Dirk Gently on US TV

Dirk Gently
Yeah, Harry Enfield as Dirk!

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.

Well, one of my favourite novels was adapted for a TV show (again) and I’ve seen the first season. And I have thoughts…

I was very wary of clicking play on the trailer for the 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.

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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. Source

And after viewing the first season, I’m even less convinced this was a portrayal of Dirk Gently. Okay, so clearly Max Landis and his team are going for more of a “youth” vibe. Landis obviously thinks that the only way to write a quirky character (quirky being code for annoying bellend) is to have them bounce off of the walls with manic energy. Which is not something a pudgy middle-aged guy in a dirty suit does.

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 no hallway couch. Todd’s relationship to “Dirk” is the typical cliched odd-couple, with the non-quirky character being inexplicably fond or loyal to the person ruining their life.

So two characters that aren’t that great* who get up to weird adventures. Right? Well, the adventures are… kinda… dull. Douglas Adams had Dirk save the world from a ghost of the people who created life on Earth, and the Norse Gods who are a bit peeved about not being admired anymore. Landis has Dirk investigating gifted people swapping bodies… and stuff.

I’m really not sure what Landis was going for. But then again, I’ve watched Bright, which leads me to conclude Landis probably doesn’t know what he’s trying to do either.

After watching this panel discussion you’d be forgiven for thinking that everyone involved had a good grasp of the material they were adapting. Landis professes to being a big fan of Douglas Adams’ writing… Yet his takeaway from Dirk Gently is manic energy guy running around being weird. The panel discusses capturing the essence of Dirk Gently, but I didn’t see the loser conman and his intricate adventures that really were holistic.

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 – but this is also the same guy who talks up sequels to films nobody wanted to see. Are writers trying to avoid a 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. In the case of Landis, I question his abilities… I sat through this adaptation, his movies Bright and American Ultra, and think it is fair to conclude his abilities are lacking.

Maybe one day we’ll see a good adaptation of Douglas Adams’ work.**

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Yeah, this adaptation wasn’t much better.

*The characters aren’t that great, but the acting is on point. So can’t blame the actors.

**Yes, I am aware of his various radio plays and the old Hitchhiker’s Guide TV series. I can’t even remember what the latter was like it has been so long since I’ve seen it.

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Book vs Movie: The Lost World – What’s the Difference?

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This month’s What’s the Difference from Cinefix compares the book sequel written because the movie adaptation was successful and the director wanted more source material to ignore. Jurassic Park: The Lost World.

Honestly, I can never keep it straight in my head which parts of the novels ended up in which movie. As mentioned in the video, the opening scene of The Lost World was actually from the first book. There are other examples, like the “birdcage” scene in one of the other movies was in the first book… I think.

One thing is for certain: Spielberg knows how to make a film. He knows how to build tension, he knows how to establish sights, sounds, and characters so that sequences hang together, and he knows not to have a talking dinosaur in an aeroplane.

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Yes, this is an actual scene from Jurrasic Park 3. Take a moment.

But The Lost World is an example of one the worst reasons you write or film a sequel: because the first one was successful. I don’t know exactly what Spielberg’s motivations were for the sequel – maybe he was under contract, maybe he needed a new wing on his house – but the film was dull. It was trying to recapture the lightning bottled in the first film. The same can be said of the book. Crichton didn’t originally want to write a sequel and was only convinced by Spielberg saying he’d give him lots of money that he would be keen to direct a movie adaptation of the sequel if one were written.

I’m on record as not being much of a fan of Michael Crichton’s books. He has a tendency to write solid thrillers that act as vehicles for anti-science rants by a raisonneur or mouthpiece. There is nothing wrong with doing this, per se, but science is awesome, so make sure your criticism is on point. Or don’t, depending on whether you want to impress me or someone who thinks chakras are a thing.

Needless to say, I was a fan of the first film, less so the book. The sequels… Put it this way, I haven’t bothered watching the new ones starring Chris Pratt yet.

Book vs Movie: When the Book Is Better

'We are making a film of the book.'

