Tag Archives: /Film

Improving Without Changing: Adapting The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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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]

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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.

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Ricky the Rabble-Rouser: The 2011 Golden Globe Awards

Normally, watching the Golden Globes is a fairly solitary experience for me.

Sure, my parents or a few floormates would often be in the room as I liveblogged, livetweeted, or took notes during previous years, but the focus was on putting together short-form snark and long-form analysis of the night’s events. It was just me and the internet, as I awaited the (relative) flood of page views which come with writing about any event of this notoriety.

This year was somewhat different – I attended a lovely Golden Globes viewing party held at some colleagues’ home here in Madison, where the collective snark of my Twitter feed was replaced by the collective snark of a bunch of media studies grad students. We enjoyed some fine food, some fine wine, and I took advantage of being the only obsessive follower of award season prognosticators in order to win the prediction pool. While I have much love for the online community which has formed around this blog, and around my work in general, I will admit that there was something nice about being (largely) disconnected from the online snark in favor of a more interpersonal form of social interaction (which is perhaps fitting considering The Social Network’s dominance of the evening’s proceedings).

However, as a result, I didn’t quite have the time to prepare the lengthy analysis I might normally have written, and which I normally write much of during the show to facilitate its completion. Instead, I put together a more concise and focused piece on the evening’s reflection of ongoing questions surrounding the Golden Globes’ legitimacy over at Antenna. It’s a question that I’ve had on my mind for a while now, and something I wrote about at length for a term paper on the Emmy Awards last semester, but some of Ricky Gervais’ jokes at the expense of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association offered a nice entry into how precisely an awards show that nominates The Tourist, Burlesque and Piper Perabo can hold any sort of legitimacy within the industry.

The Gilded Globes: Legitimacy Amidst Controversy [Antenna]

Every year, the Golden Globes give us a large collection of reasons to dismiss them entirely. The Tourist and Burlesque are perhaps the two most prominent examples on the film side this year, and Piper Perabo’s Lead Actress in a Drama Series nomination for USA Network’s Covert Affairs offers a similar bit of lunacy on the television side. While these may lead us to dismiss the awards as a sort of farcical celebration of celebrity excess, the fact remains that the Golden Globes hold considerable power within the industry.

However, since the piece features very little of my opinion surrounding the night’s winners and this is likely why you’re here, some brief thoughts on Gervais and the awards themselves after the jump.

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Talking Lost with TV on the Internet and The /Filmcast

Talking Lost with TV on the Internet and The /Filmcast

May 29th, 2010

I’ve written a lot about Lost this week, but if you’re still interested in hearing more discussion about the series finale and the series as a whole I took part in a couple of podcasts on Thursday that might make for some nice weekend listening for those so inclined.

First, I was one of many guests on TV on the Internet’s special Lost episode, which collected a bunch of people who write and tweet about Lost to discuss the finale (including hosts Todd VanDerWerff and Libby Hill, Jason Mittell, Zack Handlen, Daniel T. Walters, Chris Dole, and myself). For the most part, we all liked it, which means that the episode was more of a discussion of the finale and the series as a whole than it was a deconstruction or a dissection. It was a podcast with some really intelligent voices, and it resulted in some cogent discussion on the final season, the characters and their journeys, as well as the cultural impact of the series on both television in general and in our own lives.

TV on the Internet, Episode 37: Lost [Media Elites]

I think both discussions are equally interesting, but the special /Filmcast bonus Lost episode is definitely a bit more dynamic due to both its free-for-all format and the presence of more diverse opinions relating to the finale and the series as a whole. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the episode an outright debate, but /Filmcast hosts Devindra Hardawar and Adam Quigley raise some legitimate concerns with the series which Katey Rich and I work to reconcile with our own enjoyment of the series. The result, at least for me, is an honest and frank discussion which in its confrontation gets to the heart of the ways in which viewers experienced Lost and its finale, and I think anyone listening would find some part of their voice within the arguments being made.

