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Characters in Search of an Ending: Prestige Television and Literary Adaptation

The possibilities of prestige television seem limitless.

This is obvious just looking at the creative talent embracing the opportunities of the medium. Director Jane Campion observed, “The really clever people used to do film. Now, the really clever people do television.” It seems fair. Woody Allen has a television series at Amazon. Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon headlined Big Little Lies. Cary Fukunaga directed all eight episodes of the first season of True Detective, starring Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. Quentin Tarantino reflected, “If ever there’s been a chance for somebody to truly do a filmed novel, it’s in this area.”

There is a sense that prestige television has come to occupy the space that used to be given to mid-tier mid-range movies, thrillers and character studies that were too small to compete with the blockbusters but also weren’t an easy fit for the traditional Oscar season. Television is arguably the place to go for smart character-driven narratives telling adult stories in a restrained and considered manner. It is an interesting shift that has in some ways redefined the relationship between film and television.

Part of this has seen an increased emphasis on book-to-television adaptations. In the past, the default path for audio-visual adaptations of successful novels has been from the page to the silver screen, cinematic takes on iconic and memorable pieces of fiction. After all, countless Best Picture winners have been adaptations of popular novels or short stories; No Country for Old Men, Million Dollar Baby, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, The English Patient, Forrest Gump, Silence of the Lambs. A lot of blockbusters are inspired by comic books or young adult novels.

However, as televisual storytelling has grown more complex and ambitious, producers and writers have increasingly looked to the storytelling opportunities afforded by the smaller screen. Television offers more space for writers and directors to tell their stories, to expand out novels with complex mythologies or epic scope. The gaps that had existed between film and television, in terms of budget and talent, are rapidly closing. It is entirely possible for a televisual adaptation of a beloved novel to have a list of credible writers and directors, and recognisable on-screen talent.

Still, as much as this shift might represent an important step forward in the development of television as an artform, it also illustrates some of the problems that still exist in how producers approach the medium. While television shows can do a lot of things that novels can do, they still struggle in one respect. Television shows have yet to truly embrace the power of brevity and the weight of a proper ending.

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Out With the New: What’s Wrong With A Little Reimagining…?

I have to admit, I’m looking forward to The Muppets. That makes it all the more unfair that I’ll have to wait until 2012 to see it in a cinema – something that breaks my heart just a little bit. However, I’ve been fascinated by some of the discussions generated by the film, particularly with classic “muppet” staff coming out of the woodwork to comment on what they’ve seen of the rebooted muppets so far. Frank Oz has even offered some pretty harsh commentary:

“I wasn’t happy with the script,” he said about his decision to turn down the film. “I don’t think they respected the characters. But I don’t want to go on about it like a sourpuss and hurt the movie.”

There’s been quite a bit of focus around Fozzie the Bear’s “fart shoes” featured in one trailer:

“We wouldn’t do that; it’s too cheap. It may not seem like much in this world of [Judd] Apatow humor, but the characters don’t go to that place,” said one Muppets veteran. Another laments, “They’re looking at the script on a joke-by-joke basis, rather than as a construction of character and story.” Another is even concerned about stepping outside the established mythology saying that the upcoming film “creates a false history that the characters were forced to act out for the sake of this movie.”

I can certainly understand the feeling. However, part of me wonders if we are too concerned with preserving the “integrity”of classic franchises and stories, and if trying to limit the risks taken with them might ultimately be counterproductive.

Driving the franchise to ruin?

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Is TV the Natural Medium of Comic Book Adaptations?

It recently surfaced that David E. Kelley (creator of Ally McBeal and The Practice) is working on a Wonder Woman television show. Presumably it will be somewhat less campy than the Linda Carter version. Last month news broke that there are plans for a television version of Neil Gaiman’s epic story The Sandman. Later this month we’re see the airing of a live action version of Robert Kirkman’s critically acclaimed zombie comic book The Walking Dead. Part of me wonders if this is the logical shift in the market. After all, comic books arguably have more in common with television than they do with movies. So is this the real future of these adaptations?

