Tag Archives: Adaptation

Improving Without Changing: Adapting The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

the-hunger-games-catching-fire-poster-banner

My biggest issues with the Hunger Games trilogy were both things that have gone unchanged in the film adaptations. The structural sameness of the three books may have had a purpose, but it particularly affected my enjoyment of the second book, Catching Fire, where it felt lazy and formulaic rather than meaningful. The same can be said for the books’ close first-person perspective, which I found particularly limiting in the glimpses of a bigger conflict in Catching Fire that the perspective gave the books no chance to explore.

What I found most interesting about my response to The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Francis Lawrence’s adaptation of what I identified as the least successful of the novels back in 2011, is that I liked it much more than its predecessor despite the fact it doubles down on these elements. Some of this has to do with how “first-person perspectives” function differently in literature vs. film, certainly, but I think it’s also a case in which one of the film’s most potentially frustrating choices successfully neutralizes one of the book’s biggest problems.

[Spoilers for the film, and then separately marked spoilers for the series, follow]

Continue reading

10 Comments

Filed under Cinema

A Westerossi Balancing Act: Game of Thrones Season Two [Review]

Review: Game of Thrones Season Two

March 29th, 2012

What do people really want to know about HBO’s Game of Thrones as it enters its second season?

When the first season premiered, writing a pre-air review was an easy process. Fans wanted to know how well George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire had been adapted for the screen by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, and non-fans wanted to know if the result still qualified as a television show worth their time. These questions were conveniently interlinked, in that the show’s success as an adaptation (faithful but not slavish, episodic without losing broader narrative complexity) was very much part of its appeal to non-readers.

However, I found myself somewhat stumped as I sat down to write about the first four episodes of the second season. The challenge is that we’ve already answered those broader questions, and to my mind the answer hasn’t changed – the show is still a compelling and worthy adaptation of Martin’s series, and that still results in some tremendous television. I have some specific comments about nuances in the adaptation, and some opinions about how certain stories are being depicted, but I don’t feel as though I have anything new to add to the growing chorus of people praising the show upon its return as a preface to my post-air reviews which will go up over the next four weeks (and which will delve into those nuances and opinions in more detail).

Looking to solve my writer’s block, I opened up the conversation to my followers on Twitter and the users at NeoGAF (where a lively community has been built around the show), asking them whether they had any lingering questions they had which they didn’t feel had been covered by the mass of reviews to date. While I want to address a few directly, the larger takeaway was that readers and non-readers might have more in common as the show goes forward than I had presumed, a notion I’d like to explore further.

Continue reading

8 Comments

Filed under Game of Thrones

A Gloss of Thrones: Game of Thrones – The Complete First Season [Blu-ray Review]

It is now widely accepted that the way we watch television is a variable – if you’re reading this, chances are that I don’t have to regale you with the myriad ways we can now watch the programming we’ve historically viewed live in primetime, and so I can keep my big “DVRs, Streaming, and Bears, Oh My!” song and dance in my pocket for the time being.

However, I would argue that Game of Thrones represents a specifically complicated television text in this regard. Like all shows, there are questions of how it played on a week-to-week basis compared to how it would play as a marathon, questions that partly inspired the tremendous discourse around television narrative spurred on by Ryan McGee’s essay at The A.V. Club. However, in addition, the variables of consumption around the show are equally divided by the nature of its source material, with perhaps the clearest binary between “reader” and “non-reader” in television history. The result, I would argue, is a complex, diverse audience base who watches the show from different perspectives which make it difficult to generalize regarding what attracts them to a DVD or Blu-ray box set.

However, with Game of Thrones‘ Complete First Season (which I reviewed on Blu-ray), I really think HBO has succeeded in creating a set that has more than a little something for everyone, worth the price of admission for both readers and non-readers alike (along with those who are watching for the first time, for whom this set is a tremendous introduction). The production values are exceptional, the features are fairly plentiful, and the set fits comfortably into the quality aesthetics that both the show itself and the earlier paratexts achieved last year.

And yet, while I can easily recommend this set based on its own merits, there’s still some part of me who was left wanting, if not something more, than perhaps something different.

Continue reading

4 Comments

Filed under Game of Thrones

Cultural Reading: Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy

I think Twitter was the main reason I chose to read Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy.

No, it wasn’t because my followers on Twitter suggested I read the books, or that a person I follow recommended them at large. Instead, I was becoming completely unglued at every sight of the never-ending casting announcements for the upcoming film adaptation of the first book in the series, The Hunger Games, coming in the Spring. More than any other film in recent memory, it seemed as though every single role was a piece of news, and I became too curious to resist diving into the series.

A few weeks later, I emerged with an understanding for the books’ appeal and a large pile of critical thoughts that I’m itching to discuss with other folks who have read the books. Although I rarely dive into literature around these parts (although this will likely not be the first time this summer that I do so), I figured that this is as good a place as any to consider what makes the series distinct, what makes the series an ultimate disappointment, and why I’m extremely curious to see how they plan to adapt this story given some of its particular qualities.

