Category: Adaptation

The Shepherd’s Tale

Cover image for The Shepherd's Tale by Joss and Zack WhedonWritten by Joss and Zack Whedon

Art by Chris Samnee

ISBN 978-1-59582-561-2

Well, if you look at your life as a chain of events, each responsible for the next and caused by the last, where does any story begin? Could take you all the way back to my birth, and before that the meeting of my parents or the meeting of theirs…

After a recent re-watch of a large part of Firefly and Serenity with my brother over Canadian Thanksgiving, I was reminded that I’d never read The Shepherd’s Tale, the 2010 comic which reveals the mysterious back story of Shepherd Book, which was wasn’t covered in the cancelled TV series or the feature film that helped wrap up the story. This review necessarily contains some spoilers for Firefly and Serenity, but will not contain spoilers for Book’s back story, in case you decide you would rather not know.

The Shepherd’s Tale opens on Haven Mining Colony, shortly before the scene in Serenity in which Mal and his crew arrive to find that the Operative has begun slaughter their allies in an effort to flush them out of hiding. The set up is somewhat heavy handed, as the boy Terrors asks Book “when’s the Captain and them comin’ round again,” and an unidentified woman asks “how did you fall in with those folks, Shepherd?” Their conversation is interrupted by the drone of the Alliance gunship that Book shoots down in the film, though not before it slaughter the inhabitants of Haven. Fatally injured, Book recounts his story in a series of flashbacks, moving through time in reverse, all the way back to his childhood.

I was initially a bit confused by the timeline of The Shepherd’s Tale, as I read each of the “x years earlier” captions as being dated from the time of the frame narrative. It wasn’t until the scenes aboard the I.A.V. Cortez—about halfway through the book, though the pages are unnumbered—that it became clear to me that the timeline as I was reading it didn’t make sense, since Book looked younger in a scene captioned “six years earlier” than he did in a scene captioned “ten years earlier.” I started over from the beginning, and the story made a lot more sense once I started reading the timeline captions as telling you how long before the preceding scene they occurred, rather than referring back to the frame narrative. Perhaps this mistake wrong footed me, because I had a hard time getting into this story even once I got the timeline sorted out. If you’re confused, I found the Firefly Wikia timeline with dates pretty helpful.

Chris Samnee’s dark and gritty artwork is well suited to depicting Book’s troubled past, but it occasionally leaves something to be desired in terms of distinguishing characters from one another at a glance because his faces are sometimes insufficiently detailed. Except where the faces lacked detail—usually characters in the mid-distance or background—his depictions of the crew of Serenity are quite good, including a lovely frame of River doing a one-handed handstand.

The Shepherd’s Tale had a number of key points to cover in order to tie up the loose threads of Book’s story, and I found it unsatisfactory in this regard. The back story revealed here specifically did not jibe with the events in Safe, where Book’s identity card gains him immediate medical treatment aboard an Alliance ship. The story clears up most of the mystery surrounding Book’s background, but in a volume so short that it seems like a gloss on the character, rather than a completion. The explanations it offers are insufficient if not contradictory, and it doesn’t add much to the depth of Book’s character. If you’ve imagined an interesting or satisfactory back story for Book—as I had before reading The Shepherd’s Tale—I’d recommend skipping this one.

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Page to Screen: City of Bones

cover image for city of bones by Cassandra ClareNovel by Cassandra Clare

Film directed by Harald Zwart

ISBN 978-1-4424-2103-5

Vampires, werewolves, even warlocks, they’re part-human. Part of this world, born in it. They belong here. But demons come from other worlds. They’re interdimensional parasites. They come to a world and use it up. They can’t build, just destroy—they can’t make, only use. They drain a place to ashes and when it’s dead, they move on to the next one. It’s life they want—not just your life or mine, but all the life in this world, its rivers and cities, its oceans, its everything.”

Movie poster for City of BonesFifteen year old Clary Fray has a relatively normal if somewhat sheltered life with her mother, Jocelyn, in New York City. She has a faithful best friend in Simon, even if it sometimes seems that he would like to be more than friends. Then one night, she and Simon sneak out to an all ages club called Pandemonium, where Clary witnesses an inexplicable murder. Inexplicable because the body disappears, and it seems only she can see the killers. The three warriors call themselves Shadowhunters, and claim their victim was a demon. They are also very interested in how it is that Clary, supposedly a mundane, can see them at all. On the heels of this encounter, Clary’s mother disappears, and she herself is attacked by a demon in her own home. It appears that Jocelyn may have been hiding something from Clary, or possibly hiding Clary from someone. Now Clary finds herself pulled into the world her mother deliberately left behind, with only the mysterious and self-assured Jace as her guide.

booktomovieIn film and book alike, the dialogue is a bit awkward, often verging on cheesy. Cassandra Clare has a campy sense of humour and largely manages to carry it off well, but the film seems to be on the fence about whether it should embrace its own cheesiness or aim for the dramatic. The audience in the theatre seemed uncertain about whether they were laughing with the film or at it in many cases, the greenhouse scene in particular. Fortunately, Jamie Campbell Bower and Robert Sheehan were able to pull off Clare’s amazing snarky banter between Jace and Simon, and in general embodied these two characters, and the tension between them, incredibly well.