It's a Wonder we didn't think of this earlier...

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Paradise Lost & Found: Milking Milton

Sometimes you hear a movie pitch and you think “man, that’s a good idea”. This is not one of those ideas. Apparently Hollywood has run out of modern fantasy books and comics to adapt and have set their eyes to a somewhat higher brow work: Milton’s Paradise Lost. I loved that book in secondary school almost as much as I loved Dante’s Inferno (the rest of The Divine Comedy I could take or leave, to be brutally honest). Anyway, you’d think I would be rejoicing at the news of the adaptation, but my cynical nature betrays itself here. You see, here is exactly what the producers had to say about the proposal:

…the project tells the story of the epic war in heaven between archangels Michael and Lucifer, and will be crafted as an action vehicle that will include aerial warfare, possibly shot in 3D.

Yes, it’s a 3D “aerial warfare” movie. I’m waiting for the announcement that Sam Worthington will play Satan and Vin Diesel will play the “one day away from retirement” Archangel “my friends call me Gabe” Gabriel.

That pitch meeting obviously didn't go well...

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They’re Adapting: Why is “Unfilmable” Such a Dirty Word?

The word “unfilmable” is thrown around a lot these days. Mostly quite unfairly, but sometimes somewhat justly. It’s typically used as a go to word when somebody is genuinely terrified of what an adaptation of a certain work may look like, but don’t want to concede that the thought of what Hollywood will do to a clever and insightful idea chills them to the very bone (this is the system which turned down a chance to make Fahrenheit 451 because they couldn’t sell it to thirteen year olds). However, the word itself simply suggests that there are some ideas, stories, narratives, presentations, whatever that simply can’t be transitioned from one format to another – here, of course, the other is always cinema or television. So, is it ever fair to describe something is “unfilmable” and is there any shame in the idea?

Lost in Adaptation...

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Game On: The Video Game Curse…

Prince of Persia is coming soon. You can’t miss it, what with all the airtime they’re filling the television channels with, and all the movie specials. The movie is what it is – it’s a cynical attempt to cash in on the retro-chic of the old swords-and-sandals pulpy serial adventures in the same way that Pirates of the Caribbean originally did, while remaining anchored to a property with at least some geek recognition attached. It isn’t by any stretch of my imagination a must-see movie this year (not even making it into my top ten most anticipated films), but it looks it might manage to do what it says on the tin. It might offer a distracting low-brow Middle-Eastern-themed romp with an effective cast and competent direction masking what’s undoubtedly a weak premise. However, the movie has one major fact playing against it: it’s a video game adaptation. And those have something of a dodgy history in Hollywood.

Is Prince of Persia going to get to the next level of video game adaptations?

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Could Quentin Tarantino Make “Daredevil”?

Last week it surfaced that Quentin Tarantino was invited to make Green Lantern before Martin Campbell took on the project. Being honest, I am actually more interested in what his Casino Royale would have looked like – he was interested in directing the project and keeping Brosnan in the leading role. It certainly would have been different from Campbell’s reimagining of the Bond series. But during the interview, Tarantino revealed that he might once have been interested in the idea of directing a comic book movie, but that has passed:

So there’s a little part of me that’s like, ‘Wow, if I was in my 20s, this would be the genre I’d want to specialize in’. But they weren’t making them then, or at least not the right ones. But there also is an aspect where I’ve kind of outgrown that a little bit.

I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that Green Lantern – with it’s massive space opera tapestry, inevitable reliance on hockiness that really won’t stand up to deconstruction and newl-emerged status as an A-list comic book hero – would not be ideally suited to Tarantino’s unique skillset. I racked my head thinking of some – Black Panther, Ant-Man, Starman – but I think I kinda settled on the hero would perhaps best suit his style. Daredevil.

Can Tarantino save Daredevil?

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