Wednesday, September 08, 2010

the book is better?

how often have you seen a movie/show and said "the book was better"? i'm usually as guilty as the next guy, i'm also a big fan of stories transcending mediums, so long as it's not a literal translation, but rather taking the story to ANOTHER level (not necessary a vertical move, but a lateral one), that is more suited to what makes the new medium so special. so in today's post i'm going to discuss 2 such transitions done right.

the Divine Loophole
a few months ago, a friend pointed the Ramayana: the Divine Loophole out to me - a(nother) retelling of the classic Hindu tale. Sanjay Patel, a Pixar artist was inspired by a more modern novelization of the sacred tale (by Ashok Banker, of which i'm still only 1/2-way thru), and decided to make it more "kid-friendly." the end result, a beautifully simple and sweeping tale that captures the essence - if not the themes - for first-generation Indian-Americans to tell the kids that they're now raising even more far-removed from their (grand)mother culture . i've already bought a few copies for various friends with kids, the majority of which are actually NOT indian. a good story is a good story (and this is from one of the greatest stories in human history). and great art is great art (i mean, the guy worked for Pixar!). besides, it's about a blue guy fighting demons with his monkey-sidekick. what's not to love?

Versus the World
ok, this half of the post was a long time coming (in fact, many of you are probably wondering why it did not come sooner, and/or accuse me of coming up with the broader highbrow topic to just talk about the film). Scott Pilgrim VS the World. with all my going on (and on) about Scott Pilgrim on this here bloog, it was only a matter of time before i let my thoughts be known. but for those of you that don't know of my fanatism, let me give you the basics about SP. it's an indie (and award-winning) comic by Bryan Lee O'Malley - about an out-of-work guy in a band who meets the girl of his dreams (literally), Ramona Flowers. but for true love to triumph, Scott must first defeat her 7 evil ex's. along the way are plenty of geek-tastic references (video games, comic books, ninjas) woven into the comic book real-life witty (and at times, charming) antics. what's not to love? 

naturally, i was pretty jazzed when i found out that director Edgar Write (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz - both 5-star films IMHO) was helming a LIVE ACTION version of my new favorite cult-comic, starring Michael Cera (Arrested Development, etc) in the heroic lead role as Scott Pilgrim. once again, for those of you who missed it the first 37 times, here's the trailer:

despite my RIDICULOUSLY high expectations the movie was actually pretty damn good (4.5 out of 5 stars). so what kept it from being a 5-star masterpiece (like my other summer movie fave: Inception?) believe it or not, high-expectations are only part of it. what was really at work in that missing 0.5 was that i was TOO familiar/enamored with the source material. over the course of a few years, and six more slowly-paced black & white graphic novels, i got to know Scott, Ramona and the gang. for awhile i even entertained the idea that Scott Pilgrim was what Calvin (of "& Hobbes" fames) must have turned out like when he grew up. while reading the books, everything else (between the panels and liberal use of onomatopoeia) was left to my imagination.

the film was a colorful, effects-filled, fast-paced, loud-music, and decidedly different (from almost any other film made) approach to the story. not minding the story, the only thing in recent memory that matches the visual spectacle of Scott Pilgrim VS. the World was the film adaptation of Speed Racer a few years back (that's LOST's Matthew Fox as Racer X kids!).

the director's approach to Scott Pilgrim was NOT to make a literal word-for-word, scene-for-scene translation of the source material, but rather to build something something that was unique and appropriate for the big screen - cramming 6 books into 1 film (unlike Harry Potter, it would not have been appropriate to break up the story into several for each volume). 

so the film was great. critics (geek and non-geek alike) loved it, and the the full row of my friends i took to see it opening weekend had a great time (though given their silence throughout, i was a little apprehensive they might want to stone me after). the style was fresh, the pacing was fun, and even the colors/costumes/lettering felt like something out of a comic (in a good way). sadly - America did not feel the same way (they were all too busy watching Eat, Pray, Love and/or the Expendables). Scott Pilgrim wasn't the blockbuster to payback the high production cost and marketing, so only lasted a few weeks in theaters. the masses don't know what they missed. 


so what's the lesson learned? it's not (always) about whether the book was better. what matters is if the story can transcend itself to be told in new and different ways in evolving mediums.

that and everybody needs a monkey-friend.


  1. 1. Ah! I knew that guy from "Lost" looked familiar.

    2. Yeah, your friends were quiet. Every time I laughed obnoxiously I felt uncomfortable.

    3. Will you be my monkey friend?

    (So you don't have to reply, I'll say it for you.)
    Raman says, "I'm no monkey! Monkey's have tails!"

  2. 1. jack!
    2. they're not your friends if they don't make you feel uncomfortable.
    3. no.


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