Thursday, April 18, 2013

Guest Blog Post: Michelle Muckley, Author of Escaping Life

On the Treacherous Path from Book to Movie (and Perhaps Why We Shouldn't Be So Critical)

As a part of her blog tour in support of her latest release, Escaping Life, Michelle Muckley has joined me on the Accidental Author to talk about something very close to her heart: movie adaptations of books.

I know that many of you book lovers also relish a cinematic experience when one of your favorite reads is translated to the silver screen. But we all know the crushing feeling when a great piece of literature is slaughtered on the altar of poor decision-making by producers, directors, and script-writers.

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I was twelve years old when I first got my hands on the Thomas Harris book, The Silence of the Lambs. It was my school speech day prize on account of being the class nerd and I devoured it faster than Lecter would a meal served with a Fava bean and Chianti accompaniment. I was to wait another year before I finally saw the movie, after convincing my mother that it was safe to let me watch it since I had already read the book and knew what happened.   

She however, had not. 

Whilst remaining unconvinced, she relented as a holiday treat as I encouraged her with suggestions that "it wasn’t really that bad." As the film started I sat glued to a ten inch wall mounted television as we both sat propped up on our shared hotel room bed. I sat there watching the imprisonment and eventual escape of a man who visited my dreams for many of the following nights, and my mother sat there clearly wondering if she would ever be able to undo the irrevocable damage that she had unwittingly allowed to occur. I too was scared stiff, and considered an attempt to turn it off in a display of near-teenage disinterest. But I knew that I couldn’t muster such a credible performance and so instead sat there terrified to the end, possibly, but questionably, more so than my mother. Honestly, I had enjoyed every single flesh eating second of it.

It was indeed a grand moment in my book to screen adaptation education. One of the first screen adaptations that I ever watched was lavished with not one, but five Academy Awards and remains regarded as one of the best movies ever made. The book was celebrated. The movie was celebrated. All round success. Yet Demme’s directorial interpretation was far from a carbon copy of the novel. So why is it that whilst we consider this adaptation with such high regard, another we will toss back into the bargain bin before the credits have even had the chance to roll?

There is a huge difference is creating an image through written words and description, and creating something visual. The smallest of well written descriptions can result in a whole scenario in the readers mind, and ultimately what is created is something that the reader finds individually satisfying. You could take ten readers of the same passage and ask them to draw out an interpretation, and each would undoubtedly be different. Our own interpretation follows our own rules because the image is internalized. Once this process is complete, the director of any subsequent screen adaptation has to fight against the imaginary images already created. An exception could perhaps be a work so detailed, such as that by Tolkien where there are so many details that the reader and director have no choice but to follow the same path.

The director also has to decide on what details to leave out, or whether to include everything. Whilst reading Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, I completed a whole first chapter which concerned itself with no more than the extraction of a pea from an ear.  Chapters and chapters passed by before I had even been introduced to the mysterious Corelli. But yet when I sat down to watch the screen adaptation these characters from the beginning of the novel make little or no appearance in the movie. Their importance is whittled down to nothing more than a passing mention, or worse still, their whole personality is changed.

So what is a director to do? If they try to remain faithful to the original story it can begin to feel like an exercise in ticking boxes and a two hour run through at break-neck speed. Alternatively, the film would be unbearably long and indeed, should this have been the approach of John Madden in his attempt to direct Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, the movie would have carried an advisory notice for those with a predisposition to the development of DVT. Taking this same example, the drastically simplified plot of the screen adaptation managed to reduce a series of complex and thoughtful personalities into a cast of threadbare characters that I really didn’t care much about. The central element regarding the love between Corelli and Pelagia was so stripped of its depth and detail that the idea that she would have fallen in love with him almost seemed ridiculous, to the point that when an alternative and more emotionally agreeable happily ever after conclusion that I had hoped for throughout the last quarter of the book actually happened, I really couldn’t have cared less, and instead found myself wishing that she had turned around and told him to hop back onto the nearest boat and head in the direction of the Adriatic Sea.

So perhaps if you read a book and love it, seeing the movie will be an inevitable disappointment if you are looking for the same experience. Should we expect the same from a two hour visual representation of a text that takes us at least four times that to read? I for one should certainly have seen it coming when I eagerly sat down to watch Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. So rather than reverting to the idea that books shouldn’t be made into movies, or berating them when we see a less than faithful adaptation of one of our favourite books, perhaps it is time to stop making comparisons. Instead, we should open our eyes to the idea of enjoying different media in the form it was intended, and judge each interpretation on its own merits and failings rather than trying to force it to adhere to the rules of another. 

MICHELLE MUCKLEY, originally form Great Britain, has now settled in the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus. Her dream to be a published writer of thrillers--once only a pipe dream--have become a reality in recent years. Still working as a part time scientist, she now writes feverishly on a daily basis. When she is not at the computer typing about the darker side of life, you will find her hiking in the mountains, drinking frappe at the beach, or talking to herself in the kitchen in the style of an American celebrity chef (just think Ina Garten).

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