Thursday, January 24, 2008

Twisting Tales

I often asked myself what exactly a story is; not the construct of it, or language or imagery, but its stature. Of course there are some untouchables, some classics that no one dares soil, but once it’s down on paper or celluloid, is it fixed for all eternity, or is it just a trend that can easily be reshaped when something else is in fashion?

I used to treat and see every story, novels or movies or comic books or TV shows, like they were taken directly from reality. If it’s written as such, you can’t touch it anymore because it happened, period.

And then I stumbled onto “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (those who know me are sick of hearing me gush on that one…sorry folks…). Douglas Adams started out with a radio show, writing a particular storyline. But then a mouth-watering book deal came along, and Doug didn’t like his story as it was, so he told it differently. Than a TV series for which a bit more manipulation was offered. After that, comic books and a…er…towel, which also had some subtle changes. And at long last a feature film, which started out at the same point as the others, but blew the previous endings sky high, and I mean way high. Arthur and Trillian hooking up? The perspective gun? Earth Mark II BEFORE visiting the restaurant? It’s like Doug killed off the last four books in his trilogy, and brought the story full circle in one single shot. Is that bad? Actually, I’m still completely amazed by the film. And the books. And the towel. So what’s the story here?

The Internet age brought along a very watchful eye from fans towards their own favorite tales, making sure it won’t get screwed with. If it did, than prepare to suffer dire consequences! Mind you, it happens here and there nevertheless, but before we movie geeks got ‘online’, Hollywood did take very strange liberties with some stories that should never-ever-ever have been messed with. Surprisingly enough, few seem to remember how much those giants of fiction were twisted beyond their author’s meanings.

Down here are a few which struck my sensibility, and had me ranting a little too much for my friends’ comfort. Take a look for yourself, and see what you think…

The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The Story as it was meant:
Published in 11 volumes under the titles “Notre Dame De Paris”, Victor Hugo’s original epic ends with Esmeralda being executed by hanging. Quasimodo kills Frollo out of rage and entombs himself alive with the corpse of the lovely gypsy.

Where it went wrong:
Disney’s 1996 animated feature has… ‘Happy’ ending, with Esmeralda and Phoebus hooking up, and Quasimodo happy as a snail. At least, Frollo still falls to his death. And I’m still surprised no one screamed any louder over that one…The original story is a hopeless tragedy where no happiness can be found. Being different is a burden, and death is the only salvation. But Song & Dance and laughter and kissing??? Poor Victor…

Moby Dick
The Story as it was meant:
Herman Melville’s timeless classic has unlikable and bitter Captain Ahab obsessively hunting down the great white whale to exact revenge over losing his leg. His obsession drives him to go down with the whale, in one of the long-lasting lessons thought by fiction.

Where it went wrong:
Director Lloyd Bacon performed what is known as an “extremely loose adaptation” of the book, with his 1930 film starring John Barrymore (Drew’s Grandpa). Ahab starts out as a lovable “scamp”, who thinks loosing his leg to the whale will have his sweetheart running away from him, and thus needs to take revenge. He kills the whale, returns to shore, and finds his pumpkin waiting for him. Or simply put, he gets the whale and the girl…So, being obsessed is a good thing, right??? Hey, can I obsess like that over getting a raise?

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)
The Story as it was meant:
Like Moby Dick, Orwell’s theme of a hopeless totalitarian future has been recycled more time than can be accounted for. This still very chilling tale has center character Winston Smith ultimately turn his back on feelings and freedom, accepting his numb fate and devoting himself to Big Brother like everyone else.

Where it went wrong:
Although many have issues with Michael Radford’s version starring John Hurt, the real doozy is the 1956 take by “Logan’s Run” (another one that could be mentioned here) director Michael Anderson. Smith and his gal Julia do give in to the brainwash, but eventually break free from it, ending up killed in a blaze of gunfire. Winston goes Rambo on Big Brother? Yes…I can see that somewhere. On the other hand, one might consider Apple's 1984 add campaign (the one with the East-German athlete hurling William Wallace's sword or something into Big Brother's screeny face) to be a more faithful -or entertaining- adaptation.

Cyrano De Bergerac
The story as it was meant:
The dopey Christian, for whom Cyrano provided aphrodisiac prose, dies at war. The fair Roxanne is heartbroken, and spends the next 20 years mourning. Cyranno remains close to her, letting her in on the truth only moments before expiring. The lady looses her true love all over again.

Where it went wrong:
Okay, Steve Martin’s “Roxanne” was a comedy. So what? Would you want a Romeo and Juliet version where the two lovebirds migrate to the new world and reproduce like rabbits? Ahem…So this contemporary setting sees ‘Chris’ the rookie fireman ditch Roxanne for the local barmaid, and leaving to become a Vegas croupier. Roxanne gets wise over the scheme, and confronts ‘Da Nose’, ending up smooching him on a rooftop. Again, yes it was a comedy. But come on, didn’t they miss the point completely, that true love only exists when you can no longer experience it? Or should I run for my life before my wife finds out where I hid the baseball bat?…

The story as it was meant:
Now, I’ve received a lot of criticism in the past for talking about this, so bear with me a moment. Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark whose dad was killed and feigned insanity to expose a murderous uncle, DIES. Along with mom and just about everyone in the room. They DIE. All right??? It’s a friggin Shakespeare tragedy!

Where it went wrong:
This is where people start throwing me rocks: Disney, again. Yes, I feel very strongly that “The Lion King” is hamlet with fur. The king murdered by his brother; the young heir driven away and expected to be killed; the ghost of the slain father appearing to the Prince; Heck, even Guildenstern and Rosencrantz are there! But the young Prince goes, to reprise a previous expression, “Rambo” on the usurper, and lets him be food for the vultures. Then reclaims his kingdom. And gets the girl. Did I mention up there that in “Hamlet”, EVERYONE DIES??? ‘Nuff said…

I do think everyone is entitled to his or her own way of seeing things, and sharing them. But Melville, Orwell, Rostand, Hugo and Big Willie all had precise points they wanted to make. Even more so, they produced highly influential art pieces. Anyone can draw a caricature of the Mona Lisa, but will any museum put up a painting of her wearing leather chaps, and say “this is Leonardo by today’s standards”?

Oh, and reproduction of this article with a different ending is strictly prohibited…

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