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Scott Pilgrim and Film Adaptations

June 23, 2010

I saw this trailer for the first time when I went to see The A-Team with some friends (which was quite fun).

So… oh my god, you guys. They made a movie based on the Scott Pilgrim series!

If you haven’t read the comic book series, you have more than enough time to do so, as there are only six volumes. Well, volume 6 comes out on July 20. And you should be JAZZED. However, you might not want to do that if you are a person who gets really upset when film adaptations aren’t exactly loyal to the material that inspired them. Because you know they never are.

As for me, I view films and the books they are based on as entirely separate creative entities. This helps me maintain my sanity when things like the most recent film adaptation of Beowulf happen. Because if that movie had just been loyal to the source text, it could have been awesome. To avoid outbursts, look at it as just a movie. Instead of regarding the film as an affront to quite possibly the most badass hero in English literary history, I can dismiss it as a misguided attempt to examine heroic flaws. That’s when I’m feeling nice. When I am not feeling nice, I can dismiss it as a wretched CGI orgy of plot-butchering. I’m just happier if I don’t think about its connection to the epic poem.

A movie is almost never as complete as the book, because there is no way you can pack the contents of any decent-sized novel into two or three hours. No one likes to see their favourite book represented to the world in any way other than at its best. But when it comes down to it, your blood pressure will be lower if you can see the two things as separate creative entities. Watch it without thinking about the book, if you can.

Because let’s be honest, we’re all happier that way. If you want to engage in a critical discussion of the similarities and differences with other people who have read the book and want to talk about it, go for it. But I don’t want to be that jerk who sits through a great movie and then whines that it wasn’t nearly as good as the book. Of course it wasn’t. It’s a movie. This is true for both good and bad movies, and good and bad books.

I just think it’s not worth getting riled up about. There are thousands of films based on books, and books based on movies (I tend to stay away from the latter but there are some good ones). There are endless examples.

The Princess Bride: great film, better book.

The Jungle Book: entertaining animated family classic! Much better series of short stories.

Blade Runner: oh hells yes. But the book that inspired it was better.

High Fidelity: …you get the idea.

I started separating the concepts in my brain after being utterly baffled by The Bourne Identity. I actually had to watch it twice because I was so hung up on trying to orient the happenings on the screen with the plot of the book, I barely understood anything. The two things are nothing alike. It’s as if they took the characters from the book and wrote a whole new plot for them. It’s an entertaining action movie nonetheless.

Separating the two is a good idea even when the movie is pretty good, because it can allow you a unique critical perspective. Take the Harry Potter movies for example. If you watch it with the book in mind, you might notice that some key plot points and characters are omitted. However, the fact that you have read the books also causes you to edit in missing information without noticing. It’s like this sentence:

Once upon a time there was

a dog that had brown fur. He

was friends with a cat, a

a bird, and a rabbit.

How delightful!

Did you notice the repetition of the letter a in the third and fourth lines? Most people do not. The Harry Potter movies are like that. Most people who have read the books don’t notice the incongruities and problems with the plot, because they automatically correct them subconsciously. Granted the filmmakers may be justified in assuming the majority of their audience has read the books, but not including information necessary to understand the movie on its own is just poor film making.

We all get upset when our favourite character gets cut. I think we should be more upset by crappy movies. And crappy does not mean different from what I expected having previously read the book. If you’re going to criticize a film adaptation, try doing it without even mentioning the book. It’s a challenge, but your critique will probably be a lot more intelligent, complex, and focused on the film itself, and less about pointing out the not-quite-but-almost universal fact that the book is better. We know it is.

I know it’s hard not to be disappointed by Watchmen if the graphic novel occupies a place near and dear to your heart. But as a stand-alone film, I thought the movie was pretty entertaining. And I can discuss its strong and weak points completely independent of the source material that inspired it.

All this is to say that I am pumped for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. I hope it is as good as the previews make it seem. If not, well… we always have the comic books.

And one last observation: does anyone think that Kiernan Culkin (the actor set to play Wallace in Scott Pilgrim) looks like Gale Hansen (the actor who played Charlie in Dead Poets Society in 1989)? ‘Cause I totally did a double take during the Scott Pilgrim preview. I had to remind myself that Hansen is 50 years old now, because I was like “holy crap it’s Charlie Dalton!”

Check it out:

Weird.

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From → Movies, Reading

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