Adaptation: Where is the line?

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Adaptation: Where is the line?

Postby Glumpuddle » Feb 27, 2017 7:15 pm

In all my years anticipating Narnia films, I can't believe I didn't came across this quote until last week:

C.S. Lewis ("On Stories," 1947) wrote:I was once taken to a see a film version of King Solomon's Mines. Of its many sins--not the least the introduction of a totally irrelevant young woman in shorts who accompanied the three adventurers wherever they went--only one here concerns us. At the end of Haggard's book, as everyone remembers, the heroes are awaiting death entombed in a rock chamber and surrounded by the mummified kings of that land. The maker of the film version, however, apparently thought this tame. He substituted a subterranean volcanic eruption, and then went one better by adding an earthquake. Perhaps we should not blame him. Perhaps the scene in the original was not 'cinematic' and the man was right, by the canons of his own art, in altering it. But it would have been better not to have chosen in the first place a story which could be adapted to the screen only by being ruined. Ruined, at least, for me.


Unpacking that a bit... It makes perfect sense to make changes to adapt a book for the screen. Not everything that works well in a book will have the same effect in a movie. Moreover, telling a story in a visual medium gives you opportunities that books simply don't have. As a filmmaker, your first priority should be to make a great film.

... But there comes a point where, as filmmakers, they have to ask "What is the point in adapting this story if we have to change it so fundamentally?" At that point, change the character names and write an original screenplay.

Besides just being a mediocre-at-best movie, I think Dawn Treader crossed this line. It's fundamentally not the same story. The book was about the fear and awe of sailing into the unknown, the longing to reach something beyond the world, and the duty to find the seven lords that never returned. The movie is about trying to defeat a green smoke monster. They should have changed the character and location names, removed Lewis' name from the credits, and titled the movie "The Seven Swords."

So, to the Silver Chair filmmakers: Do what you have to do to make a great movie. But don't lose sight of what makes The Silver Chair a classic in the first place.
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Re: Adaptation: Where is the line?

Postby Reepicheep775 » Feb 28, 2017 8:58 am

If the book you're adapting has to be changed on such a fundamental level that the end result is a completely different story, I don't see the point in adapting it. The only incentive for doing that is from a business perspective - capitalizing on the name recognition. From a purely artistic standpoint, if your adaptation is so fundamentally different from your source material, you may as well just make a completely original work.

That's why I wasn't at all excited when I found out The Screwtape Letters was supposed to be made into a film (though it seems now to be stuck in Development Hell). I just see no way of adapting that book into a film and having it be nearly as brilliant as the book.

With VDT... I don't know. It would definitely be a challenge, but I wonder if there is some visionary director out there who could do it. Many people thought LotR was unfilmable until Peter Jackson came along. It isn't a movie you can make for a quick buck though, that's for sure.
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Re: Adaptation: Where is the line?

Postby Glumpuddle » Feb 28, 2017 9:56 am

There's not much question that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe movie was green-lit before anyone had a solid idea for how it could be a good move. They bought the rights to the name first. (We also know the producers seriously considered skipping Prince Caspian)

Which is not necessarily a death sentence. LWW and PC still turned out okay, imo. Not great, but not bad. But ideally, the inspiration would come first.

Reepicheep775 wrote:The only incentive for doing that is from a business perspective - capitalizing on the name recognition.


Although David Magee is an encouraging choice, I'm still waiting for something to give me the sense that they're making The Silver Chair because they really have a good idea for how it could be the basis of a great film... as opposed to just knowing anything with Narnia in the title has a built-in audience.

Reepicheep775 wrote: That's why I wasn't at all excited when I found out The Screwtape Letters was supposed to be made into a film


Good example. That's a book that clearly has no business being a movie, but the title alone would create some interest.
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Re: Adaptation: Where is the line?

