Friday, February 10, 2012

Film Adaptation Praise: Water for Elephants

I’m one of those annoying people who has to read the book before I see the movie (in most cases). People tell me that I’m just setting myself up for disappointment, but the thing is, I’d rather be disappointed in the movie than in the book. I’d rather read the original story, as the original author intended it, before seeing a film adaptation. I’d rather go see the film and say, “Wow, that wasn’t anything like the book,” than to read a book of a film I’d already seen and say, “Wow, that wasn’t anything like the movie.”

In an ideal world, any films based on novels would be good adaptations. So what makes a good adaptation? It’s NOT a film that follows the book exactly. Most novels would not translate well into a movie without some changes. Some books are weak on action scenes, or the dialogue doesn’t sound as good as it reads. Some books translate better to film if their story sequence is slightly altered, or if characters or situations are combined. I don’t believe that every film adaptation has to be exactly like the book on which it is based, but I do have some high expectations. A good film adaptation is a film that captures the main themes of the book and adequately tells the original story the author intended.

I’ve seen some really bad film adaptations, but I’ve also seen some remarkably good ones. For the most part, the Harry Potter movie series were great adaptations. They had their problems (especially “HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” which was impossible to understand if you hadn’t already read the book—fail!), but for the most part, they were excellent. I’m looking forward to the Hunger Games movie coming out in March. The previews look good!

Anyway, there are a few movies that I actually like better than the books. In almost every case, it was a movie that I saw before I read the book (which is a shame, because who knows what might have happened if I had read the book first?).

I can name these books on one hand:

-The Three Musketeers. Sorry Dumas, but “All for Love” was my favorite song for like a year, and Chris O’Donnell was hot—plus what was that deal about drowning Rebecca DeMornay’s a creepy lady’s head in a swamp. I am still having nightmares….

-The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I love you, Victor. May I call you Victor? Vic? Vicky? Okay, then. Mr. Hugo, I love you. I love Les Miserables. I even loved your version of Hunchback. I really do like tragic stories. Okay, so I don’t. But I like them when the French write them. Anyway, your story was all right, but I kinda sorta liked Disney’s happy ending version a LOT better than the “everyone dies but the jerky guy” version. Also, the music in the Disney version is simply amazing. It’s nothing personal. I hope you understand, Vicky. Dude. That’s totally my mom’s name. I can’t take you seriously at all if I call you Vicky. How about just plain Hugo? Hugh?

-The Wizard of Oz. Okay, I get that Frank Baum was trying to write a political commentary and that MGM screwed up his story. I just really couldn’t get into the written version. And I really just wanted to see midgets dancing around with giant plastic lollipops.

-The Phantom of the Opera.  The book was good, but Andrew Lloyd Weber makes everything more awesome.  Sorry French type author dude.  I can't remember your last name, but I remember your first name was Gaston.  I can only imagine you were quite the guy, using antlers in all of your decorating, having biceps to spare, eating five dozen eggs every day, being especially good at expectorating, and so on and so forth....

Up until recently, those were pretty much the only films I liked better than the books, but I just added another one to the list.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen was well-written. I liked the characterization. There wasn’t anything really wrong with the story—except for the fact that I just could not get over the sexually graphic scenes. I’m a very visual person; when I read something, it sticks with me forever. And though I liked the story itself, if I could find some mindbleach and rid my brain of the book, I would in a heart beat. I wish I had never read the book, because I’ll never forget the scenes that I don’t want to remember. Someone gave me that book as a present. I’m not ashamed to say that after one reading, I gave that sucker to a used book store.

Some people aren’t affected by books like I am, and many people wouldn’t have a problem with graphic imagery, anyway. I do have a problem with it, and that’s why I’ve never read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, although I’ve heard it’s excellent. I just don’t want to open my mind to images that will never go away. Incidentally, The Kite Runner is another book I wish I hadn’t read. The story itself was excellent, but I’m stuck with mental images I don’t want. And they will never go away.

Water for Elephants was made into a film a while ago, but I was hesitant to watch it. First, I wasn’t sure that Robert Pattinson would be a very convincing lead. After watching the first three "Twilight" films (I won’t see the last until both parts are out and I can rent them for cheap), I kind of figured he was a bad actor, despite his charming portrayal of Cedric Diggory in "HP and the Goblet of Fire". The second reason I didn’t want to see Water for Elephants was because I was afraid it was going to be too graphic. I read some reviews, which calmed my fears, but I still was hesitant.

The main reason I finally rented and watched Water for Elephants was because I know a guy who played one of the circus side show performers (he’s over seven feet tall in real life, and at least twice as awesome as he is tall). I’m glad I finally did, because I really enjoyed the film. Turns out, Rob Pat does a pretty good job when he’s not playing an emo vampire in a poorly directed fangirl flick Edward Cullen. I was able to connect with his character and watch the story unfold without being forced to watch a ton of inappropriate sexual images.

Don’t get me wrong. I get it that this story took place in a circus in the early 1930s, and there probably was a lot of inappropriate sexual stuff going on behind the scenes. My issue was the way the author penned it out, making us witness everything the main character was witnessing (and I have a feeling that both the main character and the author have a dirty mind). it is possible to tell a story, and be true to that story, without being disgusting.  The film proves that.  The film was great in that it told the story, keeping in a lot of the truth about sexual issues and such, but not in a way that completely grossed me out.  In my opinion, if there’s so much graphic, shocking imagery in a book that it actually overwhelms the story the author is trying to tell, then that’s not good story telling.  I’d rather have a writer tell me a good story instead of trying to shock me.

But maybe that’s just me.

Again, I don't think Gruen is a bad writer.  I don't think Water for Elephants is a bad book.  I just can't handle grotesque imagery, and I think the book would have been better without those scenes (or if the scenes had been toned down dramatically).

Anyway, I highly recommend the movie Water for Elephants. It’s PG13 and contains a lot of violence and some sexual issues, but nothing that I would consider overwhelming for older teenagers and adults.

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