Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Thinking Out Loud: Perfection is a Rarity

Last time I graced this space with my thoughts I talked about movies. I'm going to do the same thing this time, only shift the focus.
Let's get to it, shall we?
For years Hollywood has found some of its greatest source material from the written word. According to the American Film Institute's list of the Top 100 Movies, three of the top 10 were based on previously written novels. On the more contemporary IMDB.com, four of the top 10 ranked movies by Internet users were adapted from already published works.

There is some crossover, as The Godfather appears in second place on both lists. On IMDB, the top film is The Shawshank Redemption, a phenomenal film based on a Stephen King short story. AFI lists Citizen Kane as number one, but for different reasons, all of which are valid.
AFI has Gone with the Wind (6) and The Wizard of Oz (10) listed highly. And talk about an excellent year for film, as both came out in 1939. IMDB includes The Dark Knight (4) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (10) ranked among the best. Yes, I'm including a Batman movie here because you cannot disregard comic books as the written word, especially given how many comic book movie and TV adaptations we see today.
Now, a bit of blunt honesty: I have never read any of the source material for the above mentioned movies, save for The Lord of the Rings. That said, I have read other books that have been turned into movies. Among them are Shoeless Joe (Field of Dreams), The Hunger Games trilogy, The Martian, and The Chronicles of Narnia.
Guess what? The movies are different! Isn't that shocking?
With information available moreso than ever before, so is the visceral reaction to such information. For instance, when The Hunger Games series started advertising for the first movie, there were some stories written by keyboard samurais who believed Jennifer Lawrence's body was "too big" for the role. In the books, her character, Katniss Everdeen, is a teenager who has managed to survive to that age by hunting and scavenging, and is a bit on the skinny side because of it. Lawrence, an outstanding actress, made the role her own despite some naysayers who find it amusing to berate talented people. Her size became a story for a fleeting moment, when it should have been ignored.
Peter Jackson directed the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy at once in a precedent setting move for Hollywood. (Then, in a blatant cash grab, he broke The Hobbit up into three far-too-long movies. Let's not talk about that.) A friend of mine, who reads the books once a year because he is that devoted a fan, told me there were things he did not like about the films. However, he also recognized how incredible they were. Paraphrasing what he felt about them, he said fans of the books should take solace in the fact that the movies were done, done well, and despite some deviations from the books, there will likely never be another person who does them again with such care and love as Jackson did.
That was a far cry from another person I heard who said he hated the movies because a character who appears only in a chapter or two on the first third of the written trilogy was nowhere in the movies. And that in the second movie the elves show up when in the books they didn't. (The positive friend saw the value in that change, though, as suspension of disbelief can only go so far.)
Personally, I had seen Field of Dreams countless times before finally getting to W.P. Kinsella's signature work, Shoeless Joe. I was shocked to read the handful of extra plotlines in the book, but that did not detract from my enjoyment of the movie, which remains one of my all time favorites. In fact, that book turned me in the direction of another of Kinsella's novels - The Iowa Baseball Confederacy - which I one day hope becomes a movie, as well. If not, I highly still suggest you pick it up for it is a great read.
I was halfway through The Martian when my patience ran out and I decided to watch the movie on TV. I still finished the book, and while the movie was good and very faithful to its origins, there are certain things a book does that a movie does not. In a book, there are extra details that can be described for pages on end. In a movie, those details must be presented in an emotional look, or a quick action. Sometimes, a viewer can miss that. In a book, a reader's imagination can roam free.
Nowhere is this more evident than in some of the more fantastical movies, like the few available based on The Chronicles of Narnia. How would you imagine a lion to talk and act? What about sword-fighting mice? Or mythical creatures like centaurs? These few movies brought those ideas to life, and without even looking for evidence, I am certain there were critics who felt the creatures were "not right." But how could they know? I mean, these are mythical creatures. They don't exist except for in our minds. To see them done - and done well - on a big screen is a treat and should be treated as such. (I'm reminded of a time when my daughter was part of a group that was asked to name an animal that lays eggs. She said "unicorn" and was told she was wrong. But as she though? I mean, can you say definitively that a unicorn does NOT lay eggs?)
As I sit hear writing this on a Sunday afternoon - waiting breathlessly for the season premiere of Game of Thrones - I can't help but think that far too often the criticisms of movies based on books are mostly selfish. In just the past couple days, a teaser photo for the film Ready Player One and a teaser trailer for the children's classic A Wrinkle in Time hit the Internet. Both elicited reactions. Fans of the former said the photo depicted a space too big and a star too small. I was able to find a fan of the latter who was critical of some of the casting choices. Again, though, we are the fans. We are the masses. You cannot please all of us at once.
But you want to know something? The only "perfect" movie adaptation of any book - now or ever - is the one that plays in our minds as we read it. We can only hope that when Hollywood gets its hands on it, the heart, soul, and message of the stories we love and cherish shines through, and that in terms of visuals, Hollywood gets it "mostly" right.
After all, nobody's perfect.

Howie Balaban thinks people who criticize movies (and athletes) online for not living up to some crazy standard of perfection need to take a deep breath and relax.