After reading David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas I would have said it was the perfect example of a book that couldn’t be filmed. Now, to prove me wrong, there’s a Cloud Atlas film by the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer.
It’s really good. [SPOILERS AHEAD]
I mean, yes, when adapting a story that has 6 storylines and a unique structure (the book starts with a story from the 1850, tells half of each story which extends into a post-apocalyptic future and then goes back through time to finish each story) into film, it’s going to be changed. And the Wachowski’s are not making a subtle film here, so the changes are not going to err on the side of subtlety. The biggest change was intercutting all the stories together, so you bounce from Neo-Seoul to 1970s San Francisco to a Pacific voyage back to the 1930s composer all at once. And it worked. Each of the stories did have its own tone to it, but the reuse of actors in all these different roles made it feel like one movie.
Obviously, everything was less detailed than in the book. The conflicts within characters, obviously couldn’t come to the fore as much. If you love the book, this might bother you. I felt that most in the 1970s nuclear plant story and the 1930s composing story. If I hadn’t read the book I think I’d have been wondering where the depth to those storylines was. The movie had to pick one viewpoint character for the nuclear story, and chose wisely in sticking with Luisa Rey, but a lot of the intrigue in the book version of that story for me had been in the indecision about things. Similarly with the composing story we don’t have the sense of interiority that the book gave us.
But the simplicity of film worked so well in the two futuristic storylines. The story of the post-apocalyptic Valley people was done in excellent dialect and the interior parts of Zachry’s fear of the devil could be shown dramatically with the devil all around him. Visually, Neo-Seoul was great: the streets made of light for flying cars were awesome, and this was also where the best fight scenes were. I did kind of hate the facial prosthetics the white actors were wearing to look Korean. I had to think of them as something a bit more alien than Korean people to keep my cognitive dissonance down.
There were also a few very “movie” moments that I could have done without. Ending the film was obviously going to be difficult because of how it abandoned the novel’s structure. The Adam Ewing ending of “And now I am off to join the Abolitionists!” was such a Hollywood happy ending I had to check my copy of the book to see if that was wholly made up (it was not, but is expressed as a hope in a journal, not a dramatic fireside confrontation). The other big ending change was turning far-future Zachry into the person telling the whole story on some far planet. Which, again, was not subtle. And the 1970s “Don’t call me a wetback” line seemed gratuitous, though I guess it fit the kind of movie that era would produce.
But those quibbles are just that. I love stories that are cut up and told like this. Where you’re looking at the commonalities between stories and drawing connections in the process of watching. After the film was over last night one of the people in the theatre said “I have no idea what that was about but I think I liked it.” Nobody said anything similar when I was done watching Skyfall last week. Cloud Atlas demands something from the viewer that a lot of movies don’t, and I want more movies like it.
Disclosure: I loved the movie version of P.D. James’ The Children of Men and without having read the book made the assumption that they would be very similar. Because I am strangely naïve about movie adaptations I guess? I’d have thought I was a cynic in these matters by now, whatever. The book in this case is very different from the movie.
The best way to think of it is to consider the two stories to be parallel tales about the same world. In this world, there have been no babies born for decades. Humanity has inexplicably gone sterile. Here, the book and movie part ways.
In the book the protagonist Theo is in his fifties and is a history professor with no real students anymore since even the youngest people are over 25. The youngest people are known as Omegas and they terrify the aging populace, since they were brought up doted on and knowing they would be the final humans ever. Theo is the cousin to Xan, the despotic ruler of England. A bumbling bunch of fools ask him to talk to the ruler to make some sort of change. Against his better judgment, he does so.
The book is about that relationship between Theo and Xan, who are both not-young men. Theo has all this guilt from accidentally killing the daughter he and his ex-wife once had, which plays a big part. The bumbling fools are trying to be terrorists to get England changed, but they aren’t effective. There is talk about the Isle of Man, where the prisoners are exiled to, but the book doesn’t take us there. The climax in the book takes place in a woodshed near Wales. It’s very different.
I like the movie version better but I love the idea that both stories happened, with different participants and results. If more stories from the childless future intrigue you, the book is worth your time. If you mainly loved Children of Men for that amazing Steadicam shot, there’s not a lot for you in the book.
My friend Jamie did a paper on the different versions of this Chinese folk tale sometimes called Five Chinese Brothers, in which these identical brothers have superpowers that help them survive a town that’s bent on killing them. Seven Sons is an adaptation of the story set in the American old west in a California gold mining town.
In this version the seven brothers (who are nameless) live outside town with their mother and most people in town think there’s only one of them. When a couple of kids end up dead even though a brother tries to save them a mob forms and tries to take revenge, but their powers and that of their mother interfere.
Framing all of this is a story of a graffiti artist who escaped into a shop and is old this version of the story as “the real one.” And then the afterword goes into a nice explanation of the different versions of the folk tale. It’s all very layered and I was really impressed with the story. The art is this roughly inked style that feels like it could have come out of that time, but done with calligraphy brushes. I quite enjoyed it, especially with the priming of hearing about Jamie’s work doing this research.
Hicksville is a comic by Dylan Horrocks about comics and their creators in all their weird diversity. It’s amazeballs.
There are a lot of stories going on here, but they all circle around the fact that Leonard Batts has showed up in Hicksville, New Zealand to do research on Dick Burger, an international superhero comics magnate from the town. Nobody in the town wants to talk about Dick. And there’s Sam, a local comics creator (though everyone in Hicksville is a comics aficionado) who’s been fired from his last job for not being funny enough. There are more people too, including characters in everyone’s comics.
