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Why do they DO that?!! - The Fucking Bluebird of Goddamn Happiness [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Zoethe

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Why do they DO that?!! [Oct. 21st, 2005|11:27 am]
Zoethe
[Current Mood |angryirked]

This morning when I received my "Opening this Weekend" e-mail from yahoo!movies, the ad at the top was for Bee Season, which will have a limited opening on November 11. There is no general opening listed, so either they are aiming for the Oscars or they consider it a small film.

Now, three weeks ago I finished reading the novel upon which the movie is based. It is an intense, disturbing book - so disturbing that it took me a while to decide that I liked it. On the surface, it is the story of a very average little girl in a family of overachievers who turns out to be a speller of savant brilliance. Her father, who has never had much reason to interact with her, focuses all his attention on prepping her for the next spelling bee, and that change of attentions upsets the family dynamic, leading to a lot of upheaval.

Beneath this, the book is about ceremony and ritual, spirituality and the meaning of life. People acting in radically different ways are actually paralleling each other's journeys, beneath the surface. It's about seeking in similar ways to "A River Runs Through It" (the book), but is much more verbal and therefore can probably be more successfully tranferred to the screen than the symbolism was in "A River Runs Through It" (the movie).

Except.

I'm watching the trailer, and immediately it is clear that movie people can't just leave stuff alone. The father, who in the book is a cantor and househusband, now works in an office, drives an Alpha Romeo, and does not wear a yarmulka. The shared activity of the father and older brother - playing guitars together - has been "upgraded" to the violin and the cello, presumably because these are much more intellectual instruments. The mother, a hard-hitting, top-flight attorney who has serious intimacy issues, appears to be hesitant and vulnerable from the beginning, under the thumb of the husband instead of locked into a much more interesting and unconscious power struggle with him.

They seem like small things, but when you consider that the heart of the story is Kaballah, Hare Krishna, and kleptomania, it's obvious that changing the dynamic of the relationships might have a really serious impact on the whole meaning of the film.

I don't get why the Hollywood people feel like they need to do such things. While I can understand that they may well rearrange the events of the book and omit certain parts in order to create a more movie feel, why do they then have to muck around with the foundations of the characters and drag us further from the source material than ever?

The one review on IMDB indicates that it works, and I really hope it does. But, man, I don't get this compulsive need to molest the material, put your fingerprints all over each individual part of it. It's frustrating.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: celticdragonfly
2005-10-21 03:33 pm (UTC)
The best explanation I ever saw for this was an author who said "Editors just don't like the taste until they've peed in it themselves." It seems to apply to Hollywood too. I suppose if they didn't do this the movie types wouldn't feel important enough.

Damn shame.
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[User Picture]From: theferrett
2005-10-21 03:44 pm (UTC)
Oh, yeah. I saw whole book lines swallowed up by that need to recreate.
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[User Picture]From: the_siobhan
2005-10-21 04:53 pm (UTC)
I have never forgiven them for what they did to Tank Girl.
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[User Picture]From: geekjul
2005-10-21 03:38 pm (UTC)
All I know is that now I really want to read that book. Sounds like something I would enjoy, so thanks!
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-10-21 03:40 pm (UTC)
I highly recommend it. It has definitely stayed with me.
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[User Picture]From: wolflady26
2005-10-21 03:43 pm (UTC)
I wonder how much the technicalities discussed in this post have to do with it.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-10-21 04:05 pm (UTC)
Huh. I have to read that through again more thoroughly later.
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[User Picture]From: wolflady26
2005-10-21 04:07 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it's long, but an interesting look into the business behind turning books into movies.
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[User Picture]From: theferrett
2005-10-21 03:44 pm (UTC)
I never get the concept. I mean, why did you buy the book?
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-10-21 04:05 pm (UTC)
Me, or the Hollywood guys?
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[User Picture]From: theferrett
2005-10-21 04:26 pm (UTC)
Hollywood, natch. Why the hell would you pay money for something you intend to change the core of?