Clare’s book is on the long side (600+ pages in paperback), featuring a number of side plots and scrapes that were streamlined out of the film. Overall, this simplification was badly needed—I suspect any film version of the flying vampire motorcycle scene would have been unbearably bad—but in some cases, the film goes too far. The second encounter with Madame Dorothea, for example, makes absolutely no sense without the explanation provided in the book. The dialogue that explains the situation in the book feels a bit forced and expositional, but at least the situation makes sense. Jocelyn’s decision to give Madame Dorothea the tarot cards is not logical otherwise, and a couple lines of dialogue are all it would have taken to correct the confusion.

The book and film are also alike in that they are consistently inconsistent, funny one moment, and melodramatic the next; action-packed and fast paced, and then suddenly plodding, weighed down by exposition and explanation. Both have fun and very enjoyable moments, but are less satisfying when taken as a whole.

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More Page to Screen:

The Great Gatsby

The Host

The Perks of Being a Wallflower 

Page to Screen: The Great Gatsby

Cover image for The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Film directed by Baz Luhrmann

ISBN 978-0-7432-7356-5

Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.”

Nick Carraway arrives in booming 1920s New York, looking to make his way selling bonds in the finance sector. His only acquaintance there is his cousin, Daisy, who is married to a rich, philandering polo player named Tom Buchanan. Nick rents a small house in an otherwise wealthy neighbourhood, next door the mysterious Mr. Gatsby, who throws large, opulent parties every weekend at which he is never seen. Rumours abound about Gatsby’s past, and how he made his money, but no one seems to know the truth. Unexpectedly, Gatsby reaches out and befriends Nick, revealing bits of his story as a self-made millionaire who built his fortune in pursuit of a beautiful young woman he loved before the war, but who married another, wealthier man instead. The young woman is, of course, Nick’s cousin, Daisy, and soon he finds himself chaperoning a heated emotional affair that is bound to end in disaster.

booktomovieNick himself is a largely hollow character, the vessel for the story, but not much of an active player in the plot. His role is to convey the events he observed, which would be coloured too much with one perspective or another if Daisy, Tom, or Gatsby were to be cast as the point-of-view character. Nick is connected to, and in some ways, culpable for, the events of the The Great Gatsby, but mostly he is a pawn in Fitzgerald’s game. In his film adaptation, Baz Luhrmann attempts to add some depth to the character in his frame narrative, implying that the fallout from events which he facilitated had a destructive affect on the course of Nick’s life.

The passage of time has given Fitzgerald’s narrative a weight it could not have had when it was first published in 1925. Our knowledge of the coming stock market crash dampens our view of Nick’s hope for a successful future in finance, just as our knowledge of the coming of the Nazi’s eugenic agenda paints Tom with a darker brush than Fitzgerald might have intended. Fitzgerald likely intended merely to make Tom look slightly ridiculous, a pseudoscientific poseur, but his discourses on eugenics take on more sinister aspect post-World War II.  In retrospect, these details add a dark tone to the book—a sense of inevitable doom—that is the product purely of the reader’s knowledge of history.

The Great Gatsby is the rare book that is short enough to be made into a film without sacrificing much of the source material, and Luhrmann does indeed hue to it quite closely. Unfortunately, what feels short as a book can seem to drag endlessly when adapted almost word-for-word, proof positive that a faithful adaptation is no guarantee of a successful film. Well-cast and well-performed as it is (Di Caprio’s endless reiterations of “old sport” notwithstanding), the actors rarely shine brightly enough to relieve the tedium. Luhrmann’s excesses and additions are largely visual and musical in nature; as usual, it is visually sumptuous to the point of exaggeration. Always one for deliberate anachronistic details, in The Great Gatsby, it is Luhrmann’s choice of music that is grossly out of place, swapping the era’s jazz music for modern rap tracks. Yet neither a great cast, nor a visual extravaganza can save this film from itself.

Guest Post: Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily a New Hope

Cover for Ian Doescher's Shakepeare's Star Wars: Verily a New Hope
Cover for Ian Doescher’s Shakepeare’s Star Wars: Verily a New Hope

By Ian Doescher

ISBN 978-1-59474-637-6

**Shay will be on holidays for the month of July. Guest posts brought to you by Amelia. **

“OBI-WAN:      – True it is,

That these are not the droids for which thou seach’st.

