L13FC: Authors Whose Books Become Films

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Hello, guests and friends! The excellent Michael the Leopard13 from It Rains…You Get Wet and I welcome you to the July 13 discussion about authors whose books frequently are made into films. Exclude plays today and save them for the near future–sorry, William Shakespeare, although your stories have been adapted to film more than any other author, you’re out.

Michael says: 

Film adaptations and their sources represent a fascinating intersection of two longstanding favorite genres that have taken up much of my time. Books and movies. The former habit bequeathed to me by my mother through sheer example — never did I see the woman who bore me without some book nearby. The latter care of her sisters and brother who were always heading to some cinema, I observed (having grown up in their orbit).
Though, as a kid, it really didn’t click how the two had merged. No surprise for this late-Baby Boomer, “Pop Culture” for awhile now has held me in its grasp. Mom or my wife would guffaw at the obviousness of that. Still, the printed material and the moving picture in many ways point back to the other as a comparative exercise amongst fans of either. Especially today. My favorite definition of popular film, by the Florida International University, stated it more clearly:
“Popular film as we know it is essentially the result of applying the conventions of cinematography to the conventions of fiction (short story, novella, novel) and/or drama. The differences between a novel or play and the movie based on it often arise from the demands placed on the material by the conventions imposed by the art form or by the expectations of an audience concerning that art form.”
The sources for many of my favorite film adaptations have come from three of my preferred authors. No surprise, they’d germ starting in my teens, even as I left those years well behind. And easily, they’ve covered horror, thrillers (tech and otherwise), drama, the western, and of late, crime. Stephen King, Michael Crichton, and Elmore Leonard.
"We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones."
“We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.”
Shockingly, or not, Hollywood’s grab for even a smidgeon of their literary magic…or just popularity with the buying public…has produced some of the best and worst for each when put to film. That’d range from Stephen King’s Shawshank Redemption, Carrie, and Stand by Me (aka “The Body”) to the dregs of Dreamcatcher, Bag of Bones, and The Mangler.  
“Absence of proof is not proof of absence.”

Michael Crichton’s have faired similarly, what with the cream of the crop that is Jurassic Park (let’s agree to not speak of any sequel, even Steven Spielberg’s, shall we?), The Andromeda Strain, and the growing appreciation of The Great Train Robbery. Only then to be slapped with the likes of Congo, Sphere, and the mess that is Timeline.

"I try to leave out the parts readers skip."
“I try to leave out the parts readers skip.”
Last, but certainly not least, Elmore Leonard has held the title for some supreme crime and western novels that have successfully made their way to celluloid. I speak of Out of Sight, Jackie Brown (aka “Rum Punch”), and 1957’s 3:10 to Yuma. The less said about the disappointing distillations of Be Cool (the sequel to the sublime Get Shorty), Burt Reynold’s Stick, and drum roll please…3:10 to Yuma (2005); what surely is the most antithetical Elmore Leonard adaptation out there.
Tell us who is your favorite author. Which adaptation did you approve? Which did you find embarrassing? 

Cindy’s thoughts:

"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid."
“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

How is it that the British spinster, Jane Austen, has had the authoritative say about love for almost 220 years, and she is still quite popular today? What’s her secret? One, television has been kind to her. There seems to be a PBS/BBC adaption every decade. With film, her principal novels: Emma, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice have been reinvented to please traditionalists (like me) and new twists and angles to engage younger audiences. It is the central theme of the precarious state of females that intrigues me about her stories.  When I read or watch a Jane Austen story, I want to save the heroine from her circumstances. To marry was the primary occupation of mothers. Families tried hard to train their daughters to appear an ideal mate. A women’s looks, charms, and talents were equitable to a male considering the physical countenance of a horse. A kind disposition, good teeth, and firm haunches help the cause, don’t they? Jane Austen was an idealist whose stories centered around sin and virtue. All her heroines struggled and suffered, but eventually, they get their man. Love is not so kind in real life. It’s the hope she instills that holds an audience captive. I do not claim to know the ins-and-outs behind Jane Austen or the authenticity of the film Becoming Jane (2007), in fact, it was a mediocre film, but it shed an insight about Austen that I believe must be true. Unrequited love and bad timing are common companions to many who ache for love. People read her stories and admire the goodness of her heroines and feel good for the happy ending. The best film adaptation is still Pride and Prejudice (2005). The setting, the acting, and the score still can’t be beaten. I preferred Alicia Silverstone in Clueless (1995), over the traditional Emma(1996) with Gwyneth Paltrow. Love and Friendship(2016) was charming. The worst adaptation would be Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016). 

