Friday, 29 November 2013

Torn between love and hate

I was just over at io9, reading an article promoting the concept of a TV show which deals with a different story each week, like the Outer Limits, and it compared this to the idea of books which contain a lot of science fiction short stories. I know exactly how I would feel about someone filming something I had already read: conflicted. How about you? Chances are you have already experienced it. Before I was born, my mother was very into SF, and my first exposure to many stories from The Original Series of Star Trek was not on the television, but the printed page. Naturally, I imagined the appearance of characters and things, and they weren't necessarily the same as what I ended up seeing in the TV show. I don't remember finding this disappointing.

When I got older, however, I went through a phase when I would try to avoid seeing a film if I had already read it. Some folk, I guess, never escape this phase, given how much frustration can overcome people when they see not merely is the brunette being played by a blonde, but the reason the killer killed is now a quite different reason. Sometimes this still frustrates me. A few years ago ITV started adapting Miss Marple stories for the telly, and in one of these they introduced a lesbian love affair as part of the explanation for the killer's motivations. That annoyed my family, as it was an alteration to the original. I found it tiresome because it was a change that was done solely with the intent of getting some free publicity. It did nothing to change the story for the better or improve the characters. It was just change for attention's sake.

The show had me raising a supercilious eyebrow because it had been called Marple, not Miss Marple. That isn't cool, TV executives. It's a bad idea. The whole thing about Miss Marple is that she is seemingly a harmless little gossipy old lady. The fact that nobody says "Miss" these days means you should keep it as the title to reinforce that idea. Worse, the actress playing Miss Marple, Geraldine McEwan, was wrong for the role. She's a good actress and I have enjoyed her in other parts. Her cackling crone in that divertingly silly Costner version of Robin Hood remains entertaining to this day. The lady they had as Miss Marple last time I watched, Julia McKenzie, is much more suitable, and even seems preferable to me than the sainted Joan Hickson, who had a wonderful run as Miss Marple, which I fondly remember from my childhood. The theme music from that era can make me nervous even today!

Returning to my original point, there are three responses I can have to an adaptation: enthusiastic, uncaring and downright annoyed. Of course, you don't need to have had any exposure to the original to have these responses. A friend dragged me along to see the first Lara Croft film when it came out. I had not played any of the games. After having to sit through that terrible, terrible film, I had no desire to. I resorted to rudeness to avoid having to watch the sequel, which I hear is even worse. That must have taken some work. Adaptations of beloved things are "taking an awful risk", as Grand Moff Tarkin might say. There was a baffling adaptation of an early Terry Pratchett book the other year. It had none of the wit and humour of the original, seeking to replace them with famous faces utterly unsuited to the roles. Even worse, one of the actors had previously played a different character in a previous adaptation of the same writer's work. I presume that anyone unfamiliar with the universe wondered how Death's cook ended up as a cowardly wizard.

Sometimes adaptations can work excellently. I was very taken with the film American Psycho on its release, despite never having read the book. Indeed, for several years I avoided it, having been told it was decidedly nastier in tone than the film. The film had some fairly nasty things in it, but when I read the book, it was indeed full of even more horrible things. It is a good book, mind you, and the film a good adaptation. So when the idea is not just one thing that might work, but a whole slew of stories, the number of possibilities for error rocket.

There's a TV show I have been watching lately called Sleepy Hollow, and it is really inadvisable to subject it to any serious critical thinking. Frankly, though, it works brilliantly. The fact that almost nothing in it makes any sense means that almost everything in it is funny. The lead character, for instance, Ichabod Crane, has a backstory that just doesn't add up at all. He explains that he joined the British Army to help put down the American Revolution. Fine. He names his regiment. Out of interest, I looked it up, and during the Revolutionary War it was in Gibraltar and Britain, having been formerly in Ireland. That's fine. Then in a subsequent episode he is at the Boston Tea Party, helping to steal some evil thing that the Hessians are guarding. Because the Hessian mercenaries are helping to bring about the end of the world, you see. It is glorious fun, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to you with one proviso. My Dad is a big train buff, and gets peeved when a TV show set in the '30s uses one from the '40s. Since nothing in this show makes any sense, exercise caution if you find things similarly off-putting. Baddies using artefacts marked with Viking runes to do something that involves them talking in Ancient Greek to henchmen who speak German about some Egyptian hieroglyphs is too much fun - unless it isn't for you.

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