Spoilers for the entire Hunger Games Trilogy follow.

Continue reading

17 Comments

Filed under Cultural Reading

Series Premiere: Game of Thrones – “Winter is Coming”

“Winter is Coming”

April 17th, 2011

“That’s an honor I could do without.”

The moment which brings “Winter is Coming,” the series premiere of HBO’s Game of Thrones, to a close is meant to shock the viewer. It is the very definition of a cliffhanger, a moment which makes us anticipate its resolution and theorize as to the result. I would also argue that it’s quite an effective cliffhanger, one which shapes the remainder of the series’ narrative and one which is tremendously well-rendered in this adaptation.

However, for those who have read A Song of Ice and Fire, the George R.R. Martin-penned novels on which the series is based, it isn’t a cliffhanger at all. In fact, for those viewers, it was never a cliffhanger: when the event in question took place on page 85 of my well-worn paperback, all one had to do was turn to page 86 in order to see what happened next. The cliffhanger would last mere moments, unless one somehow had the willpower to stop reading at that precise moment and return to the book a week later. Martin’s novels are designed to be devoured, not savored, and yet his story is now arriving in hour-long segments that will air once every week.

Ultimately, “Winter is Coming” demonstrates the compatibility of Martin’s novels and the televisual form: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have brought Westeros to life by capturing the spirit of Martin’s prose and by embracing the opportunities presented by both the visual and structural qualities made possible by HBO’s commitment to the series. The episode is a compelling introduction to this story and these characters, successfully navigating the plethora of pitfalls that are created in an adaptation of a high fantasy series.

But at the same time, let’s be frank: everyone, from fans of the novels to those who don’t know their Starks from their Lannisters, will need to adjust to the particularities of this particular form of storytelling.

And thus the Game begins.

Continue reading

15 Comments

Filed under Game of Thrones

Skins – “Tea”

“Tea”

January 24th, 2011

In the midst of the growing controversy surrounding Skins’ sexual content and allegations of child pornography, which Matt Zoller Seitz does a tremendous job of breaking down over at Salon, the show itself is being lost. Or, rather, the show itself is becoming irrelevant. It’s not just the controversy that’s obfuscating the text itself, though, as the series’ almost shot-for-shot adherence to the UK original means that those of us who’ve seen that series are being given very little reason to engage with the show. Just as it is easy for the PTC and advertisers to generalize the series’ content based solely on overblown claims, it’s easy for critics with knowledge of the original series to just sort of step back and let the show happen.

And yet it seems prudent to consider “Tea” more carefully – considering the switch from Maxxie to Tea, this is almost entirely new material, although it technically intersects with some of the developments which developed between Maxxie and Tony in the UK series. On that level, “Tea” comfortably fits into concerns over the series having been made less transgressive in its trip across the pond, but I’m not sure that I’m so concerned after seeing the episode. While I lament the loss of the scenes in question, I thought the replacement scenes were more different than they were worse, and the episode as a whole built strongly on the pilot (and in ways which won’t be undone when the show goes back to a note-for-note adaptation next week).

Continue reading

5 Comments

Filed under Skins

Winter is Still Coming: Anxiety and Awareness as HBO takes Game of Thrones to Series

Winter is Still Coming: Anxiety and Awareness

March 2nd, 2010

The motto of the Stark family is that “Winter is Coming,” which in the world of A Song of Ice and Fire is inevitable but unknown: seasons can last for years, even generations, but eventually they will turn, and a winter that lasts that long can be absolutely devastating. Accordingly, the Starks live by a motto that places them in a state of constant anxiety, aware that the flowers may bloom right now but there is still the potential for darkness around the corner. It is prudent, perhaps, but also limiting in how it places fear and concern over the ability to enjoy one’s situation.

Was there ever any doubt that HBO would take Game of Thrones, the adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy series, to series? Not really. Sure, there was always the chance that the pilot wouldn’t turn out well, but with an established director (Tom McCarthy) at the helm, and with an ever-expanding cast with considerable name recognition, the chances of HBO not ordering a season of the show were pretty slim.

So, one would think, fans of the series can now breathe a sigh of relief: the series’ rich fantasy tapestry will be committed to film, and their favourite characters will come to life, so the anxiety is over. However, for fans of A Song of Ice and Fire, the anxiety has become a way of life not dissimilar from the wariness of the Stark family motto: it’s been almost five years since the last entry in the series, and it’s come to the point where some fans fear that Martin might die before he finishes his epic story. Some readers, like the Chicago Tribune’s Maureen Ryan, have actually put off reading the latest book until the next one has a clear release date, afraid of creating a state of heightened anxiety knowing that the next installment could still be years away. And so the anxiety surrounding the pickup, even when everyone was predicting that the show would make it to series, was normal for the fans who could potentially make the series a smash success.

