An Adaptation? As Loosely Defined, Perhaps.

I was perusing the DVDs at the library last week when I happened upon “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”.  I fondly remembered the film from twenty years ago, so I checked it out.  The kids and I watched it the other night and I was amazed at how much it was influenced by Chinatown, one of my favorite films.  Twenty years ago, I had not yet seen Chinatown, and in the intervening twenty years I had not seen Roger Rabbit again, so I never put the two together.  I was also surprised to discover that the film was based on a novel, “Who Censored Roger Rabbit?” by Gary K. Wolf.

After reading the dust jacket of the book, it would appear that the two share very little other than character names and the overarching premise of the interaction between our real world and a fantasy world.  Upon reading the initial chapters, the first divergence I noticed was in the type of cartoon involved.  In the book, the interaction is with comic strip characters who speak in word balloons and in the film the interaction is with animated cartoon characters.  After that break with the source material, the adaptation clearly took a left turn at Albuquerque since the book deals with seedier topics than the themes of corruption and hidden identities that form the basis for the film.  I am going to continue reading the novel, since one of my kids expressed an interest in it and I need to determine if it is age appropriate or whether she will need to wait a few years.

After the success of the movie, Wolf penned a sequel of sorts which appears to retcon his toon universe to align with that of the movie.  Presumably, the intention was to keep the train rolling along, but the movie sequel never got made (the expense of the first one might have been a factor as might have been the turn towards computer animation).

How we’ll watch the Watchmen – making the comics fit on screen

I’ve been a deep fan of Alan Moore’s graphic novel for twenty years now, but I’m torn on the upcoming film version.  It was written to be a comic, and it works brilliantly in that format.  It doesn’t need to be a movie. Yet part of me would love to see these images move and breathe.  I looped the spectacular trailer that came out a dozen times, both amazed and terrified.  It looks great as the music video that trailer is, but can it work as a film narrative?  If anything it would seem to make a better mini-series than a movie, but a movie is what we are getting.  So I decided to break out my well-worn copy of the Watchmen and take a look.

WARNING – I suppose there are spoilers below, but this is a 20 year old comic.  I think the statute of limitations has run out, but if you want to be surprised, then go away.

Let’s start with the length… twelve issues in a two hour movie would average out to 10 minutes an issue.  In traditional 2 minute scenes, that’s 5 scenes out of every issue.  Ouch.  Not a good start.

We know some time will be saved across the whole story by the removal of the Black Freighter Pirate comic subplot/story. Zack Snyder has confirmed this may appear on a simultaneous release on DVD but will not be on the big screen.

Issue One – Death of the Comedian and character introductions.  Not a lot to shave out of this one – we have a bunch of very interesting people to meet and the inciting incident of the story to cover – Rorschach’s investigation.  I think we may see less of the Minutemen in the movie, including Hollis Mason and Dan’s relationship. I also think we’ll see much of Rorschach’s extraneous violence as he extorts the underworld left out. It’s character material, but eats up those precious minutes.  I’d say we would need all 10 minutes for this issue.

Issue Two – Comedian’s funeral and recollection of his mourners. Packed with seemingly casual recollections that turn out to be major issues later. Blake’s relationship with Sally is one aspect of the Crimebusters that can’t be left out. Manhattan in Vietnam with Blake was in the trailer, but could be shrunk. Same with Dan and Blake’s Keene riot patrols.  But he can’t leave out Blake’s visit to Moloch. I also hope they keep the Pagliacci joke – personal favorite.  Again, going to need a full 10 mins for this one.

Issue Three – Manhattan leaves Earth, Dan and Laurie reconnect.  Finally we have an issue where material can be cut out. Doc still has to flee to Mars, but there’s a lot of side story with the street vendor and that crazy doomsday sign carrier that can shrink way down.  Should be able to make up time here.

Issue Four – Doc’s reminiscence on Mars. I love this issue, the texture, the ideas of how Doc views time, and the insight into this fascinating character. But really this would be very hard to convey on the screen in depth, and doesn’t move the story forward. It’s mostly backstory. I think this issue will get cut heavily.

Issue Five – Rorschach captured, Dan is frustrated, Veidt’s assassination attempt. A few major plot points, but I think they can compress in a bit.  I think this issue will show a number of factual plot points and spare the depth.  Again with the street vendor – I think his story will also be greatly reduced in the movie, along with the Pirate ship story and the comic-reading kid.  This will probably clock in around the full 10 mins.

