Friday, February 25, 2011

Props to Scalzi

This week it was announced that the book Old Man's War by John Scalzi has been optioned for a movie. Yay for Scalzi!

What I love even more than the news that an awesome sci-fi book has been optioned to be made into a movie is the very upfront and realistic way in which Scalzi is discussing the news.

He is very calmly reminding his readers that the movie, while he has high hopes for it to be awesome, will most definitely not be the book. This is because in order for the story to make the move from printed page to silver screen, changes will have to be made. That is why when a book is made into a movie it is called an adaptation. Scalzi very calmly reminds his enthusiastic fans that even if the movie based on the book somehow goes wonky and is royally screwed up, it will in no way, shape, or form harm the original book, which already exists as it is and isn't going anywhere.

I give Scalzi two big thumbs way, way up for this.

So often when a group's favorite book gets translated into a movie, a big chunk of the audience will waste time and effort nitpicking all of the differences between the two, often lessening their enjoyment of the movie greatly, if not completely. I can admit I have been guilty of this myself a time or two, though I try really hard to judge a movie adaptation on how well the story is portrayed in this new medium, rather than the little details. Sure it is fabulous when the movie-makers get the little details just right, but let's face facts. Everyone who reads a book pictures the characters and events described within in their own unique way. When a screen-writer, director, and producer adapt a book to a movie, they are only showing us their unique vision of the author's text. It may not be the same as ours, but that doesn't mean it is automatically bad.

Sometimes authors don't help the cause by publicly lambasting the resulting movie. I would think it is safe to argue that in those cases, the author was usually shut out of the creative process while the movie was being made. When the author doesn't decry the movie we see on our screens, that probably means that they were at least engaged by the screen-writer/producer/director's interpretation of their story, even if it isn't necessarily what the base audience was expecting. Sometimes that can lead to some very interesting results.

For example, Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Did you know it was not originally a book, but in fact first appeared as a radio play aired by the BBC? Yup. I am lucky enough to have copies of that original series, and I can tell you it is very, very different from the book of the same name that Adams subsequently published. I love them both though. The spirit of the story and of the main characters was very much the same in both versions, to be true. Some of the events were slightly different, sure, but that was because Adams really got what I am trying to say here. Different mediums lend themselves to different stories. Sometimes you can do things in one that aren't feasible in the other. The more recent movie of the same name was also very different from the book and the radio series, but I still love it. Adams worked with the movie's creators until his death, and they were dedicated to making sure the finished product was something he would have approved of. Knowing that, and keeping in mind the fact that Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has a track record as a fluid story, flowing from medium to medium and shaping itself to fill each new cup specifically, allowed me to keep a more open mind than at any other movie based on a book I have ever seen.

It's so easy to get upset when your favorite part of a book gets left out of the movie, or worse, included but changed in a way that you don't care for. But movie-makers aren't going to stop adapting books to film any time soon. To be honest with you, I'd rather they do that than make another Saw film, or another remake of a movie that only came out ten years ago. So I am going to do my best going forward to keep Scalzi's words in mind whenever I go to see a movie adapted from a book that I love. I urge you to do the same.

Besides, there's always the chance that the next film will get it just right, and that's worth the risk of a shaky adaptation in my books.

Happy weekend folks, and don't forget to check out today's new Gronk, all about the perils of board games!

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