Thursday, October 4, 2007

Doing Violence to a Book

I'm glad that the success of Harry Potter, Narnia, and other fantasy book/movies has convinced the movie studios that such family-friendly films can be a worthwhile investment. Unfortunately, they still don't always understand and honor what made the books popular in the first place.

Case in point: This week saw the release of "The Seeker," a film loosely based on "The Dark is Rising" by Susan Cooper. I say "loosely" because whereas the Harry Potter people worked closely with J. K. Rowlings to stay true to her vision, the folks behind The Seeker made such major changes to the plot and characters that Cooper sent them a letter requesting that they make alterations (which I don't think were made).

For example, the book's main character is a cheerful 11-year-old British boy from a well-adjusted family. The screenwriter apparently decided audiences would relate better to a 13-year-old American struggling to adjust to life in Britain, cope with a dysfunctional family, and deal with relationship angst. Oh yeah, and save the world.

In a radio interview, Cooper said she deliberately placed her hero at the end of childhood rather than the beginning of adolescence because he would still be figuring out who he really is, rather than how he (and his hormones) relate to others. She conceded that you can't avoid "doing violence to a book" when you try to translate it to the screen, but you could sense the disappointment in her voice as she discussed how her book has been reworked.

I suppose that pain I heard in her voice was what made me want to write about all this. I couldn't help thinking how difficult it would be to I pour my heart and soul into into a story, then see it transformed into something I barely recognized. It seems almost like a sad form of plagiarism. The story's been reworked so much that it's no longer really Cooper's, yet the new version borrows so much from the old that the writer can't really claim it as his either. Perhaps if he'd added a subtitle: "The Seeker: An Unauthorized Retelling."

This sad business alone was enough to turn me off of the film, and since most reviews range from lukewarm to outraged I don't feel any great temptation to go see it. As one critic put it, the studio took a charming children's adventure and removed all the adventure and charm.


Serena said...

Hey, You know what would be cool is if you contacted Susan and you both found someone to do the film and call it something else, but it would be her version. (Steven Spielberg) haha. Thank you for the info. Because we did want to see that too.

Kimberly Bluestocking said...

Studios remake and re-remake movies so often that Susan Cooper may still get a chance to help someone do it right. Here's hoping. :)

Lizardbreath McGee said...

Aargh! This is one of my favorite juvenile books, so I was very excited to see a trailer for it. Unfortunately, I experienced similar feelings of disappointment and disgust.

Maybe someone can make it into a decent mini-series someday.