Saw ‘The Avengers’ last week, well right when it came out. It was awesome. I didn’t realize it was a Whedon, but his sense of timing for witty one liners is undeniable. And overall, the job with a larger cast of characters was well-balanced. Not too much backstory, but anyone who needed to look for it could see enough of the characters’ motivations to keep them from freaking out (or whatever it is those of you who don’t go to movies entirely to turn your brains off do).
Comparing this to ‘The Hunger Games’, which was based on a book–something about the scale of the whole thing was a lot easier to enjoy. I’m sure people might argue there’s more depth in the Collins-inspired movie, but let’s face it, there was something missing from that movie. (Just going off the profits alone, it’s easy to see which one people are enjoying more…whether or not you argue it’s because it was all dark and depressing, really,really?)
Anyway, I couldn’t help but think what a spectacularly awful book ‘The Avengers’ would make. I don’t enjoy the comic series—I grew up on a little bit of Archie, a few Disney cartoons (yes, they did comic books before purchasing Marvel), a fair bit of Chacha Chaudhary (probably misspelled that, it’s been a while), and, eventually, a fair bit of Japanese manga. But superhero comics have never been my thing; oftentimes it seems like the problems were laid on to hide that things do always work out for the good guys. (Although Tony Stark’s alcoholism is pretty strong. I like that that was his problem; it goes with his persona much better than what they used in the movies.)
Even so, American comics make fantastic movies. Consistently better movies, I think, than books. I’ve racked my brain over it for a few days and whether or not it’s my poor knowledge of cinema interfering, I can’t name a single great book whose fully faithful adaptation made a great movie. (Keep in mind I still haven’t seen ‘Catch 22,’ which I hear is surprisingly good, and I can’t stand Puzo’s writing style even though I thought the movie was pretty awesome, and I’m only counting full novels devoid of illustrations. And, again, I haven’t seen that many movies.)
Maybe this is more Hollywood. Maybe it’s the fact that movie adaptations of books have a hard time going through because of the rabid book fans and the pressures of doing business in Hollywood. But I’m inclined to think it’s a more fundamental difference. The ways in which books are fantastic is irreplaceable. Adapting pieces to movies works occasionally, but you’ll never get the full range of the book. Usually, the result is tolerable but rarely more than mediocre. At worst you end up with something like ‘Zorba the Greek’, which took all the wrong moments from a pretty fantastic piece of work, and at best…?
If you could name any fantastic book-movie adaptations that are genuinely faithful, I’d love to hear of them.
I do hear the Japanese recently made a movie of out Haruki Murakami’s ‘Norweigan Wood’….