It Doesn’t Really Matter If the Movie Is Faithful to the Original

io9 reported today on a panel at San Diego Comic-Con called “Studio Production Chiefs Speak,” highlighting a quote from Drew Crevello, senior vice president at Warner Bros.:

“You need at least one, if not two, people in the process to be true passionate fans—not because that ensures reverence, [but because] those are the ones who are best positioned to know, ‘Okay, this is a different medium and you have to diverge [from the source material], and have the courage to do that. [When I worked on] X-Men: First Class and Deadpoool [at Fox], and now with Akira and Stephen King’s The Stand, you have to have reverence for the material—but also, the courage to make the bold creative choices that you just know the fans will come along with you for.”

It makes sense that studios think this way.  Before Crevello said this, his fellow panelist Jim Miller of Lionsgate had just commented that “Loyalty to the source material is the most important thing. There’s a reason these things are popular, and to diverge from what made them popular [in the first place] would be a huge mistake.”  Agreed.  But I think that we can all agree that movie studios are not in the business of being faithful to beloved source material.  They’re in the business of making money, and if they see an opportunity to do so, or to adapt the source material better for the medium of film, then they’re going to take it.  The best possible approach we can expect them to have is what Crevello’s saying: they hire diehard fans to assist with the process so that they don’t stray too far.

We tend to think of diehard fans as being the ones most likely to demand strict adherence to the source material, but the reality is this: diehard fans are the ones for whom no adaption will ever replace the source material.  For these purists, there will never be any danger of any adaptation surpassing the original, because the original is already perfect.

True diehard fans of The Lord of the Rings, for instance, realize that the novels J.R.R. Tolkien wrote are inherently unfilmable.  There’s no way to adapt them perfectly, nor should anyone try.  You may love the Peter Jackson movies and believe they were as faithful to the books as possible, or as any film adaptation was likely to be, and you’d be right.  But being a fan of the movies doesn’t make you a fan of the books, and vice versa.  They’re not the same thing at all.

It makes sense, then, that movie studios want diehard fans on their team for the reason Crevello stated.  Diehard fans are more able to step back and say, “Starting with the presumption that all of this is basically just bullshit, that nothing will ever replace the original, what can we do to make this work in this new medium?”  They’re able to identify the tenets of the source material, the defining bones of it, and in so doing they’re able to identify what can be sacrificed or changed.

The underlying question when critiquing any adaptation should be “Did they capture the essence of the original?” not “Is it exactly the same as the original?” (or, even worse, “Is it exactly as I imagined it?”).  There are certainly arguments to be made that poor adaptations reduce the overall value of the original, since they potentially limit the original’s growth, but that’s another issue entirely, and I can think of an equal number of counterarguments for it.

For the true fan, the adaptation is only ever a diversion from the real thing.

Adam Savage’s Star Trek Captain’s Chair

This one merits a full-on blog post: Adam Savage and the Tested crew build a screen-accurate (99.9%) Captain Kirk captain’s chair from Star Trek: The Original Series.  This video encapsulates everything that it means to be a geek.

TL;DR (or watch): Go to the end of the video and check out the finished chair.  Any Star Trek fan will be drooling with envy.

Agent Coulson and Tragic Irony

Joss Whedon’s comments on the difficulty of bringing Agent Coulson back from the dead for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. but not having him appear in The Avengers: Age of Ultron have been big news in the geekosphere for the past few days.

We could talk for hours about the difficulties with continuity in an ever-expanding shared universe the size of the MCU, not to mention the fact that Whedon himself was involved in the decision to bring Coulson back and now seems to regret it, but what really interests me is this: is it really such a bad thing?

Here’s what Whedon had to say:

“As far as I’m concerned, in this movie, Coulson’s dead. If you come back in the sequel and say Coulson’s alive, it’s like putting f***ing John Gielgud in the sequel to ‘Arthur.’ It mattered that he’s gone. It’s a different world now. And you have to run with that.”

I get what he’s saying.  It makes sense.  The whole point of killing off Coulson, who had been a vital character throughout all of the Phase One MCU movies, was to unite the Avengers.  His death motivated them to put aside their differences and work as a team to solve the problems of the day.  Bringing him back from the dead creates problems within the world and outside of it.  In-world, the Avengers discovering that Coulson’s death was faked undermines team spirit that the event helped create.  And from an external, story-teller’s perspective, suddenly bringing him back to life cheapens his sacrifice for the audience.

But given that this bell has been rung, why not see if we can’t make the best of the situation.  The idea that Coulson’s death was faked does work, given the established nature of Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. as a whole–they’re spooks.  They manipulate people to get what they want.  Staging a tragedy just to get a bunch of superhumans to band together and save the earth is just what Nick Fury would do if he had to.  So it makes sense for the universe.

