Whenever I hear about one of my favourite novels being adapted for the big screen, or the moderate screen that fits in my house, I’m wary. Not wary in a “I hope they don’t mess this up” kind of way, but wary in a “They had better not mess this up” kind of way.
I was very wary of clicking play on the video below for the new BBC America Dirk Gently series. I removed all sharp objects from my immediate vicinity before watching. If you’re a fan of Douglas Adams’ novels, you may want to do the same. Out of wariness.
Well, at least they won’t be butchering Dirk Gently, because I’m not sure that this is Dirk Gently.
This wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen a book adaptation with the lead character portrayed by someone who doesn’t physically match the role. I’m talking about Tom Cruise playing Jack Reacher. Twice. Anyway, I’m not sure that Samuel Barnett really fits the Svlad Cjelli (aka Dirk Gently) middle-aged, overweight, poorly dressed, loser mould.
He is portrayed as a pudgy man who normally wears a heavy old light brown suit, red checked shirt with a green striped tie, long leather coat, red hat and thick metal-rimmed spectacles.#
Okay, so clearly Max Landis and team are going for more of a “youth” vibe. Maybe Barnett will gain weight and change to wearing drab clothes over the course of the series… But that doesn’t explain the car seen in the clip. Gently was famous for not having any money, since his clients never paid him, and subsequently owning a car that reflected that fact. Whilst I’m not really sure what brand/model of car that one was, it did look expensive. Does that mean Gently is now a successful conman? Did his psychic powers finally allow him to back a winning horse? Or are Americans more gullible of conmen if they have British accents?
Then we have not-MacDuff. Elijah Wood is portraying a character named Todd. He’s meant to be more of an everyman for us to relate to (see video below for discussion). So no symphony of nature, no Susan, and probably no hallway couch. I’ll let the hobbit pass. For now.
Even after watching this panel discussion I’m still wary. Landis professes to being a big fan of Douglas Adams’ writing, but this is also the same guy who talks up sequels to films nobody wanted to see. The panel discusses capturing the essence of Dirk Gently, but I’m not seeing the loser conman aspect from that trailer.
It often baffles me why screenwriters diverge so far from the source material – it feels as though I discussed this recently. Do they buy the rights but forget to buy a copy of the book for the screenwriters? In this instance that doesn’t appear to be the case. Is it just that they aren’t usually looking to do a direct adaptation but more of an “inspired by” screenplay? In which case, why buy the rights and use the character names? Landis did moan about the lack of original ideas in cinema. Are writers trying to avoid direct comparison between book and adaptation? Again, why buy the rights, since the screenwriters clearly have an idea for a movie/TV show and the source material is essentially made irrelevant?
In many instances a direct adaptation would make more sense. Beloved books would often be best served by being faithfully adapted to please fans and appeal to new fans. The source material has proved itself already: so use it! Some changes are necessary, either for run-time, or translation between mediums, but this can still be done faithfully. So why doesn’t it happen more often? I personally suspect that the screenwriters aren’t being asked to do faithful adaptations for a variety of reasons, including having bosses who don’t care about the source material.
I’m still very wary of this Dirk Gently adaptation. They had better not mess it up!