Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hints for watching movie re-makes.

In today's economy, Hollywood needs a sure bet--and that's why most of the new releases coming from the major studios are from already successful stories. The movies are re-makes of previously produced films, or movies based on best-selling books. Can we blame them, really? They spend millions of dollars on film production and distribution, so by sticking to the tried and true stories they have a guaranteed audience: fans of the previously made movie or book.

I often hear complaints that the movie is never as good as the book. Admittedly, I used to be a major complainer in that department. However, in studying film, I learned that parts of books I thought were missing in the movie were actually there, but in visual form.

Stories need conflict, and in books the conflict is often internal--through the thoughts and feelings of the character. Live theater or stage plays rely on verbal conflict, or conflict through dialogue. Movies, on the other hand, are primarily visual; even when the movie has what some might consider “snappy dialogue,” visual images still tell much of the story.

Since the trend for Hollywood films relies on re-telling of stories, is there a way for us to enjoy the movies in spite of our preconceived notions of how the story goes? Here are some hints to help you enjoy movies based on your favorite reads:
  • Don’t expect the movie to have everything that the book covered. For a movie to include it all--every detail of the book--it would be way too costly to produce and way too long. A typical short novel made into film would take more than six hours to watch. 
  • Don’t expect the movie to follow the story exactly as the book. Because filmmakers need to fit the story into a two-hour movie, they have to find ways to condense information. Sometimes they combine situations into one scene, for instance, and sometimes they have to eliminate sections that might not be crucial to the plot.
  • Do watch for visual clues. As mentioned, much of the story, especially concerning character, will be in what you see not just what you hear. Think of it as a treasure hunt, watching for clues. Pay attention to the colors, the framing, the props, the expressions, the settings; they aren't happenstance. Filmmakers select those things for a reason. They tell part of the story and give insight into the characters. Filmmakers believe: “showing” is better than “telling.”
  • Do keep an open mind in the re-telling of the story. When a studio wants to create an adaptation of a book, for instance, they contact several screenwriters and tell them, “Give me your ‘take’ on this story.” The screenwriters study it out, return to the studio, and give a synopsis of how they would write the story. The executives select the one they like best—it could be the story that follows the original very closely, or it could be a version making the plot or title of that particular book more of a metaphor. Remember, it is a re-telling of a story, not a regurgitation of what's already been done.
  • Don't expect movies based on "true stories" to be completely, well...true. This is visual storytelling and, quite frankly, even true stories can be rather dull without some fiction stirred in, so expect some twists added for cinematic effect. Consider the movie The Blind Side (2009). In the true story, Michael Oheralready knew how to play football, but wasn't it fun to see Leigh Anne (played by Sandra Bullock) march out on that field and give him pointers?
Hopefully those hints can help you come out of the theater thinking, "Wow! That was an interesting take on that story!" rather than, "That's not how it happened at all! They absolutely ruined the book!"

NOTE: If you are tired of re-makes and would rather see a movie based on an original screenplay, you will more than likely find it from an independent film production company, not a major studio. 

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Just expressing some thoughts and concerns.

"Communities have a responsibility to assist the family in promoting wholesome entertainment. What a community tolerates will become tomorrow's standard for today's youth." ~Ezra Taft Benson (Ensign, November 1982, p. 60.)

I've had that quote on my mind. With the media in a seemingly constant surge to "push the envelope" where will it lead our society?

There's a double standard in the film industry. They include vulgarity and violence on the grounds that they are trying to portray "reality" yet when approached about scenes that are not "realistic" they use the defense, "Films are fantasy!"

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Japanese and Chinese Films

In the past, when I considered Japanese, or Chinese films, I always thought of martial arts and cheesy Godzilla movies. Through studying film history, however, I have learned that there are many film treasures in both of those countries.

JAPAN. The films of Yasujiro Ozu fascinate me. Most of his films have a character struggling to adjust to changing ways of Japan while trying to cling to older traditions. Ozu rarely moves the camera. Watching his films is like being a fly on the wall, observing the happenings of the families portrayed.

I recently saw Red Beard (1965), directed by Akira Kurosawa. What amazed me was the the emotion I felt. His use of symmetry and the framing of each shot, moved me in the same way beautiful music lifts my soul. The film is actually a period piece, shot in black in white, although the movie was actually made in the mid 60s. It's a story of an arrogant, well educated, young doctor who is assigned to a small clinic treating patients who live in poverty.

CHINA. The opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing were visually stunning to me. Zhang Yimou was the artistic director for the event. I watched his film To Live (1994) and felt fascinated by the culture portrayed. This is an epic film--covering four decades--and shows how Chinese government and historical events affected the lives of one family. This film was initially banned in China due to the subtle criticism (but apparently not subtle enough!) of Mao and communism throughout the story.