Not a Blog

The Adaptation Tango

May 24, 2024 at 9:05 am
Profile Pic

A few years back, Neil Gaiman and I did a joint event in New York City, when we were both in town.

It was a lot of fun, as events with Neil always are.   We told some funny stories, talked about books and comics, about SANDMAN and WILD CARDS and days at cons… and touched on some serious topics too.

I would like to upload  a video of the event if I could, but I am not sure one exists.   If anyone was recording us, I have never seen the tape.   But VARIETY had the best report of the session.

That was all back in 2022, but very little has changed since then.   If anything, things have gotten worse.   Everywhere you look, there are more screenwriters and producers eager to take great stories and “make them their own.”   It does not seem to matter whether the source material was written by Stan Lee, Charles Dickens, Ian Fleming, Roald Dahl, Ursula K. Le Guin, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mark Twain, Raymond Chandler, Jane Austen, or… well, anyone.   No matter how major a writer it is, no matter how great the book, there always seems to be someone on hand who thinks he can do better, eager to take the story and “improve” on it.   “The book is the book, the film is the film,” they will tell you, as if they were saying something profound.   Then they make the story their own.

They never make it better, though.   Nine hundred ninety-nine times out of a thousand, they make it worse.

Once in a while, though, we do get a really good adaptation of a really good book, and when that happens , it deserves applause.

I can came across one of those instances recently, when I binged the new FX version of SHOGUN.

Must confess, I was dubious when I first heard they were making another version of the Clavell novel.   It has been a long time, a long long LONG time, but I read the book when it first came out in the late 70s and was mightily impressed.   (I really need to give it a reread one of these days, but there are so many books, so little time).   And the 1980 miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain as the Anjin was a landmark of long form television, right up with with ROOTS; why do it over again, when that version was so good?

I am glad they did, though.   The new SHOGUN is superb.   Better than Chamberlain’s version, you ask?   Hmmm, I don’t know.   I have not watched the 1980 miniseries since, well, 1980.   That one was great too.   The fascinating thing is that while the old and new versions have some significant differences — the subtitles that make the Japanese dialogue intelligible to English speaking viewers being the biggest — they are both faithful to the Clavell novel in their own way.   I think the author would have been pleased.   Both old and new screenwriters did honor to the source material, and gave us terrific adaptations, resisting the impulse to “make it their own.”

But don’t take my word for it.   Watch it yourself.

Acting, directing, set design, costume… it’s all splendid here.  Along with the writing.

And if SHOGUN is a big enough hit, maybe the same team will adapt some of Clavell’s other novels.

Current Mood: thoughtful thoughtful