(I am this momement at a hookah bar in Turkey. I have no opportunity to finish up with Cormac McCarthy and W. Somerset Maugham. Please forgive me.)

Michael, thank you for running the show! I will comment Friday.

Westworld vs. Westworld


I wonder how closely the 2016 HBO series, Westworld,  advertised as an hour-long, dark odyssey, will follow the Michael Crichton 1973 classic starring Yul Brynner and James Brolin?   In Crichton’s film, robots flood the park and guests sin with no consequences. Within the complex theme park visited by the wealthy who choose to indulge their fantasies either in a toga lounging in Roman gardens; as a knight or lady cavorting in a medieval castle; or as a root’n – toot’n cowboy in the Old West, murder is permissible.

Underground labs and tunnels connect the three sections of the park with robots to guests.
Underground labs manipulate and control the robots. Or do they?

White-coat scientists and technicians monitor and repair the robots programmed with one command–to serve the guests who live out their fantasies without moral or legal ramifications. To those who can afford the $7,000 a day price tag, they buy the freedom to indulge in the seven deadly sins with no worries. If this sounds like a quasi-Disney World/Las Vegas hedonistic theme park to you, you wouldn’t be far off. The low-budget, 1973 Westworld  plays out this science fiction scenario without the gore–just great special effects. With a PG rating, the techno-horror story builds suspense by the creepy performance of Yul Brynner, the first terminator, the A.I. gunslinger who stalks guests John Blane (James Brolin) and Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin). Michael Crichton will replay this theme supplanting robots with dinosaurs in his 1990 masterpiece, Jurassic Park.  

Special Effects 

Pixelization in film began over forty years ago with a two-minute perspective of the robot in Crichton’s Westworld. I enjoyed the story behind the birth of digital effects in David Price’s article, “How Michael Crichton’s Westworld Pioneered Modern Special Effects” in THE NEW YORKER.

It can be difficult for some to watch science fiction in television and film created decades ago. Delivering the future is problematic; most old films representing a hi-tech world look silly through today’s lens. The future is now, and it is easy to pick apart inaccurate predictions and label the production design as juvenile. I avoid this by considering the ethical issues presented. In this case, “What is real and what rights will A.I. have?” It’s a popular theme in science fiction, no doubt because we’re on the brink of the A.I. breakthrough.

What do we imagine our world will be like forty years from now? Most likely, today’s technology will seem quaint. Perspective is everything.

HBO “Westworld” 

Ed Harris, as the 2016 ston- faced gunslinger.

Ed Harris, as the 2016 stone-faced gunslinger.

Here’s a trailer tease of season one:

It’s almost 2016, and the story has a new life in the medium of television. HBO television. I doubt it will carry a PG rating this time. I imagine this version will be a hybrid with a dystopian feel like The Walking Dead combined with the sexiness of Game of Thrones. The principle cast includes Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, and James Marsden. Chris Nolan’s brother, Jonathan Nolan, serves as executive producer/writer/director. I haven’t seen his crime drama, Person of Interest, so I can’t comment on his abilities. With J. J. Abrams‘s stamp on the project, I suspect audiences will love it or hate it.  I like the looks of the setting, the cast–love Evan Rachel Wood–so, I will check it out, and see if it sticks with me. In fact, Jim’s brother is prop-master on the show; maybe I’ll get lucky and get to visit the set.

What are your thoughts about the 1973 version and next year’s series? 

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