But I feel cheated, you say.  They told me he was dead.  They made my transparent aluminum nerd eyes shine with misty feels.  I feel betrayed that it was all a sham.  They will suffer.  Whedon must suffer.  I will blog the shit out of my discontent.

Isn’t just as tragic, albeit in a different way, if Coulson did live, but all of the heroes he helped create remain unaware of it?  Whedon’s obviously put the kibosh on revealing Coulson’s survival to the Avengers, at least in Age of Ultron.  So Thor, Iron Man, Cap and friends aren’t going to see their buddy Phil again anytime soon.  As far as they know, he died with Loki’s scepter through his chest just before the Battle of New York.  How much more nagging is that sense of loss for the viewer if they know the whole time, having watched Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., that Phil’s hale and hearty and going about business as usual?

How does that feel for Coulson?  He’s not as cynical as Fury; he’s Captain America, not Tony Stark.  How heartbreaking would it be to know that a group of people that by this point you’d have to consider friends think you’re dead, and that your death hit them so hard they put aside some pretty ingrained differences to avenge your ass?  Wouldn’t you, as the viewer, feel both sides of that loss?  Wouldn’t the Avengers’ ignorance, and Coulson’s regret, come off as kind of a twisted, tragic joke?

I’m not saying it’s perfect, but it’s an angle that I haven’t seen anyone else consider as of yet.  What do you think?  Does this make sense, or am I grasping at straws?

Enigma Machine Happiness

If you’re into World War II or cryptography, you need to watch these videos.

I also can’t recommend Simon Singh’s The Code Book highly enough.

Will HBO’s Game of Thrones Reach the End of the Story Before the Novels?

You’ve probably heard the news by now that the sixth novel in George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, on which the incredibly popular HBO series Game of Thrones is based, will not be released in 2015, according to his publisher Harper Collins.  This was hardly a surprise for Martin’s fans, given the frequent and often massive delays between books in the series.

That being said, Chris Taylor over at Mashable took the time to do some basic math and came to the (quite reasonable) conclusion that it would be impossible for Martin to finish the series before HBO does at this point.

What HarperCollins didn’t draw attention to is that the later arrival of Winds of Winter all but guarantees that the HBO series will do what Martin has long hoped it wouldn’t: overtake the books. Here’s why. (Caution: What follows indulges in mild speculation, and includes mild spoilers if you haven’t read the books.)

Season 5 of Game of Thrones arrives in April. It is based on book four, A Feast for Crows, as well as parts of book five, A Dance With Dragons. (The producers managed to split book three into two seasons, but that was jam-packed with plot; sadly, there’s barely enough meat in Crows and Dragons combined to make for a single season.)

The HBO show is on a regular schedule; it films every fall, and screens every spring. There’s little hope of delaying Game of Thrones, especially given its large number of teenaged actors who are growing up faster than the pace of the story allows. Isaac Hempstead-Wright, who plays Bran Stark, has already gone through so much pubescence that the producers have already parked Bran at the place where he arrives in book five.

The producers have made it quite clear they intend to end the show with Season 7. So we already have a clear road map: Season 6 arrives in 2016, and the HBO show will grace our screens for the last time in 2017.

Martin’s roadmap, meanwhile, involves two more novels: The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring. The titles were announced nearly a decade ago.

So let’s be generous to Martin, and imagine that Winter is coming in early 2016, just ahead of the TV season that will likely be based on it. That schedule is not entirely beyond the bounds of reason, given that he has already offered two sample chapters of the new book online.

What is beyond the bounds of reason, however, is that Spring could be completed just one year later, in time for Season 7 in 2017. Martin’s books are behemoths lasting between 800 and 1,100 pages each, and even the early books — when he was actually writing fast — had two-year gaps between them.

In other words, at his fastest conceivable writing speed, he would have needed to release Winter this year — and that possibility has just been taken off the table. So we can definitively say that all the long-debated secrets of the series (who Jon Snow’s mother is, who ends up on the Iron Throne, whether the dragons and the arrival of winter destroy everything and everyone) will be revealed on screen before they arrive on the page.

I’ll spare you further commentary on Martin’s writing speed, polemic about whether he’s anyone’s bitch and what, if anything, authors owe to their readers, and pointless speculation about potential differences between the TV and book endings.

What I will say is this:

1.  The TV show has surpassed the books in storytelling quality in certain areas, particularly in regard to its treatment of certain characters (Cersei, for instance) and the plot of the later books, so this isn’t as disappointing to me as it otherwise might be, given that I first fell in love with Martin’s world through the novels.

