Movies from Books

There are certain axioms that “everyone knows” about movies: Sequels suck, remakes are never as good as the original, and movies based on books are never as good as the books they’re based on. None of these are true, of course. While I’m defending remakes over at the Retromedia forum, the topic of movies based on books came up over at Ace’s on the discussion of the Iron Man mvoie.

Here’s what I wrote:

Silence of the Lambs. Good book, better movie.

The Amityville Horror. Crap book, slightly less crappy movie.

The Da Vinci Code movie, as bad as it was, was probably not as bad as the book.

When Worlds Collide and War of the Worlds, and for that matter The Time Machine are all genre classics–talking the George Pal movies, now. Ballmer and Wylie’s book was very good (and holds up pretty well) but not the classic that the movie is. It’s been a while since I’ve read Wells, but his stuff is pretty dry.

You get into questions of what it means for one work of art to be “better” than another, and in this case, two works of art in different media. Books are a different experience from movies, and very rarely do you get a Silence of the Lambs, where the movie adheres faithfully to the book and manages to become a classic, where the source material (while very good) is unlikely to achieve the same relative respect.

Most often, the movie will diverge from the book somewhat to make something more watchable (see Spielberg’s removal of the rape scene from the opening of The Color Purple) or completely reinvent the idea (James Whale’s Frankenstein). Unfortunately, if you don’t have a Spielberg or a Whale (and sometimes even if you do) you end with crap.

I can come up with better examples than the ones I did, too. This was top-of-my-head stuff. But look at the movie Wizard of Oz, iconic and culturally huge in ways the book series never was (and the book series was and is popular).

Basically, people tend to confuse the experience of reading a book with the experience of watching a movie. If they’ve read the book first, they want the movie to make them feel like the book made them feel. But a book is a completely different experience from a movie, and it can evoke a kind of experience that a movie simply can’t.

Not to say that books are “better” than movies. Just different. That’s why a Silence of the Lambs is so rare. Or, to go back a few years In Cold Blood. You can’t put as much stuff in a movie, but when you cut large relevant chunks off, you lose a lot of things that made the books special. It takes more talent to adapt a novel in such a way as to create a truly engaging movie than t does to just make stuff up that sort of reminds you of the premise of the novel (e.g., any movie adaptation of a Dean Koontz novel).

That’s why the latter is done so much in Hollywood.

But it’s easy to forget Sturgeon’s Law. If 90% of everything is [crud], then that’s going to apply to movies adapted from books. And it’s a common mistake to generalize from that any of the three axioms I mentioned above.

Book Bind

Instapundit linked to this cool essay on books and, more precisely, bookshelves.

It’s in response to a couple of people whose views on bookshelves are, let’s say, disparate from mine. One holds that books are a presentation to the world of who you’d like to be. In my view, putting books up for show is probably the lowest form of status-seeking pseudo-intellectualism, and the only people I’ve known to do that were people who never read any books, ever.

The other, however, holds that all books in the bookshelf must have been read!

I’ve actually had that situation. When I was a kid. I would bring home six or seven books and read them that afternoon. (They were kids books, after all.) Then I would be bored until the next month’s Scholastic catalogue came around. I haven’t had that situation since–well, since someone gave me a book I didn’t want to read. But there was a time when it was hard to find a book on my shelf I hadn’t read.

For a few years, I taught martial arts at a rec center on Saturdays. The rec center was located next to a library, and Saturday was book sale day. I started bringing home bags full of books, at a pace even my younger, single, childless and unemployed self would have had a hard time keeping up with. The only criterion for me was whether the book had a $1 (or $0.25 or whatever the book cost) chance of being read.

Because to me, the bookshelf is like a library you have at home. Interested in Mechanical Engineering? I have a book on it. Maybe some sci-fi? Lots of that, and horror and fantasy fiction. The classics? Got those. Biographies of historical characters or celebrities? Check. Warfare throughout the ages? Sure thing.

If I want to read something right now, there’s a good chance I have a book that fits into the cateogry. This, rather shockingly, does not prevent me from buying more books. I have eight full bookshelves in the house (after two collapsed from the weight) and several in the garage, and boxes more. One current project is to clean out the garage and store almost all the books there (for earthquake safety reasons).

One wonders if I could read them all at this point. I mean, I don’t wonder that very often. I’d consider myself fortunate if I had that opportunity.

But I also have movies in my video collection I haven’t watched. Music in my music collection I’ve never heard (or maybe only heard once). I’ve tons of games I’ve never played.

Not that, in the long run, this doesn’t say something about me. But I’m not trying to make a statement (nor trying not to make a statement), just looking for storage.

When it rains….

The new server is ready and sitting with an Ubuntu installation on it. I’ve got to move the mail, chat and forums over to it.

Meanwhile, kingdomrpg is getting a new Star Trek game, and I have to import their existing games into a new installation.

