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Thread: On Adaptation

  1. #1
    TJ TeresaJ's Avatar
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    On Adaptation

    This is what I get for staying up past midnight watching Wuthering Heights. It's almost two in the morning and I still can't sleep. So I'll go on and try to get this out of my head.

    Anyway.

    I think the thing with Wuthering Heights (Fiennes/Binoche version) is that, accents aside, it's actually a very faithful adaptation of the book. It's a very faithful adaptation of the characterizations in the book.

    And the book is appealing - certainly to me when I was younger and also, I believe, to the author herself as she wrote it - precisely because the main characters are all little nuts. In a very restrained society, Heathcliff and Cathy are almost wholly driven by their passions and their impulses. It's exhilarating to read in proportion to how extreme it is. These are not star-crossed lovers who could have had a nice, normal, happy life if only circumstances had been different. They are wild and selfish characters in what is essentially a kind of trashy soap opera.* But with enough genuine pathos to keep you invested.

    So, for example, while external forces did align to keep Healthcliff and Cathy apart, and there was injustice, that's not the heart of the story. Cathy had no pity for Heathcliff and neither did Emily Bronte and neither should you.

    I mean, yes, the passionate love story is part of it. But I can imagine Emily Bronte saying to herself, Ok, you have this Byronic romance... Where does it lead? Wickedness. And that in itself is also fascinating and thrilling.

    Not sexual wickedness so much as a generalized moral wickedness. Heathcliff is a villain. And Cathy is certainly no morally upright heroine.

    ...In a way they kind of embody Neitzean ideals, now that I think about it.

    But anyway. I can see how someone could read Wuthering Heights, which is a little... rough. Both in its subject matter and writing style. I can see how someone could take the source material and see the bones of an epic, passionate love story and say, hey, I want to build on that. And make an adaptation that is a passionate, wild love story. And they would leave out some of the more dark and ironic and absurd elements.

    I get it. And I have no objection to interpretive adaptations. In fact, I'm generally quite fond of them. That's how I feel about Jane Austen, for example. I'm not a huge fan of her books. I don't generally sympathize with characters. But I do enjoy adaptations that make them more well-rounded, sympathetic people.

    However. When it comes to Wuthering Heights... I enjoy the book just as it is. I find the unpretentious amorality of the characters vicariously thrilling. I loved it as a teenager and I still appreciate it now.

    So while I believe that some adaptations that take more liberties might wind up being objectively better films... I love the book, and I love the most faithful adaptation of the book because it maintains the flaws of all the characters.

    *See also: Bram Stoker's Dracula, which also nailed it. If you're adapting Bram Stoker's Dracula and you don't wind up with a trashy soap opera, you're doing it wrong.
    Too bad, Lady Une. You were far too lenient.
    As a soldier, yes. But as a civilian I lived an austere life.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Spartan26's Avatar
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    I finally got around to reading Frankenstein earlier this year. I was surprised at how well crafted and tight it was. I remember seeing the black & white version as a kid. At least little bits and pieces of it. I was rather young but it'd come up on one of the independent local stations from time to time as a Saturday matinee. I'm sure I would've missed it but the book had so much internal self examination, which is often hard to show in film. Generally you need a foil or external representation of your conscience or inner demon or you get a film bloated with voice over. I thought Liam Nesson's character in Batman Begins took on that role at times. Now I really want to go back and watch some versions of Frankenstein to see what was pulled from the book that I may've missed. Plus, it's been a few years since seeing Young Frankenstein which I've kinda been meaning to do otherwise.

    I read part of The Firm and didn't really care too much for it. I thought the film adaptation was much stronger.

    Clear and Present Danger is one of my all-time favorite films. (Woo! Film Class of '94!) I wish I knew more about the development of that project. I read the Tom Clancy novel years later after I saw the film. I had someone at an agency get me a copy of the script. Well, it was an early draft that resembled the book. The book was fine but a lot different from the film that hit the big screen. A little too apples/oranges to say which was "better" but I'm glad that the film that was made was made.

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