Postby waggawerewolf27 » Feb 28, 2017 10:11 pm

Reepicheep775 wrote:If the book you're adapting has to be changed on such a fundamental level that the end result is a completely different story, I don't see the point in adapting it. The only incentive for doing that is from a business perspective - capitalizing on the name recognition. From a purely artistic standpoint, if your adaptation is so fundamentally different from your source material, you may as well just make a completely original work.


The trouble is that the film industry, as a whole, is often captive to awards like the Oscars and the BAFTAS, as well as "Big Business" and useful contacts. Without a business perspective, making films like Silver Chair might not happen at all. Many of the children's classics such as Walt Disney's renditions of traditional fairy tales and even filming Shirley Temple as Heidi in the first of many versions of that classic, often vary considerably from the original. Sometimes, as in Shirley Temple's films, the story seems to centre around a cute little kid, or, in other cases, "romance", "family" or "heroes and villains", rather than the original story. Especially when historical fiction is involved, whether a classic like the Aeneid or a children's novel like Eagle of the Ninth.

That is where VDT fell down. No identifiable villains except the very people who are supposed to be the heroes. Yes VDT was "tampered with", and even if another version is ever made, I might not be alive to see it. I hope the producers etc of Silver Chair do better and we can move on. But just when?
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Re: Adaptation: Where is the line?

Postby King_Erlian » Mar 01, 2017 2:42 am

For me, the film adaptation of "Prince Caspian" was worse than that of VDT. The plot was basically the same (get rid of Miraz and put Caspian on the throne) but the whole tone of the story was altered. It was as if they were embarrassed to make a "kids' film" and were trying to turn it into a teen fantasy thing, on the "Twilight" bandwagon. I didn't like the fact that they made Caspian an adult; why would he need four children to help him reclaim the throne when he's older and stronger even than Peter? VDT, despite the "green mist" thing, felt more in line with the feel of a Narnia tale to me.
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Re: Adaptation: Where is the line?

Postby narnia fan 7 » Mar 01, 2017 7:49 am

Adapting a story from one medium to another is always a tough tightrope to walk. Of course some changes have to be made to make the story work as a film, but as others have already seid if you go to far and change what the story is about, then they might as well of not adapted the story to begin with. I think it comes down to if the filmmaker wants to tell the books story then they should tell the books story not take it and try to make it something else, which happen with VDT.
King_Erlian wrote:For me, the film adaptation of "Prince Caspian" was worse than that of VDT. The plot was basically the same (get rid of Miraz and put Caspian on the throne) but the whole tone of the story was altered.

I disagree with you on the tone. It wasn't perfect but I think they captured the tone of the book quite well, for me they got that feeling sadness of the old days being gone and the hope of them returning
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Re: Adaptation: Where is the line?

Postby The Rose-Tree Dryad » Mar 01, 2017 2:32 pm

waggawerewolf27 wrote:The trouble is that the film industry, as a whole, is often captive to awards like the Oscars and the BAFTAS, as well as "Big Business" and useful contacts. Without a business perspective, making films like Silver Chair might not happen at all. Many of the children's classics such as Walt Disney's renditions of traditional fairy tales and even filming Shirley Temple as Heidi in the first of many versions of that classic, often vary considerably from the original. Sometimes, as in Shirley Temple's films, the story seems to centre around a cute little kid, or, in other cases, "romance", "family" or "heroes and villains", rather than the original story.


Hast hit it, friend wagga. (I've always wanted to say that. :)))

I think this is actually a rather frustrating time to be a Narnia fan. Of course it's awesome that we're getting to see films made, but we're still in an era where the CG effects required to bring a Narnia film to life are expensive. Expensive necessitates investors that are keen on creating a product that the masses will enjoy. They're putting up a lot of money, so of course they want to protect their return if possible. Trying to protect their return may mean dialing back elements that they feel won't go over well with the masses, and shoehorning in other elements that they believe are necessary for broad appeal. All of this shifts the focus from making a film that is first and foremost a good adaptation of Lewis's work.

