I Never Thought of It That Way: Books to Movies, Part III

One of several scenes in P&P 1995 where the audience
is given additional insight into Darcy's mindset.
The third approach of books to movies is the alternate viewpoint. This is common especially in tribute books, including Persuadable (my look at Persuasion from the "villains" point of view), Longbourn (a look at Pride & Prejudice from the servants' point of view), and Grendel by John Gardner (point of view self-explanatory).

It's fun! It can be insightful. It can also start an argument (I use Pamela's Mr. B in Mr. B Speaks! to run a court case on the merits of literary analysis in higher education). The alternate viewpoint asks, Is that really what happened? What was going on elsewhere when all the attention was focused here? What can we learn about the original novel by examining the evidence from a different perspective?

Many movies utilize this technique simply for the sake of comprehension and interest. In 1995 P&P, Darcy's hunt for Wickham is relayed through his point of view at the time it occurs; in the book, it is relayed as dialog/summary to Elizabeth after the fact; the reader consequently sees Darcy's actions entirely from Elizabeth's point of view. Giving us Darcy's point of view, however temporarily, provides more connection to the characters and to the action.

In a similar fashion, the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes movies and episodes, which I would generally label faithful interpretations, occasionally flip perspective--not everything is seen from Watson's point of view (first person causes so many problems!).

Edmund from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
provides a story that "carries".
In some ways, an alternate viewpoint can help create the consistent thread necessary to holding a film together (in general, when I refer to "thread," I am referring to the overall worldview or vision of the director, not the message). One of the smarter additions to The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the use of the White Witch as Edmund's ongoing nemesis from Edmund's point of view. Both movies have their flaws as movies and the latter is a challenge, being a difficult book to reproduce as anything but a series.

The book also happens to be one of my favorites, so I approached the film with trepidation the first and second times I watched it. I recently rewatched it, however, and found it more enjoyable than I remembered. Skandar Keynes, Georgie Henley, and the marvelous Will Poulter carry the movie and even deserved more screen-time. As in the first and second movies, Edmund's ability to see "behind the curtain" of false promises provides a necessary stable viewpoint, especially in the last movie (Dawn Treader really should be Eustace's movie exclusively; the book provides so many fantastic events from other people's viewpoints, a screenwriter would have to be extraordinarily disciplined to remember this).

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern waiting for others to act
So switching viewpoints momentarily is customary. Movies that completely switch viewpoint are a little harder to come by. One example is the play-to-movie Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, a look at Hamlet from the point of view of hapless bit parts. Another, which works out less effectively, is the most recent Murder in Mesopotamia (Agatha Christie's Poirot). The switch from the nurse narrator's p.o.v. to Poirot's p.o.v. was necessary (viewers want to focus on Poirot/ Suchet, not a lesser known actress) yet creates a vastly different tone. In the latter case, book and film should be handled as two distinct rather than complementary entities. (The inclusion of Hugh Fraser in the movie version is a nice bonus, and the husband's character is well-captured.)

A more common variation to the alternate viewpoint is the alternate time period: Clueless (Emma), Bridget Jones Diary (Pride & Prejudice), 10 Things I Hate About You (Taming of the Shrew) and many more Shakespeare plays! These variations can lend immense insight regarding the nature of the original relationships. P.D. James' Death Comes to Pemberley gave me additional insight into Wickham's character.

Such alternate approaches may also provide historical insights since the adaptations usually highlight those aspects of the original novels/plays that remain constant while tweaking those that time has challenged or questioned: girls and boys still act silly around each other but these days, the girl can go get a job.

No comments: