Saturday, February 21, 2009

Hollywood, stop messing with my childhood! Part 2

OK, so I promised you a blog post. The last one wound up being about how Hollywood was taking beloved stories from my childhood and turning them into movies that actually were pretty decent. This one delves into the "not so much" territory.

What gave me this whole idea was the adaptation of a book I very fondly, The Dark is Rising. This is the second book from Susan Cooper's five-book sequence (don't call it a series!) of the same name. The books are richly steeped in English and Welsh folkore and Arthurian legend. To sum up the story, 11-year-old Will discovers he's the last of the Old Ones, a group of immortal paladins that serve the Light and fight against the Dark. Will must discover the Six Signs (bronze, wood, iron, fire, water, stone) before it's too late.

That about sums up the similarities between the book and the movie. The movie was retitled only weeks before its release to The Seeker: The Dark is Rising giving it a wholly unnecessary Narnian colon and ruining what I've always thought was one of the most evocative book titles ever. Will is changed from 11 years old to 13 making him less a kid and more of an annoying teenager, but allowing them to add a completely unnecessary girl-related-subplot. The price of which was removing the character of The Watcher entirely. Merriman's foster son, who deserts the Light when Merriman was willing to let him die to protect a power magical artifact, then serves his penance by having to carry one of the Signs for 600 years before giving it to Will. Oh no, that character is booted to the curb so Will can get a funny feeling in his tummy when some girl looks at him sideways.

Need I mention the fact that they fabricated out of whole cloth a long-lost brother for Will (and he's got 5 already), who is kidnapped and captured by The Dark as a baby, which makes his father cold and distant, that Will must find out about and rescue? Or the fact that Will seems to be less of the last of a line of a group of the most powerful magical heros throughout history more the leader of a group of incompetent octagenarians?

Sigh. When I heard there would soon be a film version of TDIR, I checked out the books from the library and gave them a re-read. I did the same with John Carpenter's (no, not that John Carpenter) Tripods series when I heard The White Mountain is due to be released sometime in 2009. In interest of full disclosure, I never did read this trilogy as a kid, but rather saw the BBC miniseries, which only made it through the first two books and left the fans hanging. It's about what you would expect from 1980s British TV fare, but I'm of the opinion that it was pretty good for what it was. It's sort of War of the Worlds meets Mad Max meets The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I still think the intro is a bit eerie:

Information about the movie is scarce at best. The IMDB page is subscription-only, but I notice that it's listed there as being released in 2012 rather than 2009, so perhaps it was pushed back. Supposedly Gregor Jordan is on to direct.

I have a bad feeling about this movie. The first book is the story of three boys' travels through post-alien-invasion Europe as they travel from England to France. (All adult humans are brainwashed and mind-controlled by the aliens at the age of about 15.) I suspect that the setting will be moved out of Europe to the United States to avoid the association with that most Communist of nations, France. I also suspect the boys will be moved up in age from 14 to 17 or so. Lastly, the fact that they appear to be changing the name suggests that they will try to condense all three books into one movie. The BBC had twelve on-screen hours to tell the story of the first two books. Trying to shrink that, plus another book, all into one and a half hours is just a recipe for disaster.

And a longer trailer for season 1 (fan-made, I think):

I'm of two minds of the recent remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The new one is a bit less technocolor than the Gene Wilder version. Depp's performance as Willy Wonka is very fresh; as I think can be expected from Depp, he takes the role and really makes it his own. Wilder's Wonka seemed to like the kiddies in the movie a bit too much, if you know what I mean, while Depp's Wonka seems more likely just to have some in the freezer. But the last act of the movie just goes in a totally strange and unnecessary direction. It doesn't seem out of place to me to have fantastical elements in children's literature that don't really need to be explained. I don't need some Freudian backstory about why Wonka became a chocolatier, he just is. Wholly unnecessary and distracting from the main story.

Lastly, we're starting to see trailers for Race to Witch Mountain, the remake of 1975's Escape to Witch Mountain. I hesitate to include this one because, even though I have fond memories of it from when I was young, I haven't seen it since and suspect it is actually fairly hokey. Still, I liked it and one of the things I remember about it is that there was quite a bit of mystery about it: who are these kids, why can they do these things, what happened to them? And from the previews for the new one, it looks like all that is gone and these two weird kids are just superpowerful beings that hire a former-wrestler-cum-taxi-driver to drive them cross-country to get somewhere to stop the end of the world from arriving. Ugh. I mean, aliens that can smash cars with their minds, but can't figure out how to work a cell phone or take a plane somewhere?


moon-grrl said...

The Tripods! Oh, seeing that title makes me happy. My parents still lament that Chicago's PBS never finished the whole series.

Any screen adaptation of TDIR would suck big donkey balls. There is no way a such a complicated story could translate that sequence well, even if they hadn't screwed with the main character's age, taken out The Watcher, and added a stupid assed love interest. After crying over how shallow the adaptation of The Golden Compass was last year, I don't think I could take TDIR getting even worse treatment.

Roald Dahl books should never, ever, ever be made into movies. EVER. I hated Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka even more than Gene Wilder's. He's supposed to be madcap, not fucking haunted!

I have little opinion of Escape to Witch Mountain. I've never managed to sit through the whole movie.

Fig said...

Belatedly catching up on posts but...

I lurved the bbc series on the Tripods. I was shocked to find out it was based on books since until that point I had never seen a good adaptation of anything.

I recently reread TDIR and was surprised to realize how passive Will is. It is a great story and a terrific sequence of books, but Cooper makes it clear Will is just a young boy caught as a pawn in a much larger game.

Unrelated: my favorite Cooper book is not in that sequence and is Seaward. You should read it.