TROOPER:  Aye, these are not the droids for which we search.”

Though, unsurprisingly, this isn’t a text actually written by the Bard himself, Verily a New Hope is exactly what it advertises itself to be: a retelling of the classic George Lucas film in the style of a Shakespearean play. I’ll admit my own personal bias here: something this catered to both my love of literature and science fiction was just too tempting to pass by. That said, I was pleasantly surprised at how accessible of a read this was, even for people not exclusively in its target audience. While Verily a New Hope is a great way to introduce readers to the language of Shakespeare by using a familiar plot to make the “prithee”s and “heretofore”s less daunting, it’s also a great vehicle for imagining a rarely-seen overlap between science fiction and theatrical performance. Many of the cinematic action sequences are instead dramatically described by a narrating chorus, and in true Shakespearean fashion, props are minimized and only mentioned in the dialogue rather than the stage direction. A theatrical adaptation of Doescher’s work would be not only viable, but also a really interesting performance in its own right.

As a technical piece of writing, Verily a New Hope is downright impressive. The entire thing is in perfect iambic pentameter – a type of literary form that not even Shakespeare, who is best known for using it, was a consistent master of. And the translation of an action movie into the pacing of a five-act play allowing for scene and costume changes was surprisingly seamless. It’s clear that Doescher really allowed himself to have fun in the construction of his adaptation, throwing in nods to some of the favourite lines for Shakespeare enthusiasts (“Exeunt Han and Chewbacca, pursued by stormtroopers”) while honouring the long-standing fans of the original trilogy  (addressing, if not answering, that long standing question of “who shot first?”). Obviously, in taking a major work of science fiction and pairing it with a major name in literature, a lot of artistic licence needs to be be accepted, and that is certainly the case here. Doescher alters huge chunks of dialogue while trying to stay true to the overall story, which results in some impulsive additions – like a series of lengthy monologues spoken by R2D2 throughout the play.

Unfortunately, the deliberate emphasis that Doescher puts on the moments of fan service he performs in Verily a New Hope are amusing at the start, but very quickly grow old. Rather than trying to stay true to Shakespeare’s tone and style, he often resorts to simply altering famous Shakespearan lines to fit the context of the Star Wars universe (giving Luke lines like “but O, / what light through yonder flashing sensor breaks?”). This is not necessarily a bad thing – it simply shows that Doescher decided to go with the safer route of parody rather than appropriation. Since Verily a New Hope is clearly a light-hearted endeavour from the start, it may be best to see it as such: and enjoyable adventure with a generous dose of Renaissance charm.

Page to Screen: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Cover image for The Perks of Being a Wallflower Movie Tie In Edition by Stephen Chboskyby Stephen Chbosky

ISBN 978-0-671-02734-6

“And all the books you’ve read have been read by other people. And all the songs you’ve loved have been heard by other people. And that girl that’s pretty to you is pretty to other people. And  if you looked at these facts when you were happy, you would feel great because you are describing ‘unity.’”

“Charlie” is an introverted and cerebral high school freshman, the eponymous wallflower of the novel. His only friend, Michael, committed suicide the previous year. His favourite aunt, Helen, died in a car crash shopping for a birthday present for him when he was seven, and he doesn’t feel all that close to the other members of his family. Socially withdrawn, but surprisingly observant, Charlie begins penning pseudonymous letters to an unknown acquaintance. These letters reveal a number of disturbing events in his past, and dark family secrets, as well as sharing Charlie’s efforts to participate in the social life of his high school. When he befriends the beautiful senior, Sam, and her stepbrother Patrick, a whole new world is opened to him, one which he doesn’t necessarily have the skills to navigate. However, it is this very lack of social sophistication which gives him his unusual candour and pure curiousity, the very traits which make this introspective novel so moving.

booktomovieSupposedly a modern classic, it’s hard to see the appeal of The Perks of Being a Wallflower in the first few chapters. The letters which make up the novel are anonymous and vague, as Charlie tries to avoid providing identifying details. Charlie’s writing style is meandering and awkwardly lacking in contractions. However, through the plot device of having Charlie read extra novels and write book reports for his English teacher, Bill, his writing style improves, and ceases to get in the way of the story Chbosky is trying to tell. Despite containing more serious trauma and drama than the life of the average teen—rape, sexual abuse, abortion, promiscuity, substance abuse and mental illness—the novel narrowly manages to deliver an emotionally resonant depiction of the teen experience that withstands the fifteen years since its writing extremely well. I like this novel now, but I suspect I would have loved it when I was in high school.

