Friday, February 19, 2010

Adaptation Addict: When Is A Movie As Good As The Book? | Airlock Alpha

A comparison between successful remakes and the new Percy Jackson movie helps answer the question.
(This column may contain spoilers for "Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief")

I like nothing better than taking something like a good book or comic and seeing it well done in another medium. Whether I watch on the television or especially in a movie theater, I sit in absolute anticipation that what I loved in the original will still be there on the screen.

That feeling of adoration that I had for certain characters or interest in a compelling storyline drives me to keep trying again and again. There is nothing better than to walk away from a movie remake thinking that the writers, the director, and the cast absolutely nailed it, or in the case of the Lord of the Rings trilogy movies made it even slightly better.

But there is nothing like that feeling of “meh” or even utter disappointment when walking away from a poorly done adaptation. 

A lot of excitement can surround a film adaptation of a good book. There have been some very nicely done film remakes in past years, although I am still on the fence as to how well done the Twilight series is as far as being representative of the books (please don’t send me hate e-mails). However, the second film did do a better job than the first.

I think that the Harry Potter series qualifies to be at the top of that list. But what makes that series and other successes work? And what makes others absolutely fail? 

These were the questions that I was considering while sitting through the latest adaptation “Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief.” 

Many reviewers are calling the new Percy Jackson movie the new Harry Potter, and because of this I anticipated an absolutely fun time like I had when reading the first of Rick Riordan’s book series. I can definitely see the similarities between the two series: it is a coming of age story for a young teenage boy, there are magical powers involved, there are interesting characters, and there is a lot of action.  

While making a judgment on “Percy Jackson,” let’s compare it to what the Harry Potter series does well. 

First of all and maybe most importantly, the Harry Potter series remains very faithful to the books. One of the key reasons is because author J.K. Rowling was very involved in the approval of the scripts. She even steered them away from unfaithful scenes that wouldn’t match the books, like when they wanted to give Dumbledore a girlfriend in a flashback. 

On his official Web site, Riordan admits to having sold the movie rights to Disney more than five years ago and even before the first book was published so that it could get more publicity. This means that the screenwriters for the movie had every opportunity to make changes that they wanted to. That decision may have helped the book and the rest of the five-book series gain the popularity that it now has, but I can bet there were some changes to the basic story that may have made Riordan regret this decision.

Unlike Harry Potter where we are introduced to several colorful characters, there were only a few of the major characters present in “Percy Jackson." I don’t know if they think that we viewers are incapable of meeting multiple characters or if the choice was made in the name of streamlining the plot. But there were some characters, albeit not the most important ones, that I missed and that I think will be essential if they choose to film all five of the book series.

More importantly, since Percy is dealing with the Olympians, you would expect him to interact with more than just Zeus, Athena, Poseidon and Hades. In fact, there was a complete omission of Ares and his house at Camp Half Blood.

Speaking of Camp Half Blood, one of the fun aspects of Percy discovering his demigod status and joining everyone at the camp is his placement. Yes, it is very reminiscent of the Sorting Hat at Hogwarts. But at Camp Half Blood, your house is chosen when the god that sired you claims you. One of the things that make an adaptation at least satisfactory if not completely successful is staying true to the basic plot. In order to do this, the writers have to go to the source material and find the important plot kernels that need to stay to maintain faithfulness.

In Harry Potter, although there have been plot points that have had to be dropped because of adapting 600-plus pages into a two-hour movie, the basic and most important kernels remain. My biggest complaint about the “Percy Jackson” movie is that they changed the major storyline of the chief gods Zeus and Poseidon not claiming their children, which makes them an anomaly at the camp. The feelings of abandonment and father issues that Percy and other demigods feel make the characters more fascinating.  
Take away the flaws and complications, and movie Percy becomes very flat. Also, if they want to continue the series, the issue of god parenting becomes extremely important. 

I know that in order to make a movie from a book a reasonable length, changes have to be made. Only Peter Jackson was daring enough to take extra scenes that were straight out of the books, film and score them, and add them as extended versions to appease the diehard fans.  

Harry Potter, and now possibly the last Twilight book, took the lengthy last books of the series and split them into two movies in order to do it justice. For a smaller book like “Percy Jackson,” I wonder why they had to make such a major change that ultimately took away from what could have been a film success. 

Was there anything I liked about the movie version of “Percy Jackson”? Absolutely. I liked the actor they chose for Percy, but I bet he could have handled the more complex character of the book. I think that they brought the setting of the book into our modern world very well, although I think that some of the songs that they chose will date the movie in the future, whereas Harry Potter will always seem timeless.  

My favorite part of the movie was the character Grover who I think added even more cheekiness than the character in the book did. But I wonder whether or not they will make more of the book series. If they do, they’ll have to make up for some plot points that they chose to change. 

If I had to choose between the movie or the book, I’m afraid that for “Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief,” the movie’s deficiencies affect its fun factor. My advice to those that liked the book is to wait for the DVD or reread the book.  

For those who haven’t read the book yet, it’s your choice whether to spend your money at your local bookstore or at the movie theater for this one. However, I am not deterred and will return to the theater for many upcoming adaptations including the updated “Clash of the Titans” and Tim Burton’s vision of “Alice in Wonderland.”

Adaptation Addict: When Is A Movie As Good As The Book? | Airlock Alpha

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