PBS Digital Studios have a new video series It’s Lit! which is part of The Great American Read, an eight-part series that explores and celebrates the power of reading. Featuring one of the premiere video essayists in Lindsay Ellis, this series should be brilliant.

The first video briefly discusses a topic I’ve frequently discussed here, what makes a good adaptation and why the book is so often regarded as better.

Lindsay has very concisely summarised why movies so often don’t make for good or faithful adaptations of the source material. But she also touches on why they can sometimes improve the book, or make an adaptation that uses the source material in an interesting way to tell a different story.

If you aren’t already subscribed to Lindsay or PBS Digital Studios, you may want to do so now.

Book vs Movie: Dr Strangelove – What’s the Difference?

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This month’s What’s the Difference? from CineFix delves into one of the few Stanley Kubrick films I’ve enjoyed.

Everyone remembers Dr Strangelove but very few remember Red Alert, the novel that was the basis for Kubrick’s adaptation. Peter George’s book was an early nuclear war thriller and having got there first tended to be copied (or is that emulated?) by many other authors. This was an important point since Kubrick and George decided to sue the production of another movie based upon a nuclear war thriller that was deceptively similar to Red Alert. I’m not exactly sure why this was important as George teamed up with Terry Southern to change the super-cereal novel into a timeless satire.

Did you know that Dr Strangelove was originally going to end with a pie fight? Apparently, the farcical element involved in that was deemed too silly for a poignant satire, despite how metaphorical it was to the destruction of the human race. I guess many would have missed that point. Comedy needs to take itself more seriously if people are to get the point.

I think Dr Strangelove is a great example of a movie being better than the book. The way it does this is by not taking the source material seriously. What would have been another by-the-numbers thriller was elevated by satirising war. Landing not long after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the film managed to capture sentiments of the absurdity of mutually assured destruction and the ineptness of the cabals of military and political elites deciding fates.

Plus, Peter Sellers.

Book vs Movie: Oldboy – What’s the Difference?

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This month in CineFix’s series What’s the Difference? they cover Oldboy. Live octopus not included.

Not having read the Manga, I don’t really have much to add to the above video. The film is amazing. It redefined “off-the-wall” and managed to make it compelling watching.

Let’s not talk about the Spike Lee remake. Because it wasn’t very good. Although, because it is an American adaptation of a South Korean adaptation of a Japanese work, it can be interesting in an intercultural sense. This article is very interesting in that regard.

Best Adaptations of All Time?

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In keeping with my monthly series of posts on book adaptations – Book vs Movie – I thought I’d share this CineFix video as my last post before the Festive Break. They cover a lot of great adaptations, even mentioning a few I was unaware were adaptations.

Thanks to my readers and commenters for dropping by this year. I hope you all enjoy whatever Holiday tradition you celebrate. Best wishes from me to you.

Now let’s argue over whether this video has missed any of our favourite movies based upon books.

Book vs Movie: Silence of the Lambs – What’s the Difference?

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Do you prefer a Chianti or an Amarone to accompany human liver and fava beans? This month CineFix ask the question in their What’s the Difference? on Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris.

I’m going to be controversial here and say that the movie, Silence of the Lambs, was better than the book. That’s right. I’ll give you some time to warm up the tar and pluck the chickens.

That isn’t to say that the novel is bad, far from it. In my original reviews of Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, I noted that they were great stories, very interesting and layered (thematically, compositionally, etc), and gave us a charismatic villain for the history books. But I wasn’t a fan of the writing. Some passages were on point, especially some of the dialogue that was pretty much lifted straight into the movie, but other parts felt like they were letting down the team.

Compare that with the cinematic classic and you can see which one stands taller. The themes, particularly the sexism, are more subtle yet more omnipresent (camera angles and shot staging vs inner monologue). The tone of the film is brought to life, and how could it not be with Anthony Hopkins’ Lecter exuding menace and demonic magnetism, and the brilliant cinematography – the night vision scene is unmatched.

It’s a pity none of the movie sequels managed to capture the same magic. I’m yet to read the rest of the Hannibal Lecter novels, so it would be interesting to hear if they managed to continue the magic, or if they slowly drained of life with each thin slice.