Thursday, August 6, 2009

Unproducable Literature: or, Books You Can't Make Into Movies

So I'm reading Fyodor Dostoevsky's (absolutely wonderful and brilliant) book The Brothers Karamazov right now. Among other things, the novel deals with psychology, guilt, the existence of God, tradition, the meaning of life, and a whole bunch of other amazing and deep philosophical/religious/cultural questions.

Well, being the theatre addict that I am, I began thinking about a stage adaptation...I mean, it would be interesting to see such a simultaneously epic and focused storyline translated to the stage--or, even better, to film. So I did some research, and I discovered that The Brothers Karamazov actually was made into a movie. And it starred Yul Brynner and...wait for it...William Shatner.

Apparently, the movie wasn't that great. Understandable...

And then I began thinking about other classic novels which really would have trouble translating to the screen well. Books like Moby Dick, Bleak House, Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion--okay, that one was a joke--Catcher in the Rye, The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy...well, I'm sure there are others. Not just books, either: think about a movie based off of Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Or Milton's Paradise Lost.

The problem is that all of these wonderful excellent classics are great books, and when the movie industry hears "great book" they think "fan following" and then they think "blockbuster" and that's when the dollar signs start dancing before their eyes, if said dance hadn't started previously. Most of the works I mentioned do have captivating stories: just story-wise, think about a movie based from the Rime. Gripping, no?

But the sticking point is that these classics go beyond just a cool story. They touch on Themes, and as a rule Themes don't translate well from the page to the screen. Think, if you will, of Moby Dick, one of my personal favorites. The book deals with questions of identity; it talks about theory of authority; it discusses revenge (of course); evil is symbolized and explored; death, community, friendship, race relations...the book is a veritable wealth of psychological and philosophical discussion. And then there's the detailed--nay, exhaustive--descriptions of how a whaling vessel works, along with whaling history, whaling superstition, and whaling tall tales!

It just wouldn't work. Even theatrical productions of books like The Brothers Karamazov would end up being shallow narrative-centric failures. Which, to some extent, is a good thing...

I do wish, though, the laws, the Way Things Are, would take a vacation for a while, because a Rime movie would kick butt. I'd see that.

Long live impenetrability!

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