Hollywood loves source material. Novel, comic book, television show, stageplay; if there’s a pre-built audience they’re bound to take a peek.
After seeing “insert name of most recent novel adapted into a movie” I had a conversation with a friend that went something like this.
“What’d you think of the movie?”
“Meh. Not great. It dragged on after it the resolution. It just wouldn’t end.”
“Yeah, but you gotta understand, that’s how the book was.”
Wait, what? I have to judge the movie based on the book? I don’t think so. Movies and books are different animals. When I watch a movie I have certain expectations based on the ten million movies I’ve seen before. If I didn’t read the book I have no expectations for the story.
Adaptation means making adjustments. Adjustments that allow you to pour the source material’s story into the format of a movie. Let’s face it, you can’t cram a whole book into a movie. It’s not possible. Choices must be made. The job of the screenwriter is to make smart choices that convey the spirit of the book into movie form. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not giving carte blanche to the screenwriter to add dinosaurs and cyborgs to a Jane Austin novel. But so much importance is placed on the source material that many times people forget it’s a movie. What I’m saying is: respect the medium.
Movies are magic. They thrill and inspire. They make us laugh and cry. They bring people together. Movies have a specific format; American movies at least. The audience knows when a movie is bad and they aren’t forgiving just because, “that’s how the book was.” The movie should retain the feel of the book (to satisfy the existing fan-base) while conforming to movie form (to satisfy those who didn’t read the book). Because at the end of the day that’s how the movie will be remembered.
I want a great movie first and foremost. Then maybe I can have a conversation like this.
“What’d you think of the movie?”
“It was awesome!”
“You think that was good you should read the book.”
Last night I attended the red carpet premiere for Morgan Spurlock’s new movie The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. But when I showed up I didn’t know that.
It was the Arclight in Hollywood. Just your average Wednesday night. I knew I was attending a screening but I didn’t think anything of it. I go to screenings all the time. So in I walked, dressed in my standard apparel: tattered hoody, t-shirt, Old Navy jeans, and Sketchers sneakers. Unfazed, I strutted my shit past the throngs of hipsters, douche-bags, and sluts. It’s Hollywood, baby. It wasn’t until I saw the red carpet that I started to realize something was different. This was no average screening. This was a premiere. Granted it’s not a Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie premiere but I suddenly felt severely underdressed.
Inside I’m offered free Jet Blue potato chips and Pom Wonderful. Dinner for now. Inside the Auditorium they told me to sit anywhere without a “Reserved” sign. Looking around I saw about 90% of the seating had a sign. Internally I heard the laugh track playing. After finding a seat I took in the sites; three women in blonde wigs wearing dresses entirely made out of flip-flops; Peter Fonda, or a blind guy that looked like him (he was wearing sunglasses in a darkened theater at night); a man wearing a full suit – but no shirt. I debated who was more dressed up; me in my ratty writer scrubs or johnny six-pack in a full suit sans a shirt. I eventually decided I was because even McDonalds has a no shirt no service policy.
Finally every butt was in a seat and Michael Barker (co-president of Sony Pictures Classics) introduced Morgan Spurlock – who trotted to the front covered in sponsorships, leading a shetland pony. Morgan proceded to thank all the sponsors that helped make the movie possible. As he called them out, pockets of the audience erupted in cheers. It didn’t take a genius to figure out who the reserved seating was for.
Then the movie played.
It did a fantastic job navigating the murky, sometimes morally questionable avenues of branding and advertising. It doesn’t show corporations in any one particular light. In the beginning you cheer for Morgan on his quest to obtain corporate sponsorship; then, once he obtains it you immediately question whether or not he’s just sold his soul. Morgan wrestles with the questions, “At what point does someone become a sell out? And how do you define selling out?” All the while exploring product placement and its effects with a fun lighthearted style.
Does product placement really work? All I know is I enjoyed the film immensely.
And I want a pair of Merrells.