Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Four Adaptations I'd Like to See (If Done Right)

Still in mourning over the demise of my romcom-ready love-hate relationship with the Bradley Cooper Paradise Lost movie, I at least have Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby to look forward to. Sure, there are some concerns (Why is Daisy so much younger than Gatsby? Will the 3D be used to make Myrtle's mangled body come flying right toward us?), but sometimes the projects you have concerns about turn out the best, like how everyone was raising eyebrows over Christopher Nolan casting pretty boy Heath Ledger as the Joker and then Ledger was iconic. And you know Luhrmann can nail the decadent party scenes.

Literary adaptations are a tricky thing. If it's a novel and not a short story that's being adapted, some aspects will have to be whittled down or cut. And if it's a beloved novel, there will be asshole fans like me who will probably only be satisfied if the movie turns out exactly as we had pictured in our head.

Anyway, here are four movies I would totally produce/bankroll if I won a reasonably large lottery. Hopefully they'd avoid becoming an entry in a sequel to Nathan Rabin's My Year of Flops (or at least make the "secret success" or balls-out "fiasco" categories).

Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood has quite the oeuvre to choose from, but I think 2003's Oryx and Crake would translate best to the big screen. This is the post-apocalyptic story of Snowman aka Jimmy, whose best friend Crake and their lover Oryx have created a brave new world and left him alone with it. Through flashbacks, we learn how the desolate Earth reached this point. Atwood's alternative near-future of corporation-run cities and execution-themed reality TV shows feels eerily real and, along with the other timeline's wreckage-scattered silent beaches, would make for a compelling movie setting. My biggest concern here would be the handling of Oryx's character. There's how Jimmy sees her, but there's also the between-the-lines Oryx, the survivor of childhood exploitation with her defiant stare. This project would need a director and actress who can see Oryx as more than just "tragic love interest."

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Haruki Murakami

My dream is for David Lynch to take one of these novels on. This is probably the most unlikely to happen of all my dream projects, but hear me out. Yes, Murakami novels tend towards the unwieldy, Lynchs' fanbase is smaller than studios would like, and both artists have their own very strong motifs and points of view, but I think there could be magic here. They both tend towards magical realism, borrow from genre, utilize music, are masters of atmosphere, and deftly juggle multiple planes of reality in a single work. Stylish, controlled scenes like the infamous Winkie's nightmare in Mulholland Dr. remind me of Murakami's ability to present bizarre situations in a matter-of-fact way. And they both have a thing for mysterious nightclubs. With their noirish mystery and range of visuals, I think The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World are best suited to film - and to Lynch in particular.

Notre-Dame de Paris/The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Victor Hugo

I've written about my favorite novel that is so not an appropriate source for a Disney movie before. But even non-Disney attempts at filming this novel have stumbled, generally getting caught up in the costumes and melodrama (the lucky French have a record-breaking RENTish stage musical of it, however). Notre-Dame de Paris needs a filmmaker who understands the characters, their inter-connectivity, and their society. 1400s Paris is depicted by Hugo as a dirty, dog-eat-dog world - it's a tense, dangerous time for anyone who stands out. Frollo, Quasimodo, and Esmeralda are all suspected of being the devil at some point by a paranoid, lynch-happy populace, and they all experience the grand Notre-Dame cathedral as both safe fortress and isolating prison. It's a large story of humanity and a society in transition, and also a small story of makeshift families that almost make it, but ultimately fall apart. BTW, Phoebus and Fleur-de-Lys would be perfect dinner party friends for Tom and Daisy.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

I think the biggest roadblock with adapting this novel, even moreso than concerns about race, is that it gets weird. Really weird. We all know about the raft and slavery thing, but remember the whole part with the King and the Duke? Seriously, that goes on forever. And then once Huck finds Jim, Tom shows up, and Tom's antics bring the process of freeing Jim to a dehumanizing crawl. I think these issues can only really be tackled by a screenwriter and director who get the tone of the piece and are able to be true to that without making a ten-hour long movie. Huckleberry Finn is a satire, but also very, very dark. Most adaptations try to gloss over the serious child abuse in the beginning and play the story up as a feel-good old-timey adventure, which works okayish until you get to con men putting on bizarre nudie shows. These traveling scoundrels were kind of the ShamWow guys of their time, and some of the then-topical humor just doesn't translate to contemporary audiences. All is not lost, we just need someone who can contextualize Twain's tour of the South appropriately and present with their own vision what Twain was trying to say - something beyond "omg white boy has adventure!!!"


  1. I hope they use this version of Huck Finn