The /Filmcast Bonus Ep. – Lost Series Finale and Wrap-up [/Film]

I want to thank Todd and Devindra for both inviting me to the respective parties and doing a fantastic job in their capacities as moderator/host/whatever you’d choose to call it, and I truly recommend that those who are still contending with their feelings over the Lost finale give these shows a listen (although perhaps spread out a bit, since both are about two hours long and I can speak from experience that four hours of Lost podcasts in a single day is a bit overwhelming).

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A Serialized Man: The Narrative Pleasures of The Tobolowsky Files

When character actor Stephen Tobolowsky was a guest on the /Filmcast, a podcast which (as some long-time readers might remember) I’ve had the pleasure of taking part in myself, I remember being shocked at his level of preparedness: for his first show he watched several movies as research just to be able to offer as much to the conversation as possible, and he was both candid and conversational in regards to the subject at hand. I will admit to not knowing much of Tobolowsky’s work heading into that appearance, but his enthusiasm for that simple podcast gave me a great deal of respect for the man himself.

On its own, that would be enough to recommend his own podcasting project, The Tobolowsky Files, which is entering its second season this week. The podcast, produced by /Filmcast host and friend of the blog David Chen, is a series of stories about “life, love, and the entertainment industry;” it’s a new outlet for his enthusiasm, as he takes hours out of his week to write and record these stories for us to enjoy. The stories are reflections of his personality, hilarious but also able to delve into more emotional territory, and there is a genuine honesty about the podcast which completely erodes any sense that he is simply reading a script. These podcasts are not so much performances as they are expressions of emotions, and the result is a really great way to spend roughly a half-hour of your time each week.

However, I had expected to be entertained: I knew Stephen was a gifted storyteller (he produced a movie, Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party, which is built around this ability), so of course he can spin a good yarn. What shocked me, however, was that this podcast has become an extended serialized narrative, turning his past into an ongoing story which has me more involved than I could have imagined. I figured I would enjoy episodes talking about his time in the entertainment industry or his experience on Deadwood or Glee, but I did not expect that I would get sucked into his past, terrified of being spoiled about how certain stories about life and love end.

And that’s something I never expected from a podcast: a true triumph of storytelling from a master of the art form, and something that lovers of narrative storytelling should certainly be listening to.

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The Malorian Enigma: Starz’s Camelot and the Misguided Adaptation

Earlier today, Starz announced their plans for Camelot, a ten-part series that offers a new version of the Arthurian Legend. As someone who studied a great deal of medieval literature in my undergraduate career, even writing my honours thesis on the relationship between the medieval romance (Malory’s Le Morte Darthur) and science fiction (in the form of Battlestar Galactica), this is intriguing to me. I am always happy to see my academic interests crossing into my critical pursuits, and so I am very much looking forward to seeing how Camelot comes together.

However, I first heard this news through Twitter, where the gist was “modern retelling of Arthurian legend” without any further details – Twitter is wonderful, but it’s also vague, so I sought out the press release to get more information. However, when I was reading that press release, a few alarms went off in my head which I feel need to be addressed. First and foremost, Starz claims that this will offer “a wholly original approach to the timeless Arthurian legend,” which is the sort of statement that makes me raise an eyebrow. Shortly after, I discovered the passage that truly makes me apprehensive about this series:

“Camelot” will be based on Thomas Malory’s 15th century book,” Le Morte d’Arthur” – still considered the definitive work on the subject. But that’s only a starting point; “Camelot” will weave authenticity into a modern telling of the Arthur legends that is relatable to contemporary audiences.

What’s funny is that, based on the way this information is being reported, I had presumed that this would be a “contemporization” of the Arthurian Legend, placing it within a 21st century setting similar to how NBC’s Kings transplanted biblical stories into more contemporary political and social structures. However, based on this claim from the press release and the fact that the series will shoot in Ireland, it seems as if the “modern telling” and “contemporary audiences” points refer to the story rather than the setting, which is actually far more problematic for me.

