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Friday, October 05, 2007

On seeing a movie of a beloved book

All I can say, after watching the movie supposedly based on Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising is - thank goodness J.K. Rowling had control over what was done to her Harry Potter novels!

I first discovered The Dark Is Rising series in the 1970s. I remember a lot of people were reading it then. I loved the mood, the atmosphere and the British background. I suspect, like a lot of people, that a certain J.K. Rowling got some ideas from these books, though she made them her own.

Anyway, when someone asked me what The Dark Is Rising, the novel, was about, I said it was about a boy who finds, on his 11th birthday, that he's a wizard. Well, a lot more than a wizard - the last of the Old Ones. With the help of other Old Ones, he has to collect a number of Signs, created over the centuries for him, so that they can be used to beat back the Dark in the battle between Light and Dark. His mentor was a gentleman called Merriman Lyon, an Oxford University professor in our time, though you know, through hints, and it's finally confirmed in later books, that he's Merlin. There was a large, loving family who lived in Buckinghamshire, a thrilling night chase with Herne the Hunter, travels through time and a tragic character who betrayed the Light and suffered for it.

So when I heard, recently, that they'd made a movie of it, I got terribly excited. I was impressed to hear that the villainous Rider was Christopher Eccleston (who, in the end, was the only thing that made the film worth bothering with, with a deliciously evil performance, so you could hold down the notion he was going to invite Will into his TARDIS).

This morning I went to see it. Urk! Why did they bother to use Susan Cooper's name? Even if I hadn't read the novels, I wouldn't have cared for it. One kid who's on a quest for the Signs and being nagged by the other Old Ones to get on with it, a final fight with the Rider, in which the Old Ones attack him physically, a scene in which two of them are attacked by the Rider's rooks in a deserted pub - - yeuk!

Will's family has become American, his age upped to fourteen, probably so he can be nearly seduced by the evil Maggie Barnes, his huge, loving family is dysfunctional, his brother Tom is suddenly his twin, being held by the Dark instead of a first baby lost to illness, Miss Greythorne of the Manor is the boss of the Old Ones and Merriman just her not-too-cluey butler (in the novel Merriman was playing the role of butler while her regular one was away, so he could be near enough to help Will)who happens to be an Old One. If this guy is Merlin, no wonder Arthur stuffed up!The tragic Walker, evidence that Merriman once made a huge mistake, is just not there.

I have nothing against American actors as long as they get it right - look at the four wonderful American actors in Lord of the Rings - they were the perfect Aragorn, Arwen, Frodo and Sam - well, Viggo M was probably a few years too young for the role of Aragorn and Elijah Wood way too young for Frodo, but when you saw the movie, you didn't care. But why, oh, why, did the CHARACTERS have to be American? How would they like it if some British film-maker set Huckleberry Finn in England? Or if Tom Sawyer was re-set in the Australian outback? Why do these folk think their audiences are too dumb to be able to handle anything "furrin"? Hadn't they noticed how well Harry Potter did, without being Americanised?

I know that you can't make a movie exactly like the novel, but surely you can avoid making it so different that it's like a different story altogether.

I have been re-reading the series and finding it just as good as the first time around.

I didn't want to comment on this movie, despite all that I had heard, without seeing it, but if they do any of the sequels, I'm not bothering.

Anyone who reads this post - go read the book. And wait for the movie The Golden Compass - despite the change of title, it looks, from the trailers, like a wonderfully faithful adaptation of Northern Lights, well-cast, stunningly beautiful visually.

Watch this space.

1 comment:

Blue Tyson said...

That makes it sound even worse than the trailer!

I actually borrowed a kid's anthology by accident from the library, so to speak, and it had a Pullman story in it.

Generally, I have no interest in kids books (Harry Potter, etc., but will watch the movies, except for my own Dark is Rising books), but Pullman's was the best in it, so maybe I will take a look at one sometime. At least the movie, anyway.