the lawyer writer

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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Adapt This

I am pleased to report that I did indeed see The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy this weekend, and that I thought it was quite good. Now, before all my fellow Hitchhikers beat me with things the movie missed or got wrong--and there were quite a few--allow me to say this: the movie got the spirit of the book right. This standard is in accordance with the principle thesis of my, er, thesis in graduate school, entitled "Fancy Dress: A Comparison of Period Piece Adaptations in Modern American Film." Before I be accused of trying to encourage readership of the aforementioned paper, let me reassure you that only one copy of the thesis exists, and it is resting comfortably in a dusty file cabinet waaaaay in the depths of the NYU Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. I would, of course, be happy to offer anyone a digital copy of the thesis, but, alas, it does not exist. Or rather, it does exist, on floppy, only I typed it on an outdated Mac computer using a program known as Clarisworks (a/k/a "Too Cheap For Windows"). This has encrypted it in computer hieroglyphics, and no known Rosetta Stone exists.

Back to the thesis's thesis. An adaptation cannot work if it intends to mimic everything in the book, down to the letter. Witness, for example, Sin City, which was adapted quite slavishly, and with the involvement of the comic book's author. Even the visuals were preordained. Now, I liked Sin City, but this was mostly because My Beloved Clive was in it. (Take a moment now to ponder Clive's rugged masculinity. Mmmmm. Clive). And the visuals. The story had its moments, but the narrative was bogged down by the filmmakers refusal to take chances.

The Hitchhiker movie is doubly cursed, as I realize through conversation with my friend--oh, let's call him "O"--who could not help but compare it to the v. successful British television series made of the book. I did point out to him that, in a television series, there is simply more time to fill in all the details and the blanks. In a film, things have to be sketched quickly. Think of an artist painting a brick wall. The amateur draws and shapes every brick in the wall, while the artist can paint the same wall with a few, well-placed brushstrokes. V. Zen, no? This is the goal of a film adaptation--not to mimic the book, which is impossible given the differences in the mediums (media? Discuss.) But instead, the goal should be to capture the spirit that the book itself was trying to convey.

I think the Hitchhiker movie does that quite well. This is 45% due to the casting of Martin Freeman as Arthur Dent. "O" noted that they had been working on the movie for decades, and it only got made through a convergence of bizarre fates: 1) Douglas Adams' death (a notorious perfectionist, he held the script up for years) and 2)Men in Black (proving that yes, people do want to see funny sci-fi movies with loads of special effects). To that list of chancey fates meeting, I would add 3) the birth and acting career arc of Martin Freeman, especially after The Office. (Question: why do I now find him sexy? Discuss).

So that's that. Now I have a quiz. A man in Japan claims to have invented a device which can translate the gurgling, babbling and general yapping of babies. (read here)Perhaps he thought of this gadget out of thin air, but I'm betting that the idea came to him while watching a) this television show as b) this character invented the same device.



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