Thursday, November 01, 2007

stars of page and screen

Last week I read and adored Stardust by Neil Gaiman. Yesterday I watched and liked, but didn't love, the film of Stardust. It's easy to moan about how films never get books right and how they left all your favourite bits out and he just doesn't look like that. Films and books are different animals and there's no point expecting what you see on screen to be like the pictures in your head. Rather, I want to muse on the differences between the two Stardusts and the reasons for them.

Inevitably there are compressions of time. The book Tristran takes a year to wander Faerie and get back for the fair, where the film's Tristan has a week in which to bring back Victoria's birthday present. Characters and events are lost and the story becomes simplified to its essential details. We'll leave aside the silly camp pirates and the unnecessary Ricky Gervais cameo (the pirates were OK. There's a wonderful sword fight set to Offenbach's Can Can which is deliciously silly. Ricky Gervais I just don't like.)

One thing I did find interesting was that the film managed to be both less menacing and less innocent than the book. In Gaiman's Faerie, no-one is safe. People die, sometimes bloodily and it's a shock when they do. This creates a real tension and fear for the central characters. The usual fairytale guarantees that the good will end happily and the bad unhappily seem to be in doubt all the way through. The film puts back those conventions and there's no shock or real fear that the wrong person might die. Yet, there's a sort of innocence about the central pair of characters in the book that gets completely lost in the film. From the off, they're confidently exchanging insults and arguing and there's none of Tristran's tender standoffishness that I liked in the book. Inevitably, when they realise their love for one another, they fall into bed in a way which just wouldn't occur to their page-bound counterparts. Not that Gaiman's book is coy about sex, quite the opposite, but most of the earthier bits get cut out completely, which means in one case the death of one of the would-be Lords of Stormhold happens via a sub-Princess Bride scene of poisoned and switched goblets, rather than to the accompaniment of a barmaid's willing seduction.

The film's denouement is of course dramatic and full of explosions and swords and broken glass. The book's clever, but less dramatic end just wouldn't work for Hollywood, which is fair enough. And the good end happily and the bad, unhappily and all is well forever after, as you would expect. Still, on the whole, I think I prefer books to films of books, however good the latter are. There's always the shadow of 'The Book' hanging over a film of a book, which just isn't there with an original film. Unless the book is dreadful, in which case the film can only improve on it. Can you think of any examples where that is the case?

7 comments:

HP said...

what do the stars on your blogroll mean?

Pig wot flies said...

Starred blogs have been updated in the last 24 hours.

elly said...

Well haven't read the book. Can you lend it me?
We saw the film last night and it was fun but fairly undemanding. Maybe having the two so close together spoils it.
I still remember being utterly shocked by Hitchcock's '39 steps' where the steps in question are real in the book but become a secret society in the film. Mind you lots of other things about that film are great.
films I have seen of Lemony Snickett and Stormbreaker have both been pretty true to the books. I don't get to watch much though do I.

elly said...

Sometimes films have helped me sort out some confusing characters by giving them a visual identity.

Debs said...

Stormbreaker was nothing like the book (or at least lots of things were different!)
I think it also depends on how closely (in time) you read the book and see the film as to how many differences you spot.

Chestertonian Rambler said...

The novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption --> the film The Shawshank Redemption.

In this case, I must admit that the book does "cast a shadow" over the film, particularly in the death of one supporting character (who is bought off for peanuts in the story--a plot conclusion at once bleaker and less emotionally manipulative). But the converse is also there--once I've read the film I can't go back to the book without missing some of my favorite (and most cinematic) parts from the film. I can't for the life of me decide which is better.

On Stardust...well, in my opinion you haven't experienced the "real" Stardust unless you read the original version (illustrated by Vess), spending equal amounts of time gazing in wonder at the glimpses his illustrations offer to the whimsical and strange Fairyland as in perusal of the words. But yes, both the sense of threat and character were missing from the movie.

I think the omission the introduction of the star say it all. In the book, her first words are:
"OW! fuck. OW!"

Not that it describes MY reactions--just that I missed both the sense of quirky character (who really SAYS "ow?") and the disconcerting but miniscule undertow of anti-faerie.

Pig wot flies said...

I say ow! I did this morning, falling off my bike.

But, yes, that's exactly it.