So forget whether or not we have flying cars by 2050... I'm looking forward to the day when CGI is cheap and we get Narnia films made for niche audiences! :P

But as for where to draw the line... I'm of the opinion that if changes are made to enhance the atmosphere or themes that were already present in the book, then that's fine and a good thing to do. Some change is almost always necessary to translate a book to film. However, if the changes completely shift the tone and feel to something that's alien to the source material, that's going too far. Obviously, being trapped in a tomb and slowly awaiting death is a completely different atmosphere compared to fleeing from subterranean volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, and I can see why Lewis wondered why on earth they should still call the film King Solomon's Mines if they seemed to care so little for the spirit of the book.
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Re: Adaptation: Where is the line?

Postby waggawerewolf27 » Mar 01, 2017 3:29 pm

Reepicheep775 wrote:Many people thought LotR was unfilmable until Peter Jackson came along. It isn't a movie you can make for a quick buck though, that's for sure.


The point about Sir Peter Jackson filming LOTR was that he, himself, is a New Zealander, who had the backing of what looked like his entire country, not just business. Even their army took some part in the filming. New Zealand still uses the hobbit sets for LOTR for tourism, I believe. And in 2001 to 2003, New Zealand Airways triumphantly advertised itself and New Zealand as its home destination, as the Best Supporting Country when LOTR scooped the pools at the Oscars.

It didn't hurt that much of the filming was in New Zealand, that New Zealand has a lower value dollar and that every effort was made to use the money wisely. For example, he did all three sections of it back-to-back, thus being able to reuse his expensive sets continually. Watching the films, one had the feeling of really stepping into another world. Peter Jackson loved these Tolkien books, developed with his wife the scripts for them, enabled the development of new techniques in Special Effects with Weta Workshops and provided massive employment opportunities for a whole bunch of people, not only the stars, including over the ditch in Australia.

The trouble is that the Narnia films can't be done quite the same way. I doubt that Douglas Gresham has quite the clout anywhere that Peter Jackson definitely would have in NZ. LWW was famous enough to stand on its own and attract interest, but otherwise when PC and VDT were done, there were delays upon delays. Andrew Adamson spent a whole heap when filming was done for PC, not only in New Zealand but also in the Czech Republic and in the Balkans (forget which country). And now Silver Chair can't reuse anything from the previous films at all.

One of the things wrong with VDT was that Disney pulled out of it, and Twentieth Century Fox took over Disney's role. I wonder how much input Disney had in the original screenplay. It also seemed that the rather lukewarm attitude Twentieth Century had to VDT didn't do it any favours either. So I wonder what other adaptations were in the works that made the dreaded "Green Mist and the Seven Swords" look so much better.

But would any of these past problems apply to Silver Chair, probably a much lower cost production?
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Re: Adaptation: Where is the line?

Postby Reepicheep775 » Mar 02, 2017 9:43 am

@Wagga: I have a habit of neglecting the business side of film-making when thinking about films, so maybe my expectations are unrealistic. :p A good example being my opinion of The Force Awakens. The most common response I got to my complaints with TFA was something like, "You have to understand that most people didn't like the Prequels. There needed to be a more familiar film to get people back on board before they push the franchise into new directions." While I understand the situation, I just can't bring myself to use it as an excuse for what I see as safe and predictable film-making in a franchise that has always been bold and inventive. I think you should judge a film on its own merits without considering what happened behind-the-scenes.

So when it comes to Narnia, I guess my point is that if you are unable to make a faithful adaptation of Narnia, given the amount of corporate interests that need to be appeased, I would rather they didn't. I'd be okay with more adaptations along the lines of LWW and PC, but I don't ever want to see another VDT. For many people the films are all that people know of Narnia and so I want them to put forth a good image.

With Peter Jackson, I wasn't thinking logistically so much as creatively. Even with the tremendous backing and creative freedom he received, it was still quite a challenge artistically to translate LotR into a set of three movies. I think it would be the same with VDT. Even if a director was given an unlimited amount of money and creative freedom, it would still take a visionary director to turn VDT into a good movie with its episodic plot, unusual structure (having Eustace's conversion towards the beginning of the story) etc. VDT is a great book, but it doesn't easily lend itself to film like LWW does.

