Sunday, June 29, 2008

Movies vs. Books

Since Wanted came out this week, it seemed like the time to write my belated article on Nightwatch, Daywatch, Twilightwatch.

I was trying to find the post I thought I'd written on seeing Nightwatch, but couldn't find it. Maybe I didn't write it down...

At any rate, we watched Daywatch recently and it was directed by Timur Bekmambetov who directed the new Angelina Jolie/James McAvoy vehicle--Wanted. Nightwatch and Daywatch are the two highest grossing films EVER in Russia. That's why Timur got to helm an Angie project--but more on that later.

After watching Daywatch I felt the need to go and read the entire trilogy (although there is a 4th coming out in English translation in one week) in a mad marathon of about 4 days.

I enjoyed the books very much--great humor, fascinating story line. I also enjoyed the movies very much--great visuals, quirky humor, fascinating story line. They are not, however, great adaptations of the books. That is, they are not particularly faithful to the books despite the fact that the author was directly involved in the scripts. Some things are nearly verbatim, many things are shuffled--given to other characters, occur in different order and the conclusion of Daywatch, the movie, could both be a solid ending (Hollywood has optioned the chance to mess up the last film) or a precursor to the "final" battle. It should also be noted that Nightwatch and Daywatch, the movies, are primarily drawn from the first book. But in the end, the basic premise is the same and the underlying themes remain.

This is rather the same thing that my husband and I note about Blade Runner vs. "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep." The plot of Blade Runner is radically different from DADES, but in the end the themes are the same--what is sentience, what is quality of life, what future are we building? Blade Runner is an amazing and (dare I say it) seminal film. DADES is a great story. Blade Runner just isn't the same story, but it really doesn't matter.

Film and books are not the same medium and what makes a great film is a combination of things that might or might not be in a good book.

For example--the concept of the trilogy is that there are "Others," magical beings who can choose to follow the Light or the Dark. There is no God or Devil, just these two sides. Each side has a bureaucracy devoted to monitoring the other side and maintaining the balance. One of the descriptions of the books calls them Harry Potter meets Gorky Park. I'd say it's more Harry Potter meets MI5, the British show about the secret service (in fact I kept picturing Peter Firth, the head of MI5 as the head of Nightwatch). The Others have access to "the Twilight" called "the Gloom" in the movies. A level beyond, beneath?, above? ours where they can move about unseen by us, but it takes a lot of power. In the book they step into their own shadow--but in the movie they put on sunglasses--more visually interesting. There's a lot of differences like that--fights obviously become much more dramatic. What's funny is the little magic of the books (essentially their expellarmus) is downplayed in the movie.

The fascinating thing about the books for me is this idea of balance--light and dark in perpetual watch--the ultimate Cold War, hotter in the past, but settled into a detente--how fitting for a Russian author. The story is about choices--both sides want to win, but if they take an action they must yield an equal action to the other side. For instance the Light has the power to remoralize a human but they might have to give a certain number of humans to vampires or werewolves in return. What they want ultimately is to really turn humanity as a whole to the light, but how to do that without direct action? Their actions have already cost humanity--communism was one of theirs (of course). The dark on the other hand, need only wait--humanity will role to the dark if simply left alone. It's a different way of looking at the state of the world.

I also read the Wanted graphic novel--from what I can tell (I haven't seen the film), the film is a radical departure from the comic. In the comic it's a band of criminals--a brotherhood who control the world. They have no morality but their own desires and they can get away with anything. I'm not sure I like the comic. I understand what they are trying to get at--the unexamined life in modern terms, but I think they make the dark life a little too exciting. In the movie, as the commercials tell us, it's a brotherhood of assassins who make the world better by killing the bad guys. Wanted, the comic would never have been made as was. In some ways I can see the through line for the director--the idea of choosing to live, really live, with all it's responsibility, vs. letting other decide for you.

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