Huge chunks of story are told in minicomics by the characters involved (including Sam’s trip to LA where he’s given the opportunity to sell out), and there are scenes from the Captain Tomorrow comics, and there’s this crazy historical comic about New Zealand being pulled into the Southern hemisphere that dogs Leonard wherever he goes. In the end Leonard stumbles on THE GREATEST LIBRARY IN THE WORLD (emphasis mine).
The whole thing deals with comics as an art form, as a way of making a living, as movie-fodder, as fiercely debated local gossip. If you care at all about comics you should really really read this. I can’t believe it took me this long to do it.
Tale of Sand is Ramon K. Perez’ interpretation of an unproduced script by Jim Henson. It takes place in a desert with a man in a small town being feted and then chased to a rock that looks like an eagle. It’s a surreal, near wordless chase scene, with intrusions of the script that forms its skeleton. My absolute favourite bit of the book is when the hero reads a fragment of screenplay that says he uses the key to the city as a walking stick, so he looks at it and does it. The intrusions of other characters into the chase (including the chaser, a tall dashing man with an eyepatch) has this whole fabulous feel to it. It’s a hard book to explain, but Perez draws it hella beautifully.
Holly got some DVDs from the library the other day, and one of them was The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981), based on the book by John Fowles, which I’d read in China. I remembered that there was a Victorian gentleman and he ends up sort of ruined because of his interest in a woman not his fiancee, and I remembered that it had an intriguing double ending.
What they did to bring the book to the screen was pretty awesome. There are two stories in the movie: the story of the French Lieutenant’s Woman and the story of the two lead actors in the film adaptation of the book they’re shooting and their romantic entanglement with each other. It’s kind of awesome.
Early on we see them rehearsing scenes that meld into the story. They talk about the statistics behind how many Victorian prostitutes there were in their offtime. Late in the movie, the lead actress’ partner asks the lead actor what they decided to do about the ending of the book. “Which ending are you going to use?” he asks. It’s all very meta and Harold Pinter’s adaptation adds so much in kind of the same way Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation (2002) does (and Holly’s just pointed out to me that Meryl Streep is in both films). Adaptation’s the only movie I can think of that does this kind of thing, but I’d love to hear about more.
I haven’t seen the movie version of Waltz With Bashir, but Ari Folman and David Polonsky’s comic (they also made the animated documentary) is an adaptation of it. It feels that way, more like a tie-in product than something natively created in the comicbook form.
It’s about an Israeli soldier coming to terms with his actions during a massacre in Lebanon in 1982. He starts off not remembering it at all, but travels to some places and talks to some people to figure out what happened and what his dreams about it mean.
Maybe I sound dismissive, but it felt very shallow. It might have worked as a film, but without humans portraying these characters the dialogue felt uninspired. There wasn’t anything for me to really get into. I want more meat to a story like this. I guess I’m just saying this was no Joe Sacco book.
I read Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars Thrawn novels (Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, The Last Command) when I was fifteen. This was before the Expanded Universe had become so huge, before the prequels, probably before I really had taste. I spent my weekend reading the adaptation of the novels into comics as The Thrawn Trilogy.
It moved quickly and I liked it a lot better than the prequel movies, but the intricacies get stripped down for something like this, leaving the skeleton of “They go here! Then they’re back! Now they’re betrayed!” a little bare. It’s hard not to see the outline as you read it, if that makes sense. And because it went so quickly it didn’t feel as epic as the novels, which took much longer to read.
I kept waiting for the Kessel Run to be explained, but I was two thirds of the way through before I remembered that was in one of the (inferior) Kevin J Anderson Star Wars trilogies that involved Suncrushers and other stupid stuff that made more of an impression on my young mind. I did remember the Force-blocking Ysalamiri which were in here though
The comic brought back memories of the fuller version and wasn’t bad on its own. I don’t pine for those hours I spent reading it back or anything.
It’s a nearish future where the Net’s been riddled with viruses (this is not the focus of the story, just one of the excellent bits about how the future doesn’t have to rest on some ever progressing curve) geothermal power in the rifts at the bottom of the Pacific are preventing brownouts all through N’AmPac. The problem is that working at the bottom of the ocean so isolated from human society requires people that aren’t “well-adjusted” or “happy with normal life.” So the station the book is about is filled with people addicted to trauma, mostly of abusive relationships (giving and receiving the beatings), but there’s an almost MPD pedophile involved as well. These psychologically broken people were selected as pre-adapted for life on the bottom of the sea.
Oh and they also have organs that collapse to press all the gas bubbles out of themselves so they can withstand the hundreds of atmospheres of pressure in diving skins. They’ve each had a lung removed and replaced with machinery that lets them process the oxygen out of water so they don’t breathe. They are rifters instead of humans (one psychologist in the book refers to them as vampires, but I don’t see that as being very accurate). It’s all very cool.
One of the techniques I loved (and was made more sensitive to because of reading About Writing) is how Watts switches up the tenses in narration. On the surface everything is in the past tense, but in the depths it’s in the present, which is more artificial and distant, and very nicely keeping us distant from these characters who don’t want to be touched.
So yes, it was very good, but didn’t end up resolved as well as I’d like since it leads into its sequel.