthwhile sacrifice. And I don’t want to ruin it but the ending to the film is way better, makes much more sense and feels a lot less like a case of dues ex squida. I mean machina. Deus ex machina. Ahem.
Every Marvel film except Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Elektra and presumably Howard the Duck
Ok this is the one that’s gonna get me shot. But think about it: taking the incredibly niche, ultra convoluted, highly self referential world of superhero comics and not only turning them into workable self contained films but making those films the biggest blockbusters of the new millennium is quite a feat. The effect this had on popular culture was huge. Having ‘read the comics’ before seeing the film was now a credentials-boosting status symbol rather than something you’d want to keep to yourself. Comics were becoming cool. By the time Marvel’s latest slew of films came around, Superheroes had pretty much taken over Hollywood and inter-film continuity was big business. Who woulda thought?
Now, I like my comics. I’m not a huge fan, but I enjoy a bit of Deadpool or BPRD as much as the next guy. But this elitist idea that the comics are vastly superior and the film adaptations are dumbed down, mainstream versions of beloved characters and franchises is something I just can’t buy into. The films are AWESOME. The comics…honestly? Not in the same league. I understand the mentality behind this kind of attitude. For so long comic books were our thing. They were something only for the few- us nerds who didn’t care what other people thought of us. And since the films, suddenly everyone was raving about Thor and Iron Man and we didn’t quite know how to react. It felt like our identity as comic book fans was being diluted or even taken away. So I understand where people are coming from when they give the knee-jerk reaction that “the films are good, but I prefer the comics”. But I can’t say I agree. Nobody wants to admit it but the majority of our beloved comic books aren’t all we think they are. They’re enjoyable, sure, but the rudimentary artwork and simultaneously derivative and overly-complicated storylines sure aren’t worthy of the biblical status we assign them. People say they create a massive, inter related world with thousands of characters and decades of history. I say that if your story relies on me having read 100 other stories to appreciate it then you’re either a very shrewd marketer or else you suck at telling stories. For what they are, for the enjoyment you get from them, comics are overpriced, overrated and at times just not very good. The films, on the other hand, are exceptional: everything Marvel has done since Iron Man has been pure entertainment: fantastic characters, straightforward but engaging storylines, great performances and superb special effects. Other developers have had their share of successes too; from the Dark Knight to Hellboy to Kick Ass, the world of superhero films is rich, varied and continuing to get better each year. Meanwhile the comics try one half-assed reboot after another, trying to salvage some kind of order from decades of nonsensical stories and indulgent detours into parallel universes and the like. Superheroes are great, but for me the movies are the definitive way to experience them. I can still enjoy the comics, but I’ll be watching The Dark Knight again long before I think to re-read The Killing Joke.
Were this not a blog solely about dystopian and apocalyptic stories I would add countless others to the examples above; 2001 A space Odyssey, The Godfather, Die Hard, Memento and, dare I say it, Lord of the Rings to name but a few. Man, looking at all these classic films makes me wonder how the notion that the book has to be better ever came about. Of course there are counter examples- I’m well aware that the Harry Potter films, even the good ones, don’t hold a candle to the books. And this is probably a good time to state that I’m not trying to piss anybody off with my opinions. If you prefer the book or the comics or think I’m talking rubbish*, then more power to you. It’s not these specific examples which I’d defend to the death. It’s the mentality that there are some forms of art which are intrinsically higher or better than others which I can’t stand. Film adaptations get such a bad rep for such stupid reasons and I’m tired of being told I’m a moron for liking them.
* Liz -I think Paul talks rubbish all the time…