Film adaptations are most often skewered for lack of faithfulness to the book, but The Perks of Being a Wallflower was both written and directed by Stephen Chbosky. As a result, the details that have been added or tweaked feel authentic due to the consistency of Chbosky’s voice. Chbosky’s cuts to make the novel fit the run time of a film have both positive and negative consequences for the narrative. Reducing the number of characters by removing Charlie’s extended family—except, of course, Aunt Helen—and removing his sister’s subplots both streamline the story and reduce the melodramatic, after-school-special effect of covering every teen issue in the book. However, in order to more fully flesh out Charlie’s family life in the absence of his extended family, Chbosky decided to portray the family as Catholic. With this added detail, the decision to remove the subplot in which Charlie’s sister has an abortion seems ideologically motivated. The scenes were in fact shot and are included in the special features on the DVD release. Chbosky’s commentary says they were cut for run time, but the decision not to include them is unfortunate.

In most other ways, the film only improves upon the novel. Superb casting and excellent music bring the novel to life. Both film and music have crucial roles on the novel, so it is only apt that they get room to shine in the film. Some parts, such as the Rocky Horror Picture Show performances, belong on a screen more than they ever fit in a book. Ezra Miller, in particular, does not disappoint in his reprise of Dr. Frank-n-furter. Even Chbosky’s literary references fare surprisingly well in the film medium. Overall, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an exceptionally successful book to film adaptation.

Page to Screen: The Host

Movie Tin-In Cover for The Host by Stephenie MeyerNovel by Stephenie Meyer

Film directed by Andrew Niccol

ISBN 978-0-316-12865-0

“To my mother, Candy, who taught me that love is the best part of any story.”

“Our world has never been more perfect, only it is no longer our world.”

The Earth has been invaded, but most of humanity was not aware of this fact until it was far too late. These stealthy invaders inhabit human bodies, called hosts, and go on leading human lives, quietly converting others until there are almost no humans left. Earth is not the first world they have conquered, but it is unlike any planet the Souls have inhabited before. Melanie Stryder is one of the few remaining humans, or she was until she is captured and becomes the new host for Wanderer, a Soul who has lived many lives but never settled on any one world. Melanie was supposed to fade away when Wanderer took possession of her body but, for the first time in her many lives, Wanderer finds herself unable to subdue her host. Human emotions and memories are so powerful and vivid that she feels sympathy for Melanie. Worse, it isn’t really sympathy, but empathy; Melanie’s feelings are her feelings. Soon Wanderer finds that inhabiting Melanie’s body often means wanting what she wants and loving those she loves. Melanie’s memories of Jared drive Wanderer into the wilderness in search of the man they both miss.

booktomovieMeyer’s novel gets off to a slow start, with some awkward exposition from the perspective of a minor character. The film manages to eliminate this awkward dialogue through an initial voiceover introduction. However, later moments of exposition in the film remain clumsily wedged into dialogue, a technique which is efficient but also breaks narrative flow. Overall, The Host hues close to the source material—Meyer was a producer on the film—except where it streamlines the plot for runtime, or strays for the opportunity to add visual effects or more dramatic action sequences. The Host presents a somewhat unusual challenge for film translation. Not only is it a first person perspective, but the two first-person characters share a mind and speak to one another in silence. In the film, this was achieved using an echoey voice-over to represent Melanie’s voice in Wanderer’s mind. Although Saorise Ronan is a remarkable actress, not all of their interactions with one another ring true. Indeed, the acting overall is a mixed bag, with most characters having good moments, as well as awkward ones that don’t quite pass muster.

Despite the science fiction premise, The Host is a love story—romance with a window dressing of science fiction. Meyer dedicates the book to her mother, who she says “taught me that love is the best part of any story,” and this certainly plays out in her work. Although the ending offers some hope of redemption for humanity, the problem of the occupation of Earth is by no means solved. (Although initially published as stand alone, Meyer has stated that there may be future sequels). Rather, Meyer focuses on resolving the conflict of having Wanderer and Melanie first love the same man, and then love two different men despite residing in one body. Unlike the book, however, the film seems to see the humour in the situation, and wisely chooses to play Meyer’s melodramatic two kiss scene (one with each love interest) for laughs when Wanderer frantically calls Melanie’s name, rather than that of either lover.

In “A Conversation with Stephenie Meyer” included in the book, Meyer has said that The Host and the Twilight Saga are not particularly similar. Overall, however, there are a number of strong similarities despite claims to the contrary. Love triangles (or quadrangles?) and romances complicated by age differences play a key role in both stories and Wanderer, much like Bella, is self-sacrificing to the point of absurdity. Although marketed as an adult novel, I would peg it squarely in the realm of YA despite some of the characters being slightly older.

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Looking for another sci-fi romance? I recommend The Rules by Stacey Kade.

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2013eclecticreaderThis titles fulfills the Made Into a Movie requirement for my participation in 2013 Eclectic Reader Challenge hosted by Book’d Out