I suppose the definition of "core" varies, though. When there are people bitching that they removed the poetry from LotR, I guess your view on a given book can vary wildly.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-10-21 04:39 pm (UTC)
I suspect they are decisions made in committee by "focus groups" trying to reach the widest audience and in fear of confusing anyone - thereby watering down the whole thing. Where a movie like A River Runs Through It gets made by Robert Redford his own damned way because he has the money, muscle, and vision to do it. Or LOTR by Peter Jackson because he a) Gets the studio on his side, and b) does it so damned far away from the center of Hollywood bureaucracy that no one can keep track of it.
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[User Picture]From: kid_lit_fan
2005-10-21 05:37 pm (UTC)
LOTR, I can see. Time issues, and it's a lot easier/quicker to read (or skim) 4,000 lines of poetry than to read them out loud, and sometimes an interesting visual is more important onscreen than interesting words (my favorite example of this is the die-Mama-die scenes in the book and movie of Carrie. SPOILERS: In the book, she visualizes her Momma's heart and slowly and calmly stops it. It's quite chilling, and very satisfying to read. In the movie, knives fly and stab Momma to the wall in a cruciform position. It makes sense in context, and Mom's dead when she's supposed to be.)

But if a book's a heart-wrenching drama how difficult it is for a young female writer to make it in the 18th century, I don't want to see a wacky modernized comedy about how the only way to be accepted is to be a stripper. At least not with the same title and character names.
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[User Picture]From: kmg_365
2005-10-21 05:41 pm (UTC)
Was anyone bitching about the removal of Tom Bombadill? [g]
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-10-21 05:55 pm (UTC)
Yes, actually some people were.

Amazing, huh?

(Personally, I love Tom, but he definitely had no place in the movie.)
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[User Picture]From: kmg_365
2005-10-21 06:27 pm (UTC)
Too stunned for words. Although it would have been interesting to see how the general public took to the "let's all take a bath together" scene. ;-)
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[User Picture]From: lysana
2005-10-21 06:50 pm (UTC)
That, I think, would be the scene that launched a thousand 'ships in slash fandom.
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[User Picture]From: kmg_365
2005-10-21 07:12 pm (UTC)
LOL!

As would this picture:

Kiss, Me, Jedi
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[User Picture]From: kmg_365
2005-10-21 03:51 pm (UTC)
I guess the focus groups that Hollywood uses determined that the characters as described in the book wouldn't appeal to the general population. Which would seem odd, since it is a limited engagement film.

Now that I think of it, though, I can't remember the last movie I've seen where a character was wearing a yarmulka. Have they become taboo?
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-10-21 04:07 pm (UTC)
The father's intense Judaism is so much the catalyst for the rest of the story, I don't know how they can skim over it lightly.

Interesting question. I should hope they haven't become taboo!
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[User Picture]From: kmg_365
2005-10-21 04:10 pm (UTC)
I should hope they haven't become taboo!

I would hope so, too. But can you think of a recent movie that featured an actor wearing one? Or even a tv show, for that matter?
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-10-21 04:21 pm (UTC)
Not offhand.
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[User Picture]From: myrrhdusa
2005-10-21 04:05 pm (UTC)
I can give you the pat answer, which sometimes is true with a lot of book-movie evolutions, but sometimes not.

People that read books can catch the nuances of subtext and hidden meanings because they have the benefit of narration, wording and other literary devices. They also tend to be (on the whole) more intelligent and open minded than the movie viewing public (on the whole).

When books make the transition, some things won't be caught by the general viewing public, so what was a subtle character flaw has to be painted in big, garish strokes (or so they think). And anything that is of possible exclusion or sympathy to any one group has to be processed into pablum, because we movie goers are such a finiky and prejudiced/PC lot.

At least that's what I've read. More than likely not everyone on a film feels that way, but studios like money, not art.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-10-21 04:08 pm (UTC)
Yeah, but as I said elsewhere, the father's Judaism is a huge crux to the story, so no yarmulka is just weird.

