Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Count of Monte Cristo and other books-turned-movies

Growing up this was one of my favourite books, thrilling me with romance and adventure and taking me to lands far away and times long gone. I read it in the middle of the night with a flashlight under my blanket listening for the sound of my parents coming to take the book away in just as I was getting to the most interesting part. Every new page was 'the most interesting part' of course. 
When the DVD came in the mail I wanted to savour it and wondered if it would be anywhere near as exciting as my memories of the book. It was more exciting actually, what with the chases and duels added on as is often done to make the story more dynamic onscreen, and I was glad that my memories were so old, otherwise I would've bucked at all the twisting of the plot to accommodate the medium. I still gripped the armrest of the couch during Dantes' last fight with Mondego, so no harm done.  
I wonder though about adapting books to accommodate a different media and the effect the adaptation has on the story. Oftentimes characters, scenes and subplots are added or removed in the process, things we would usually have to figure out on our own are right there on the screen in the blink of an eye and the suspense and the thrill of figuring out a character's secret are gone. There's no time for subtleties and more often than not we get a nuance-less story that doesn't do much to benefit the reputation of source material. 
Another aspect I wonder about is what it does for the audience of such an adaptation. Die-hard fans notice discrepancies right away and omissions of their favourite moments leave a sour aftertaste, robbing them of some of the enjoyment of the film as an entertainment product. Those who are exposed to the story for the first time don't know any different and form opinions based on what they see on the screen and what if the movie is only 'based' on the book and has little in common with it besides the names of characters? They may hate the film and never read the masterpiece that inspired it. And those who watch the movie for the value of ultra-condensed Cliff's Notes of the Cliff's Notes that doesn't require turning the pages don't get even a third of what's out there and most likely will never realize that they've been short-changed and that they did it to themselves. 
I don't blame the motion picture and television industries for not putting everything that's in the book in the movie. There's simply not enough time for that and the medium doesn't allow for the same effect as what the written word is capable of creating. I do however blame ourselves for being lazy and not reading more, for not training ourselves to use our imaginations and see books as more than a collection of pages with black characters on them. I blame ourselves for not teaching our children to see beyond the glowing screens in front of them or bypass them entirely even for just a couple of hours a day. 
It's not just bitterness though. I also have hope. Hope that with the widening array of electronic readers populating the market we'll go back to reading more, especially since it won't involve lugging around heavy volumes and the draw of a screen with buttons to assist in navigation will be satisfied. I am one of those constantly-plugged-in myself and my nook is coming tomorrow. I've already saved a ton of books on my computer in preparation for its delivery and am ready to forget where I put the remote. But that's a subject for another post. 

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