Saturday, November 04, 2006

A Night at the Movies

I love movies. I collect DVDs and have a great many quotes and references from my favorite films always at the ready. I use movies in my teaching, and think of them in much the same way that I think about texts.

Last night, my husband and I took Bowyer out to the movies to see The Prestige. Both Bowyer and I LOVE the Apple movie trailer site, and we'd both seen the previews for this film long before it came out. Bowyer knew that the film was based on a book, so he went to Amazon and secured copies of the novel for both of us. We read the book pretty much simultaneously - which, in itself, was fun; Bowyer is an avid reader and we had some really interesting and lively discussions about our impressions of the text - and we both came to the conclusion that it would make a very fine film.

We bought our tickets, secured popcorn and soda and found some seats. We sat through what seemed like an inordinate number of previews, some of which - this one and this one in particular - looked really good. The lights went down and the film began.

It was almost NOTHING like the book. In the first three minutes, the film took a 180° turn and we were led through a story with familiar characters doing unexpected things.

We loved it.

One of the pitfalls of interpreting texts into film is that there is so much in the written version of a work that just doesn't translate adequately onto the screen. We aren't privy to a character's inner thoughts (without the use of campy voice-overs) and much of the richness of description and nuance is lost when watching a film rather than reading a text. Does that mean that I think books are always better? That answer is "most certainly NOT." Each medium has its advantages and shortcomings, and I'm just as often absolutely delighted at the richness and subtlety of film as I am a turn of phrase or a perfectly wrought description in a novel.

Knowing the intricacies of negotiating between written word and celluloid image, I think, the director of The Prestige took the essence of the Priest story, shifted here, manipulated there, altered a little around the edges, and came out with a topnotch film that did a great honor to the text from which it was inspired. The themes were precisely the same in the film as in the book. The intensity of the characters was skillfully and believably portrayed. It didn't matter to Bowyer and me that there was a trial in the film that never happened in the book, or that the narrating characters in the novel were entirely absent from the film: the story was beautifully interpreted, and was well worth the cost of the tickets.

My one complaint (if you could call it that)? The end of the novel was deliciously creepy. The narrating characters - and we readers alongside - came to realize something that had been hinted at but never revealed, and I was really grateful that my husband was sitting next to me as I made my way through the last 20 or so pages. That same pit-of-the-stomach eerie dread wasn't well conveyed in the film, though there was an excellent treatment of irony for one of the main characters to come to grips with before he died.

Perhaps my (minor) disappointment was because I knew the secret beforehand and, as one of the characters explains in the film, "once they know your secret, you're nothing to them," but I didn't think that end of the film had as much impact for me as the end of the novel. Still, it was a remarkably well worked movie and I'm glad I saw it.


Anonymous Contrary said...

I loves me some movies, but invariably, if I love a book, I tend to find the movie version wanting.

I don't mind that they obviously have time constraints (it would be very hard to put ALL of a 300 page book into a 2 hour movie), but it drives me up a wall when they change the story altogether or when they leave out the bits that I think are integral to the story.

12:19 AM  
Blogger Reel Fanatic said...

"The Prestige" is one of my favorite books, and I have to agree with you that Mr. Nolan did a great job of delivering it to the big screen .. I didn't mind any of the liberties he took with the story, and thought they all managed to make it a better movie

6:57 AM  
Blogger Mrs.Chili said...

Contrary, your finding movies wanting in comparison to the book is usually right, but in this case? Really not - and that surprised us. The film was almost NOTHING like the book - there were elements in the movie that never showed up in the book, characters were added and subtracted, the initial relationship between the two main characters was different from the opening frame of the film - but it really, really WORKED.

I'm DYING to see The Departed. I'm hoping we get to that next...

7:42 AM  
Blogger JRH said...

Eh. We saw The Prestige this afternoon and, although I liked the twists and turns, I didn't love the movie as a whole. I'd be interested to see the whole thing again with some editing by PETA and see if I'd like it better -- it's weird how small things can turn you off. My husband's biggest complaint, if you're interested, is the suspension of disbelief needed for the last Trick. He'd much prefer that it was magic.

7:02 PM  
Blogger Todd said...

on #14 you just jinxed yourself. You'll be called to serve on a day with a nasty ice storm. You have been warned ;-)

6:58 PM  

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