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I actually only have a minute or two here–this is supposed to be my office hours, but nobody is here, and I’ve got time on my hands before I have to go and explain to a class that, the textbook notwithstanding, advertising is not the font of all evil and “public funding” does not guarantee a balanced presentation of the news–

Anyway, I have a minute.

So I thought I’d say this–I’ve just been rereading Mary Stewart’s The Moonspinners for the first time in many years.  I read it the first time because it was the book on which a Disney movie starring Hayley Mills was based–

Sometimes, my syntax is atrocious.

Anyway, when I was fourteen, Hayley Mills seemed to me to be the most perfect human being on earth, and I saw all her movies.  And after I saw The Moonspinners, I went right out and got the paperback copy of the book, a copy I still own today.  I know it’s the same one, because it’s the one with pictures from the movie all over the cover.

In the years since, I’ve rarely done more than glance at that cover, but I have seen the movie many times.  It was one of the first VHS tapes I ever bought–the very first was The Nun’s Story and the second was Gone With The Wind–and when we went over entirely to DVDs, my sons bought me a copy one year for Christmas.

It’s not a great movie, but it’s unobjectionable, and a lot of it was shot on location in Greece, and I like looking at it, so I’ve seen it several times a year in the last ten or so.

And now I’ve reread the book, and I’m struck by the fact that the book and the movie have virtually nothing in common but the title.

Well, the names of the hero and the heroine are the same–Nicola (NIcki in the movie) and Mark.  And Nicola has a cousin named Frances in the book, and an aunt by that name inf the movie.  And there is a guy named Lambdis, but he’s on the side of the good guys in the book and of the bad guys in the movie.  And there’s a guy named Stratos who is the major villain–but it’s his first name in the book and his last in the movie.  And then there’s Mr. Gamble, otherwise known as Tony, who plays the fence in the movie, complete with wife, while he’s a thinly disguised guy guy in the book.

Okay, I could do lists like this forever, but the larger point is that the plots have little or nothing to do with each other. It’s as if the studio liked the title and the idea of giving Hayley Mills her first ever screen kiss, so they paid a bunch of money for the book and then largely ignored it.

Why do people do these things?

Stewart sold very well, but she was hardly the kind of mega-bestselling Stephen King/J.K. Rowling sort of author whose very name would be a draw for movie audience–and, in fact, her name wasn’t used all that prominently in the movie publicity.

In a way, that’s what makes me feel less annoyed at this instance than I have been of some others, such as the hash made of Appointment with Death in the A&E Poirot series.  The movie is not bad.  The writer is not, like Christie, someone whose work is so closely interwoven with a view of life that deviating from it insults her. 

Even so, I’m left wondering what exactly is going on here and why it’s going on.  Why bother to do this?  Why not just write an original screenplay.  Stewart didn’t have the copyright on romantic suspense set in Greece, after all.  And the plot in the movie is so very different from that of the book that, without the use of the character names, it would never have occurred to anyone to connect them.

I do, by the way, like the movie more than I am liking the book, but that’s another issue altogether. 

And these office hours will come to an end, and I have that advertising thing to cover.

I’ll go into that at a later date, because it concerns The Textbook, and that’s an egregious issue no matter what else is going on.

Written by janeh

September 8th, 2011 at 10:21 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses to 'Adaptation'

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  1. They do it bit by bit. They start with a screenplay that is rather like the book with only the changes necessary to convert the story from a novel to a film script. But then someone decided to change one little thing… except that the little thing was not actually little, so it required another little change, which required another little change. And then someone wanted to change something else, which required another little change, which required another little change… And so it went until all the little changes had completely done away with the original story.

    It’s never all the same person wanting a change, of course. The screenplay writers, of course have to make some changes in the story to fit it to the silver screen, but then the director usually wants to make some changes, and then maybe the producer wants to make someone’s part a little bigger because of… well, just because, and some actor doesn’t like something he supposed to do or say, and then some other actor thinks if he gets away with insisting on changes then I’m going to insist on changes also because I’m every bit as important as he is.

    It’s kind of like Topsy, i.e. it just grows and grows, and no one worries about staying true to the original story. But of course they bought the original story before all the changes happened, so when they end up with a story that bares no resemblance to the Moonspinners, they can’t just change the title and a few names and then refuse to pay Mary Stewart.

    I hope she laughed all the way to the bank.


    8 Sep 11 at 3:19 pm

  2. For me, “the” Hayley Mills movie will always be THE TRUTH ABOUT SPRING, and the Mary Stewart always on the shelves is TOUCH NOT THE CAT.

    Might want to read a bit of William Goldman–screenwriter and novelist–on the joys of converting a story to film and the tendency of the script to drift. ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE and WHICH LIE DID I TELL? He gives details and examples, but his description is much like Charlou’s. Worth noting that (a) commonly no one person is in charge to the point where he can insist on a particular script, and (b) many of those involved didn’t pick, hadn’t read or don’t like the novel.

    One Harrison Ford/Tom Clancy reversed the point of the ending, and the same thing has happened to Walter Wager at least once. Rafael Sabatini’s THE BLACK SWAN was eviscerated, and THE SEA HAWK contains ONE SCENE of the novel. I’ll rant some other time about alterations to Tolkien.

    A special place goes to Robert E. Howard–six movies have featured his characters, and not one has been based on any of his stories–though one scene from a “Conan” story wound up in KULL. It’s as though we had AHAB III in the theaters, but no one had filmed MOBY DICK yet.

    But there is something weirder. Harry Julian Fink’s MAJOR DUNDEE is one of the very few western books in the apartment. (There are plenty of western movies, mind.) The book has crisper dialogue, a more coherent plot, and feels more like Peckinpah than the movie of the same title, which Peckinpah directed. But it’s not the book Peckipah adapted: it’s a novelization of the script he started with. The movie EL CID is a good movie of its type. The Robert Krepps novel based on the screenplay is a thing of beauty.

    Fink has been out of print now for 46 years, and Krepps for 50. They are unworthy of consideration, after all, since they’re only novelizations.

    The standards by which critics and reviewers judge books are very strange–but not half so peculiar as the standards by which they decide which books to judge.


    8 Sep 11 at 5:35 pm

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