Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Cutting the Soul Out of a Story

I listen to A LOT of audiobooks. And there is nothing I hate more than an abridgement. As a matter of principle, I refuse to listen to abridged books. What erks me, is when there is a book I'm interested it that is only available as an abridgement. Why are people going through the effort of recording audiobooks, and then only bothering to record half the story? I don't understand. Who listens to these abridged books? Why do people feel the need to make them?

My loathing of abridged audiobooks is somewhat related to my dislike of movie adaptations of books. I don't have much of a problem with people watching a story as opposed to reading a story. For example, watching a well made film of Hamlet or Romeo & Juliet could quite possibly be a truer and more rewarding experience than simply reading Shakespheare's words. The reason for this is quite obvious. Shakespheare intended for his works to be performed, and no good film crew would dare to cut anything.

It's the cutting that I hate. Most stories are orginally penned in prose not dialog and stage direction. That means, any film adaptation has to select which parts of the story to tell on the screen. And only very short books can be told in their entirety in a two or three hour film. So in addition to determining how to create a set that matches the imagary the prose bring to mind, film makers must also determine which scenes to cut from the story entirely.

The Harry Potter films are an example of well made film adaptations. The cinemetagraphy is beautiful, and does a good job of bringing the world of Hogwarts to life in a manner similar to that which would be imagined while reading the story. Also the movies closely track the books and do not intentionally stray from the written storyline. I have read all the books multiple times, and have seen all the movies which have been released. My husband, on the other hand, has watched the movies but he has not read the books. In the car ride home after watching one of the movies, my husband inevitably starts asking me tons of questions. "Ok, who was that character?" "Now where did that come from?" "What was Harry talking about when he said...?"

I don't have any problem answering these questions. And after I do answer them, the film begins to make sense for my husband. What he's doing is pulling all the information that was cut from the films out of me, instead of pulling it out of the book itself. So if someone were to watch the Harry Potter movies without reading the books or interviewing someone who had read the books, the story wouldn't make complete sense. It would be the same as listening to an abridged audiobook. It would be comperable to reading "cliftnotes" and not bothering to read the story at all. The major plot points might be there, but the original richness of the story would have been lost. Cutting, and abridging always steels a part of the story that the original author and publisher felt was necessary. Cutting and abridging almost universily makes stories worse.

So I was plesently surprized when I recently watched and loved the new "Alice and Wonderland" movie. It's not a remake of Lewis Carrolls masterpiece. It doesn't cut and paste dialog from the book into a film. It doesn't attempt to smash a beloved story into a two hour film. Instead it takes all the wonderful richness of that beloved classic, and then respins it into an entirely new and entirely different story. The key idea behind the film is that Alice visited Wonderland and had all the adventures described in Carrol's book at the age of seven. Then 13 years later at the age of 20, she visits Wonderland again. Many of the characters are the same, but their needs and modivations have changed. Alice has grown and experienced new things. This new film isn't a attempted remake of a novel, which is dombed to pail in comparison to the original. Instead, this film is an unwritten sequil, which is able to enhance the original story without destroying it. So even though, I normally hate film adaptations of books. I recommend watching "Alice in Wonderland."

Joke of the Day
A famous Viking explorer returned home from a voyage and found his name missing from the town register. His wife insited on complaining to the local civic official who appologized saying, "I must have taken Lief off my census."


Stephanie Faris said...

Which Alice in Wonderland? The one at theaters or the one that was on TV last year? I only ask because I will be pleasantly surprised if Tim Burton actually stuck to the story and didn't twist it all around! I may even have to see it, if that's the case.

Anyway, I agree with you on audiobooks. I get mine from the library...and very few are abridged. I haven't found an abridged one yet and I haven't even been watching for it. Most of the ones at the library are from "Books on Tape," which is a company that specializes in unabridged recordings. Here's their site: http://www.booksontape.com/

Kate said...

The Tim Burton one currently in theaters.