A few years ago, I wrote a paper for a seminar on the Arthurian legend where I investigated the reasons that the most defining qualities of Malory’s Le Morte Darthur (there’s all sorts of disagreement on the spelling, so I just stick with what I know) have never appeared in adaptations of the text. For those who don’t know, Malory’s text is a sprawling tome which has no clear central narrative, which is why no one is crazy enough to try to adapt the book “as is.” However, while some films have claimed to use the text as a source, they do so in a highly selective fashion: rather than trying to capture the essence of the text, which focuses on chivalry and honour within the context of Arthur’s kingdom, they tend to take plot elements and characters and craft a more linear and more “modern” story of love and loss. The paper was fairly short, and unable to cover the breadth of the subject of Arthurian adaptations, but I’ll post it after the jump anyways in case anyone is really interested in the subject at hand.

However, I think Camelot represents the perfect example of the way in which Malory is used within adaptations of the Arthurian legend. They evoke the name because it is, in fact, still considered the definitive work on the subject, which offers the adaptation a certain degree of legitimacy. The problem is that they admit that Malory is just a starting point in the same sentence, and then go on to pretty much state that they are only using Malory for the strands of “authenticity” that they will work into a “modern” and “relatable” tale of, most likely, melodramatic investigations of adultery and heroism, a reductive translation of Malory’s story.

Television as a medium is more capable than film of capturing the qualities which make the Morte a fascinating text, capable of giving attention to the substantial range of characters and even potentially being able to bring stories considered tangential to the “main narrative” to life in ways which are impossible in the more linear model of feature filmmaking. I think if someone really sat down and decided to tackle Malory’s text as a serialized, non-linear narrative, there is the potential for a sprawling and epic investigation of the value of chivalry, honour, kinship and morality within a complex series of events which challenge those values.

However, while HBO’s adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s somewhat-medieval fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, Game of Thrones, seems driven by writers focusing on the televisual qualities of the text at hand, it seems like Camelot is being conceived in a way which suggests that there is something about Malory’s text which is emphatically not modern, and which is entirely unrelatable to audiences. As such, it isn’t really an adaptation of Malory at all, but rather an interpretation of Malory’s basic plot – likely focused on the love triangle between Arthur, Lancelot and Guenevere – within a modern context (probably similar to The Tudors, as the projects share some producers).

What emerges may well be an entertaining television series, but I can’t help but feel that it will be missing the point: if you’re going to bring the Arthurian Legend to life in our modern television era, and if you’re going to claim Malory as a source, this is a fantastic opportunity to tackle the elements of the text which made it definitive and have largely been lost in subsequent reimaginings. Instead, their goal seems to be the same old attempt to make something old hip and relevant by ignoring what made it so interesting at the time and instead looking at what is popular or trendy within popular culture – I’d be glad to be proven wrong, but somehow I think that I’m still going to be waiting for the Malorian adaptation that is truly possible in this day and age.

After the jump, my paper entitled “Attempted Screenplay: The Honour of Le Morte Darthur and the Failure of Film Adaptations,” if you want to read more about the unique qualities of Malory’s text that present a challenge to would-be adaptations.

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What’s my Genre Again?: The In(s)anity of the Saturn Awards

The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films comes together every year to recognize the best in genre entertainment (in both film and television) at the Saturn Awards. This is, at least in my view, a noble endeavour, and the awards have offered a space where shows like Battlestar Galactica and movies like The Dark Knight have been awarded deserved prizes that may not have been awarded at the Emmys or Oscars thanks to what is considered a bias against genre entertainment in general.

The problem is that, over time, the Saturn Awards have stretched the meaning of genre so far that it legitimately has no meaning, welcoming both genuine confusion and some outright derision based on some of their categories. The sheer volume of nominees and the rather ridiculous range of categories means that this year the Saturn Awards skew dangerously close to the Oscar while simultaneously veering dangerously towards an opposite and unflattering direction, while on the Television side their definition of what defines as genre may be the most confounding awards show process I’ve ever confronted, as demonstrated by this year’s nominees.

Rather than seeming like a legitimate celebration of science fiction, fantasy or horror, the Saturn Awards read like an unflattering and at points embarrassing collection of films and television series which reflect not the best that genre has to offer, but rather a desperate attempt to tap into the cultural zeitgeist while masquerading as a celebration of the underappreciated.

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