Issue Six – What kind of dork does every issue like this?  Me.  Now this issue, while backstory, is to me the heart of the series.  Not only is Rorschach scrawling his own design on the morally blank face of Armageddon, but so is the entire rest of the cast. Every one of them had their own conception of the world broken, and reformed it in their own image. Moral choice in the face of anarchy.  This is also a black, bleak issue, and the kidnapping details are going to really turn people away of not done well.  This issue will likely eat up more than it’s 10 minutes, and claim some of the ground given up by a few previous issues.

Issue Seven – Dan and Laurie, and some info on the Institute. Dan and Laurie are the emotional heart to this tale, so I expect their relationship to get some coverage.  Just not sure how much.  I think Snyder will have to forsake some character work for plot, and this is where we may see that hit.  Easily take the full 10 mins, and maybe more.

Issue Eight – Jailbreak. I think the jailbreak will get time, as will Rorschach’s escapade’s inside the jail. We will need to see the people working on the island, too.  Again, I expect Hollis to get sidelined, and his death seems like a likely item to cut.  Lots of action here, and since we’ve already seen Nightowl doing a Spartan slow-mo kick in the trailer, I think this will get the full treatment.  Full 10 minutes on this one, plus some.

Issue Nine – Revelations on Mars. This would be gorgeous on the screen, and has Laurie big character revelation.  This one will eat up time, especially if we get the full tour of Mars. I wonder if Snyder will try to keep all the bloodstained-smiley logo references, including the crash on the Argyre Planitia.  I also wonder if we’ll see a lot of voiceover from Laurie to tie her story together.  This issue just can’t shrink that much.  Going to be more than 10 minutes.

Issue Ten – Rorschach and Nightowl close in on Veidt. Lots of small bits of information here, like the delivery of the journal and more Pirate story. I think this will be compressed to mainly show the investigation and the fate of the people working on the island.  Can make up some time here.

Issue Eleven – A button is pushed, Veidt’s backstory and the big reveal.  I think we’ll see reference back to the Crimebuster’s meeting and tidbits on Veidt, but not all the details.  His own decision to scrawl his morality on the world.  But the pacing here I think can be cut down to the 10 minutes.

Issue Twelve – Downtown Exposition City.  One worry I have with this adaptation overall is the need for voiceover.  In a movie you normally want to Show, not Tell. With the crazy way Moore plays with time and intercut threads, I think a voiceover will almost be necessary.  Then the wrap up, hopefully with Seymour and his fateful selection.  This will be the bulk of the third act and push well more than 10 minutes – maybe 15+.

Could this clock in as a 2 1/2 hour movie like Dark Knight?  May not be a choice to preserve both the story and the characters.  But even giving another 2-3 mins per issue may not be enough.  I think we’re looking at a very long movie (which studios and theaters hate) or the cutting knife will go deep.

All of this said, I’m still going to see it the day it opens. As a fan I like to ponder topics like this, but am also willing to let movies prove themselves. For fun Google up fan rants about Lord of the Rings before it opened, or Daniel Craig as James Bond.  I have my concerns, but wish Snyder and Co. nothing but the best in making this work.

The “Oral History” format

I am currently in the midst of reading Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey, by Chuck Palahniuk. This is the second book that I have read in the last year that utilizes the oral history format. The first one was World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks (which advocates the “classic” slow zombie, by the way). In fiction, the format is presented as the recollections of the story’s characters as told to one focal person, who may or may not also be a “true” character in the book.

At first, I thought this would be a boon for the writer. When you get stuck, just switch to a different character! However, upon further reflection, I think to pull it off well actually requires much more calculation than my first flippant view implies. Each character’s viewpoint and especially their knowledge of the described events have to be kept discrete, allowing the story to unfold as the reader pieces the scraps together to form a complete picture.

As far as adaptation to a screenplay, I see some particular obstacles. Since the format relates events that have already happened, a straight adaptation would likely turn into the to-be-avoided “talking heads on screen”. I have read that the screenplay for World War Z is currently being written. My guess is that the filmed version will not follow the multiple interviewee format of the book and will likely be a straight-up action flick, weaving elements of the book into a linear storyline, perhaps with a single survivor reminiscing the entirety.

I will be on the lookout for films adapted from the oral history format to see how the writers maneuvered to bring the story to the screen.