However, as Jeremy Mongeau pointed out on Twitter, I wonder if that anxiety will make this series even more problematic for fans in life than it would have in death; the show will be full of potential for new viewers who have no idea where this story is headed, but fans may be tripped up by some of their foreknowledge. Just to be clear, I’m not characterizing ASoIaF fans as those who will complain about small changes (although I’m sure there will inevitably be some of that), but rather that they know where this story is going, and they know an important fact about the first book in the series (A Game of Thrones) which will heighten their anxiety surrounding the show’s long-term potential at the network who has given it a chance.

The pickup is a sign that Winter has been delayed for at least a season, but one can’t help but realize that Winter is still coming, and the anxiety surrounding that could well dominate fan behaviour.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Game of Thrones

Missed Diagnosis: Narrative Pollution in HBO Canada’s Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures

Missed Diagnosis:

Narrative Pollution in HBO Canada’s Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures

January 8th, 2010

I like to consider Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures, a short-form Canadian series debuting on Sunday, January 10th at 8pm ET on HBO Canada, a show made just for me. This is selfish, I know, but I studied the book as an undergrad so it sort of feels like Vincent Lam’s work is following me on my academic/personal/critical journeys. In fact, I even gave a presentation on the short story composite’s (I’ll explain that term in a second, although not in as much detail as I might be tempted to) relationship with television narrative (in a class which had nothing to do with television, by the way) during my time at Acadia University, so the long-gestating adaptation announced soon after the book won the prestigious Giller Prize in 2006 has been of great interest to me.

And while I’ll spare you (most of) the more academic consideration of the series that’s floating around my head after watching the opening episode (which, for Canadians, can be streamed on TheMovieNetwork.com), I will say that this is one example where having first-hand knowledge of the text at hand has largely ruined the series for me. This is not to suggest that Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures is a failure, or that what has been put on the screen is of low quality – there are some solid performances here, and the characters from Lam’s book remain compelling.

The problem is that in a text, and a medium, defined by its presentation of various time periods, executive producer Jason Sherman simply got it backwards – the parts of the story which have the most weight are relegated to flashbacks, and instead of allowing the narrative to unfold on its own time the series creates a melodramatic and unnecessary “present” which keeps it from engaging with the complexities of Lam’s story, complexities that seem perfectly suited to a new generation of serialized storytelling. I do not mean to suggest that there is only one way to adapt this series (after all, any adaptation will skew the original source text based on the writers and directors involved – I’m not THAT guy), but I will argue that the changes made reflect a reductive view of the short story as a medium and are unnecessary measures meant to kow-tow to genre stereotypes the producers are actively trying to avoid, resulting in a series that (while solidly made) fails to capture what made the original text so compelling as both a short story composite and as a potential television series.

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures

Winter is finally Coming: Anticipating HBO’s Game of Thrones

gamethrones

Winter is finally Coming:

Anticipating HBO’s Game of Thrones

When I was roughly 14, I read The Lord of the Rings. I enjoyed it, so my parents went to a bookstore ahead of Christmas and asked for something similar. The employee suggested A Game of Thrones, the first book in George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire – when I unwrapped it on Christmas morning, I can remember being somewhat underwhelmed, having not (at that point) really delved into any literary series (I was a latecomer to Harry Potter, for instance) and not entirely keen on starting a new one. But, my reluctance aside, I started reading A Game of Thrones, and then A Clash of Kings, and then A Storm of Swords. Very quickly, I had read through the first three volumes.

And yet, today, I barely remember any of it. I don’t particularly know why, apart from a few key events (mainly deaths, which Martin seems to revel in), I found myself struggling to remember many specific details when I first heard of plans to bring to show to life as a new series for HBO. However, in spite of my lack of memory, there was one thing I was sure of: there was something compulsively readable about this particular brand of fantasy, and also something complex that seemed to confound my 14 year old memory but which may just be perfectly fine-tuned for my post-secondary critical mind.

Ever since the pilot was first announced as a potential HBO project, I’ve been pondering digging back into the series, but in the past few months I realized I had no excuse: HBO has been busy amassing the largest ensemble cast in their history, production is due to start in Ireland in just a few months, and a particularly resourceful blog has managed to turn casting speculation and analysis into a refined and comprehensive process worthy of this comprehensive story. Where some literary adaptations feel like a process being done independent of the material at hand, Game of Thrones has the series’ author onboard as a writer, devoted fans and active producers who have turned even casting into an internet event, and (as I discovered over the past week) some really amazing source material that feels like a perfect fit for both television as a medium and HBO as a network.

So, in short, I’m a little bit excited, and I think you should be too.

Continue reading

9 Comments

Filed under Game of Thrones