Unless the explanation is so simple as, Richard Gere wouldn't wear one....
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[User Picture]From: myrrhdusa
2005-10-21 04:18 pm (UTC)
Of course I don't know, but I doubt it. Gere has never been afraid to do much for a role.

Anti-semetic producer/director/writer? I have no clue.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-10-21 04:22 pm (UTC)
Definitely can't be that - it's all about judaism and that is retained!
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[User Picture]From: myrrhdusa
2005-10-21 06:30 pm (UTC)
Maybe it just looked goofy on him. :-)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-10-21 04:09 pm (UTC)
And they left A River Runs Through It so cryptic that I had to explain the symbolism to others. And Like Water for Chocolate was almost too faithful to the book.

Yeah, they were small-release films, but so is this.
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[User Picture]From: myrrhdusa
2005-10-21 04:19 pm (UTC)
You know, I've not read or seen either of those!
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-10-21 04:36 pm (UTC)
Both are beautiful, but whereas Like Water for Chocolate can almost be swapped out, book for movie, River is a much richer experience if you read the novella first.

It also stars a very young and handsome Brad Pitt in his first major role.
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[User Picture]From: laplor
2005-10-21 05:46 pm (UTC)

Completely off the topic but it's the icon

I could swear as I'm reading you today, I keep hearing Aeryn Sun's voice saying your words. Kind of fun, really.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-10-21 06:04 pm (UTC)

Re: Completely off the topic but it's the icon

I wish I had Aeryn Sun's voice. Mmmmm.
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[User Picture]From: shezan
2005-10-21 06:21 pm (UTC)
When Trois Hommes et un Couffin was remade into Three Men and a Baby in Hollywood, everybody got a social raise up several notches. The airline stewart became an airline pilot - and a captain at that; the out-of-work actor becomes a successful actor; the layout designer becomes an architect, etc...
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[User Picture]From: mentalwasteland
2005-10-21 06:30 pm (UTC)
This makes me think of two things I encountered recently. One is the movie Sahara, which I saw on DVD recently. Evidently, it seriously diverges from the book on a couple of major plot hooks. The author of the book, Clive Cussler, is a huge bestseller, and used his clout to get a contract that said he had the right to approve or reject producer, director, and script for the movie. They made huge changes to the pre-approved script while in production without his okay, and he is suing them over the changes.

The second thing is a short story in Grant Morrison's collection Smoke and Mirrors, in which he describes a marginally fictionalized version of his experiences in Hollywood.

And writing this makes me think of a novel I read some years ago called Phoenix Without Ashes. It is a novelization of the pilot episode of a 70s TV SF show called The Starlost, about a generational starship in trouble. The original series was conceived by Harlan Ellison, who hated how the series turned out (okay, well, he hates everything done by anyone else...). In a forward to the novel, he describes his experience. He summarized it as (as best as I can recall):

It was like climbing a Mount Everest of shit in order to pluck the single perfect rose growing at the top, only to discover that the climb has completely destroyed your sense of smell."
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-10-22 06:40 am (UTC)
Yeah, Sahara the movie diverges greatly from the book in a couple of ways. Both are pretty much equally ludicrous and bone-headed, just in very different ways. Though they did take out one of the truly, truly insane subplots of the book, so if Cussler's suing them over that, it would seem to confirm everything I've come to fear regarding his mental state.

-1em
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[User Picture]From: dweezel
2005-10-22 03:18 am (UTC)
Because Hollywood is buying the name, not the story. The industry believes that people that go to movies don't necessarily want to think too much, but they'll bank on the hope that people have heard of the book but thought it too much to read so they'll watch the movie. Change the characrters a bit, jazz them up so they appeal to Joe Blow America. The masses will not buy a hard-charging Mom and stay at home Dad. We can't have a movie where the woman is too strong. Who would believe that? It's like saying there could be a woman president.

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