02 July 2007

The Hype Is Rising

As Fox Walden prepares to release The Dark Is Rising later this year, it's starting to ramp up the on-set interviews, sneak peeks, and other publicity material. Already we have the new cover design with "Soon to be a major motion picture" at the bottom.

There are, of course, deviations from the book. Will is older by two years, and an American living in Britain. The Walker has a love interest. The Arthurian basis of the magic is gone. There are more action sequences, including one with lots and lots of snakes.

The filmmakers' changes seem to go well beyond what seems necessary for a commercial film, into inserting new themes into the book. Here's a passage from screenwriter John Hodge's interview at JoBlo.com:

He [Will] has to find these 6 signs which are hidden, restore the power of the light and than defeat the dark. He has to do this, and this is what I thought was interesting about the story, he has to do this at the same time as being a 13-year old boy and dealing with the issues that a 13-year old boy has to deal with. So, for example, he's the second youngest in a large family. He has older brothers who are picking on him and kind of trampling on him and ignoring him because he's at the lower end of the family. Also his parents don't seem to take much notice of him. . . .

For example, the opening of the film, Will arrives home with his twin older brothers who've been kind of persecuting him on the bus and then as he arrives home there's another brother who has been away at college and has arrived back. He's the kind of bohemian of the family and there's that tension there. Than we discover that the returning bohemian has taken Will's room and he says, well, I've got your room. There's just nothing Will can do about this. He goes to try and share with his other brothers and it's like 'King Lear' or something. Every door he goes to, he gets turn[ed] away from. He's offered less and less every time. So I put in stuff like that just to give it a personal note.
Much the same interview appears at Movieweb.

It's true that the notion of Will's family being "too big!" is in the very first line of the book. But that's not Will's feeling; that's a complaint from his next-older-brother James. The Stanton family is very supportive of Will, particularly on the matter of where he sleeps that first stormy night. The tension comes from Will not being able to tell his supportive family about his new mission.

And that's not the only sibling-based change Hodge made. In the words of Merriman portrayer Ian McShane's interview at Movieweb, "Of course [Will]'s got the twin who has been imprisoned by the Dark for all these years." (Remember that from the book? No? Perhaps I'm thinking of The Man in the Iron Mask.) So this movie isn't really about "the issues that a 13-year old boy has to deal with"; it's about sibling issues that Hodge wanted to write about.

JoBlo's interview with director David Cunningham says that most of those major changes had been settled by screenwriter and producers before he started work. It's disquieting that he seems already to be making excuses for the quality of the film:
We had three months to prep a movie that really needed six to eight months. I have three or four months to shoot a movie that really needed seven or eight months. I've got a few months to edit a movie that really needs five or six months. So that's my challenge as a filmmaker.
One of Cunningham's strategies was to shoot some scenes with several cameras simultaneously, to get the most footage out of a single effect or run-through. Again, McShane spoke candidly about what that meant for him as an actor:
I think he [Cunningham] has the toughest job. On this, he's always thinking about something else. So he tends to gloss over the acting. He has to trust the acting. To do what they do with that dialogue stuff? He's constantly walking around with, at the very least, three cameras at all times. Which can get very annoying. It sometimes gets in the way, I think. These are very big sets. It's very rare that we are in an intimate situation. It's hard when you find yourself in a one-on-one, and you don't know where he has the camera. I think he knew that the more natural it was, the better it was. Easier. More fluid.
As for novelist Susan Cooper's feelings about the adaptation, Cunningham suggests a lukewarm endorsement:
I don't want to speak on her behalf, but I think it’s mixed feelings. She's thrilled that it's being introduced to a new audience, but of course she would love it to be truer to the book and in many ways we would, but at the same time we needed to translate it. She’s also done screenplays so she understands the difference between books and screenplays and in her words there is violence done to the book to get to that point. So she's been supporting us and it's got to be a tough position to be an author and say, "Okay, let's make the movie version." Yikes I wouldn’t want to have to do that.
And McShane is once again more candid:
I don't think they've been very faithful to the book. I don't know how many of you've read the book. I know they sold a few copies, but I couldn't read it very well. It's really dense. It's from the 70s, you know?
Thanks to the Wild Hunt and authorblog for the links.

In other hype news, in the last hour two comments came into my original posting on The Dark Is Rising movie, both offering the same link to an MTV.com “reality” show about interns on the set. Both "ken" and "clayton" compared the behind-the-scenes footage to The Real World. Neither spelled correctly. Both declared the movie would be a big hit, though a connection between being used as the game board for a reality show and becoming a successful movie escapes me.


Unknown said...

I had the same type of comment left about an hour ago on my The Dark is Rising movie post, with the same link to the MTV show, but the commenter was "nick." As soon as I saw the comment, I suspected that it was a publicity stunt designed to look like a grassroots movement, possibly even by those same interns. The comments left on your blog make it even more likely.

J. L. Bell said...

I just heard from "nick," too! He has the same their/there problem as "clayton"! And they both like exclamation points!

Anonymous said...

This happens to me a lot with my posts about The Clique books. I usually check the IP addresses -- if the comments are all coming from the same place, it's probably that gross viral marketing junk.

J. L. Bell said...

I first see comments to Oz and Ends in the form of emails, but those emails come from Blogger since people enter their remarks online. Their IP info doesn't seem to help.

I haven't figured out how to correlate Sitemeter data with comments, but there's definitely been a spike in views of my first posting on the Dark Is Rising movie.

--Deb said...

Oh no, I didn't even know they were turning this into a movie. They're just going to ruin it altogether, aren't they? (Sigh.)

Anonymous said...

Hi! I actually run authorblog and came here to look for interviews and such for a new TDIR post I'm doing. I was wondering if there was any way we could affiliate. I think about seven people on the face of the earth know about the blog, and I'm glad you're one of the few!

J. L. Bell said...

Eve, it looks like a lot of your recent authorblog posts are about movie adaptations of literature. Maybe your blog could become the go-to site for that sort of info. Of course, half the comments might be, "Oh, no, they're going to ruin my favorite book!"

Anonymous said...

What exactly is the point of "basing it on a book" when the screenwriter(s)/director throws out 4/5 of the original storyline?

Also, did you read this interview with the guy who plays Max, where he references a choreographed karate fight scene?

Uhmn. Well, I guess they had to make up for the fact that they completely tossed the Arthurian elements. Why not throw in a little kung fu wirework action?

Brendan Shanahan said...

This is extremely depressing. I just saw an ad on tv for this movie, and felt a tremendous rush of excitement that my all-time favorite childhood book is being made into a movie. Now it looks like said movie will be horrible. Oh, well...at least the book is still fantastic.

Anonymous said...

"I know they sold a few copies, but I couldn't read it very well. It's really dense. It's from the 70s, you know?"
Well, now we know that Ian McShane is not smarter than a 5th grader, since this apparently unreadable book has been read by millions of elementary school students.