The MythTV machine just needs a few tweaks. I found another driver quirk. Then I’ve got to document, and do a few dry runs, to see: a) how long it takes (me) to make one of these machines; b) how long it takes others reading my instructions to make one; c) how many variants I can produce and at what price. Then it’s time to set up the site, build the store, and cross my fingers. (And with my fingers crossed, I start working on satellite and fiber optic.)

Oh, and I have a replacement notebook that needs setting up.

Another New Blogroll Entry

I’ve added another blog entry to the roll: W.C. Martell’s Sex In A Submarine

I “met” Bill around the time the “Sex In A Submarine” story occurred. His script Crash Dive had just wrapped for HBO. The movie takes place on a submarine but they wanted a sex scene. A straight sex scene.

He’s very cool, and very upfront about the business. He should get more work.

Anyway Bill writes more than any non-endeavoring screenwriter can read, but it’s still fun to check it out–comments, too.

HD-DVD Post-Mortem

Andy Marken has google-doc’ed his latest “Content Insider”, this one on the death of HD-DVD.

It’s not really a glowing endorsement of Blu-Ray (nor should it be) nor is it a rose-colored prediction for the download market (nor should it be).

Andy hits the nail on the head when he says:

The stability of a single format may help push sales up but consumers as economists delicately say are still …price conscious.

Convince me that I should pay $29 for a high-def version of I Know Who Killed Me instead of the $6 version that’s in the bin at Wal-Mart. Anyone?

He uses Raiders of the Lost Ark for his central movie reference, but to me the a propos line comes from Men In Black, when Tommy Lee Jones looks at this new storage format and sighs:

This is gonna replace CD’s soon; guess I’ll have to buy the White Album again…

Unfortunately, the big guys have made a business model out of selling us the same stuff over and over again. But critical to being able to do this is:

  1. Buy Congress to keep extending copyright
  2. Never actually sell anything to anyone

Old Walt Disney’s 40 years dead, but his corporation controls Mickey Mouse to this day. (Keep in mind that copyright has, as its sole purpose, the fostering of creative works. It’s been well perverted to prevent that.)

#2 is one near and dear to my heart. I pay huge sums of money to get a cable signal into my house. I’m forced to pay to get what I want, because I can’t get just what I want, I have to get everything that my cable company needs to satisfy their business model. Meaning I pay for hundreds of channels I never use.

But despite paying for that signal, the cable companies go through considerable effort to make it so that you can’t do with that signal what you will. The signal coming through the cable is encrypted, sometimes in defiance of law. Even if you have a cable box and run things through that, they’ll encrypt the signal coming out of the Federally-required-but-often-not-activated firewire port.

In short, you can plug that cable into your TV or into an “approved” recorder, most likely one that they lease you. Don’t like it? Tough luck. You get what you’re given. Don’t like it? Bitch to the FCC. (They might respond.They might not.) Just because you pay for it–and handsomely–doesn’t mean you actually own anything. Not even the right to view things when you please, like you used to with VCRs.

Though, if you’re lucky, you can get a reduced quality version of your cable box’s output.

How’s that for a mixed message? We want you to demand high-definition stuff! But, uh, we don’t really have the capacity (or the drive, it seems) to give it to you the way you want it. So, here, have crap.

If history holds true, technology will break their backs, and they’ll get rich as a result. And then, when the next big tech thing comes along, they’ll fight that to the death, as well.

(Click on the HTPC links to see my efforts to build a fully-functioning hi-def Home Theater PC.)

The BVo Proceeds Apace

I haven’t mentioned it in a while, but th B-vo (the Blake version of the TiVo) is humming along pretty nicely.

It takes more hacking than I’d like (as I hope to produce a lot of these) but the main items (viewing almost-live TV, recording, ripping and playing DVDs) and a lot of the peripheral items (weather, web browsing, slideshow viewing, etc.) are also sweet.

My only concern now is with my TV. I’m not usually “cutting edge” with technology. That may seem funny coming from a programmer but it actually fits in pretty well: I’m happiest when I can sit down and program. When I’m fiddling with environments, dubious hardware interactions, network issues, etc., I’m not programming. So I generally wait until the kinks in a system are worked out before messing with it.

It’s been a lot of work to put this together, especially for someone as lazy and easily bored as I am. But I can sell the fruits of this labor, I hope, and refine the hardware into something really slick as time goes on.

I’ve got, for example, a guy who can build custom cases. (Right now the B-vo is a not a pretty thing.) The ultimate goal is to make a small, sexy thing, like a Wii, that’s completely quiet (the B-vo is very quiet, with just one small fan).

Probably about the time I really get rolling, Apple will work out the kinks and legal issues with their Apple TV system and shoot my business all to hell, so I’m already looking at little twists and turns that will make the system more fun than theirs.

It’s been a while since I’ve had my own business. It’s time to start again….