2.  Mr. Martin has stated publicly that the television show is a major motivation in hastening his work, but I have no doubt that when it becomes clear to him and his publisher, as it may well have already, that they cannot beat HBO to the punch, we’ll see an immediate return to the years-long delays ASOIAF readers have experienced with prior volumes in the series.

3.  Martin has said before that he would consider expanding the (as of now) seven-book series to eight or nine books if he needs to to tell the story.  It seems to me that if the motivation of ending the story ahead of the show disappears, so will any motivation to fit the print story into seven books.  This would be unfortunate, as the story has already gotten flabbier than it should have.

Confessions of a Lifelong Geek

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I’ve been a geek for my entire life.  I used to get Tolkien paperbacks taken away from me in elementary school because I’d stick them inside my textbooks and read when I was supposed to be paying attention in class.  I had an unhealthy obsession with the Thundercats.  I used to act out Darth Vader’s death scene in Return of the Jedi rather than playing with my friends.  In high school, when other guys were obsessing over girls, I was obsessing over Terry Brooks and Tad Williams and Magic: The Gathering.  I can still hold my own in a variety of geek trivia.  Heck, I’m now a full-time author of fantasy and science fiction.  It doesn’t get much geekier than that.

But there are some skeletons lingering in my geek closet…guilty secrets that weigh heavy on my eager, geeky heart.  And you, dear readers, will be my mother and father confessors tonight.  Forgive me, for I have sinned.

The fact that I spend my days thinking about fantasy worlds and obsessing over things like lightsabers and the finer points of magic systems doesn’t change the fact that there are some areas of geekdom in which I just don’t measure up–and here they are.

  • I don’t get Doctor Who.  Believe me, I’ve tried.  But every episode I watch just confirms my initial impression, which is that it’s an intentionally cheesy, low-budget farce that takes itself inexplicably seriously.  The hardest part to understand is the rabid fandom associated with it–I suppose I could understand watching it late at night when there’s nothing else on, but I can’t really imagine actually being excited to watch it.  Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against the Doctor, Time Lords, or Whovians in general. I want to like it.  I just. Don’t. Get it.
  • I have never played Minecraft.  You could add the names of any number of other empire-building, strategy games here and the statement would still be accurate.  I love gaming, but I’ve never been able to get into this particular genre.  I’ve never had the patience for it.  I like my games heavy on graphics and story.  And it’s not that I don’t get the appeal of, for instance, building your own dream castle with adjacent gold mine and badminton park, but no world I’d dream up would look any good all pixelated and Minecrafty.
  • The last anime I watched with any level of real interest was Akira.  Last manga? You guessed it.  Akira, volume one.  Which was awesome.  But keeping up with even one anime or manga series seems like it could be a full-time job in and of itself, never mind staying abreast of all the most popular shows and books.  I guess I just prioritize other geekery, here: if I have to choose between a fantasy or a sci-fi novel and watching an anime, I’m going to choose the book.
  • I have never played Dungeons & Dragons.  This one actually embarrasses me a little.  How can you even consider yourself a true-blue geek if you’ve never played D&D?  It wasn’t for lack of trying; I just never had any friends who were into it.  I used to go into this game store the next town over when I was a kid and look at Dungeon Master’s guides and box sets and just drool.  It seemed complicated and immersive and just fun.  But I wasn’t much of a self-starter when it came to hobbies, and since I never had any kind of D&D mentor I never got around to it–to my ever-lasting shame.
  • I prefer TNG to TOS.  It’s not that I dislike Star Trek: The Original Series.  In many ways, Kirk and Spock and crew will always be the more memorable characters to me.  But as far as quality story-telling goes, I’ve gotta go with The Next Generation.  The world is more interesting, the storytelling is superior, and the issues are far more topical to my own lifetime.  It also has a few more decades of science fiction canon to steal from, so the plots of the episodes end up being a lot more interesting.
  • I think the Star Wars prequels had some redeeming characteristics.  Whoa whoa whoa, stay with me here.  Listen closely.  I’m not saying they’re good.  They are terrible films made by a creatively stunted writer/director that pretty much ruined every Star Wars fan’s internal vision of the backstory of a number of classic characters.  So just to be clear, I’m not saying I like the prequels.  I’m saying that there were a scant few things that Lucas (or someone) did do right.  Ewan MacGregor’s performance as Obi-Wan Kenobi, the production design of the films’ universe, and the lightsaber dueling, for example.  Diamonds in the rough, all of them, but worthy of positive mention.  Everything else is just one big fart joke.

What are your geek confessions? What are your responses to mine?  Feel free to explain my wrongheaded thinking; I’m willing to be educated.  This inquiring mind wants to know.  I promise I won’t judge your own confessions…too harshly.