If you like spies, then this instalment of Lost in Adaptation will be for you.
Many many years ago I decided I loved spy novels and read the Game, Set, Match series by Len Deighton. Not satisfied with books that mostly went over my head, I was recommended some John Le Carre. Again, I feel like the much younger me got lost in the ins and out of the spy world of Le Carre’s stories.
But then two things happened. The first was they made a pretty decent film adaptation of Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy. Then they cast Tom Hiddleston in a star-studded series adaptation of The Night Manager. So obviously, I was ready for my Le Carre.
I think the TV series was okay. The acting was just terrific, particularly from a relative Aussie newcomer in Elizabeth Debicki, but a lot of the scenes and details felt contrived. This really undermined any tension for me.
For example, the main antagonist played by Hugh Laurie is continually suspicious of everyone around him, but he is just a little bit too ready to accept Tom Hiddleston’s protagonist into the fold. “Here you go, you’re now in charge of one of my shell companies!” This would have been better if it was also great blackmail and/or worked as some sort of leverage against a potential spy (or maybe it was and I just forget that detail).
At some stage, the more mature and debonair me will revisit some of the books and authors I read when I was probably too young to appreciate them. Le Carre and Deighton are on that list.
Let’s talk about the greatest book of all time and its TV show adaptation.
Roughly every decade I re-read Good Omens. It’s a fun novel that I recommend everyone read. They even have it as an audiobook, so no excuses!
When I first heard they were making a TV show adaptation, I wasn’t particularly thrilled. Pratchett’s work has a habit of being turned into forgettable shows and movies. But then I heard about David Tennant and Michael Sheen being cast. With Tennant attached to a project, you can guarantee it will be watchable, and the two real-life buddies have great chemistry (just watch Staged).
I still waited for some confirmation that the show would do the novel justice. My wife bought the series and laughed the whole way through. So I thought I’d ask her if it was any good before diving in myself. She said I might enjoy it.
The thing that impressed me about this adaptation was that it really “got it”. Obviously, it helps that one of the authors took the adaptation on as a labour of love and to honour his late friend. The idea that Gaimen had a good handle on his and Pratchett’s work seems like an obvious thing, but being the author of the book doesn’t make you a good screenwriter or the person to do the adaptation (looking at you Stephen King).
Seeing a show that manages to make changes to the source material that you’d swear were there all along is a testament to nailing an adaptation.
This instalment of What’s the Difference? comes from Wisecrack and looks at Invincible.
I have to admit to having given the Invincible TV show a miss. Firstly because it is on Amazon, whose billing practices and worker treatment are terrible. Secondly because I read Irredeemable first and kinda felt I’d been down this path already.
It is interesting that several recent superhero adaptations have looked for material that explores the idea of “What would superheroes really be like?” Probably not surprising given the fact that comic book movie fatigue has started to hit.
Invincible: Does it have an attitude problem?
In a year full of comic adaptations, Invincible stands out as one of the best. But how do its 8 episodes compare to the 144 issues of the original comic? And what does attitude have to do with it? Let’s find out in this Book vs. Film: Invincible.
This month’s What’s the Difference? looks at The Queen’s Gambit.
On my Netflix profile there are a couple of types of recommendation categories that keep popping up. One is “Because you watched John Wick shoot 400 people in the head” and the other is “Movies based on books”. Both are obviously bound to have good recommendations in them.
Needless to say, I became aware of The Queen’s Gambit because of the fact it was based upon a book. That I’d never heard of the book is probably telling you a lot about how many chess thrillers I read.
The changes mentioned in the video above were intriguing. The one that stuck out to me was the mother being turned into a rich woman with a PhD. In the 1950s. This really feels like some lazy shorthand by the screenwriters.
Often in movies you’ll have super-smart characters described as having a number of PhDs. Because smart people obviously feel the need to have multiple PhDs rather than doing postdocs, climbing the corporate or academic hierarchy, and becoming world renowned. It used to be that these smart characters would have a large IQ, but that is falling out of favour. I’m hoping it is because authors realise that IQ has limited utility, but realistically it will be because it has become a cliche.
The idea that the mother had to be rich is something I’ve noted with a lot of films and TV shows of late. There appears to be a fetishisation of wealth happening in our media. Sure, Snowpiercer, Parasite, etc., have all been popular of late. But look at how many protagonists are billionaires (or millionaires). Think about the revision of characters like Spiderman from working class to being wealthy or having wealthy benefactors.
Maybe I’m just having selective memory. There is a noted phenomenon of movie and TV show productions displaying an utter failure to understand what things cost or what poverty looks like. Like having the Friends cast living in apartments that none of them could afford. Maybe I’m just hung-up on the Spiderman example – since a big part of his character was struggling financially whilst being a hero. Or maybe having poor characters makes product placement – like a lime green Alpha Romeo in Michael Bay’s 6 Underground – really hard.
Netflix made chess sexy again with its limited series The Queen’s Gambit. With Anya Taylor-Joy as orphan turned chess prodigy Beth Harmon, writer director Scott Frank created a cinematic portrayal of the mind of a chess genius through substance abuse, struggles with mental health and even the Cold War. But Walter Tevis wrote the novel in a simple, unadorned style that’s a far cry from the stylish and sexy version of the story that wound up in your Netflix queue. So with no restraint on spoilers, it’s time to ask, what’s the difference?
While Anya Taylor-Joy is a more glamorous version of Beth Harmon in the Golden Globe winning awards season darling, the story follows a lot of the same beats. Following her from orphan and prodigy to eventual chess master and world champion, Thomas Brodie-Sangster of Game of Thrones and Harry Melling from the Harry Potter franchise play more complicated versions of their book counterparts. But many of the changes, while seemingly small, have sneaky wide-ranging implications on the Beth’s journey from learning the game from the janitor at an orphanage, to developing an addiction to pills and ultimately her victory over a Russian Grand Master. It’s an interesting and sometimes frustrating collection of changes!
This month’s What’s the Difference from Cinefix looks at Rebecca.
I think it was quite interesting to have the director involved in the discussion of doing an adaptation. Many of the points he made about what you can and can’t do are a good take-away.
One of the key points made was around what is cinematic. In books you can make a point or convey an idea without having to bash the reader with it (unless you are Dan Brown, in which case you’ll bash them with it repeatedly just to make sure that the people who take 6 months to read a book don’t forget something important). Movies can’t do that to the same extent without leaving the viewer a little bit dissatisfied. Unless you are being very arty, in which case, imply away and trigger years of debates over whether Cobb was still dreaming.
Unfortunately, I think the thing missing from this video was the discussion of the success of various choices made in adaptation. It is all well and good to say that “we wanted to give her more agency” but was that done effectively? Does that remain faithful to the book, or is it a departure that was unwarranted?
The other thing that was missing was a discussion with the author about the adaptation and their thoughts. Why didn’t they dig up Daphne du Maurier and and reanimate her corpse for a quick interview? Are people even trying these days?
Last night I dreamt director Ben Wheatley joined us for an episode of What’s the Difference! Netflix’s update to the Daphne du Maurier classic Rebecca is here and the filmmaker behind the latest adaptation walked through some of the finer points of the process. How does a 1930’s romantic thriller murdery mystery that’s been in print for 80 years find it’s way to a modern streaming platform with Armie Hammer and Lily James? It’s time ask Ben Wheatley, what’s the difference?