@King_Erlian and narnia fan 7: I think I'm somewhere in the middle regarding the tone of PC. I just finished reading the PC book today, so it's fresh in my mind. I do think PC did a wonderful job capturing the tone in several key scenes e.g. the Treasure Chamber, Lucy's dream, the Pevensies entrance into Aslan's How. However it also completely failed other scenes - specifically the Romp at the end that was cut entirely! They should have had Peter vs. Miraz be the action climax and focus on Aslan restoring Aslan from there on out. We could have had a little skirmish between Peter and Sopespian's force, but we didn't need a full-blown Second Battle of Beruna caught on film. We've already had the Night Raid, the Sorcery and Sudden Vengeance scene, and Peter vs. Miraz follwoing shortly after each other. I'm action-ed out at that point and could use a good Romp.

I also agree that they pushed the darker tone too much. I loved the sad scenes about the old days being gone, but I thought the whole "You may find Narnia a more savage place than you remember" thing unwarranted by the book (I know that line wasn't actually in the movie, but I think it's a good line to describe the "darker than the first one" feel they were going for). :p

I understand that the magic has been suppressed and driven into hiding under Miraz's rule, but really how is that any darker than LWW? The White Witch banished all joy and celebration from Narnia and had Narnia under a spell of never-ending winter (i.e. never-ending death). PC tried to steal LB's thunder.
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Re: Adaptation: Where is the line?

Postby bardiafox7 » Mar 02, 2017 6:47 pm

The central problem that's dogged CON as a film franchise is that it was only adapted into films to capitalize on a trend. That's always been the way Hollywood operates. Look at the late 70's and early 80's, Star Wars' runaway success sent studios in a tailspin trying to find sci-fi properties to adapt to cash-in on that craze. Star Trek was aimed for a tv revival pre-Star Wars, but was redirected to the big screen with The Miasmic Picture. The only reason LWW saw the light of day as a live action film was because of LOTR and Harry Potter. In other words, Fantasy films were hot then. That's one of my huge problems with PC, it feels too LOTR with some cutes. It was jarring seeing the tree sequence and the water god sequence. I half expected Treebird to be leading the troop of trees. Not saying the CON would never have been adapted into films, but I'm saying that the heightened interest in the property stemmed from the fantasy craze at the time. I feel the best thing is that the fantasy trend in films for the most part has died away. So any interest in the series going on will not be because its simply fantasy but because its Narnia.
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Re: Adaptation: Where is the line?

Postby The Rose-Tree Dryad » Mar 02, 2017 8:53 pm

I wonder if there were any scenes in King Solomon's Mines (or any other contemporary film adaptations of books) that Lewis felt captured the spirit of the book? While I am generally less than satisfied with LWW and PC (VDT need not be mentioned), there are still scenes in both that I find do a wonderful job capturing the feel of the story. So while I remain quite critical and campaign for better, there are still things that make it worth the admission for me.

And film execs might read something like that and think, "Well, we can include twenty minutes or so of very faithful scenes to please people like her, and then gear the rest of the film for the masses so we have a financial success." I think that would be a mistake, though. Part of my criticism is grounded in the fact that I am a huge fan of the series, but also because I know the series and have strong views about what is necessary for this to become a seven film franchise. It is easy to see how a "safe" adaptation like LWW could become a worldwide success, but it was far less clear how it could kick off a series of seven films, especially if you're familiar with the books. For instance, when I take issue with the fact that Aslan was reduced to a wise old mentor-type character, that's partly because he's literally the only character who is present in all seven stories and you need to emphasize his role in order for the franchise to have legs.

So on the one hand, I take issue as a fan, but I also take issue from a business standpoint. I think that if Walden and Disney had been more mindful of the series as a whole, they would have had a lot more success with the Narnia franchise post-LWW. That's one positive about going forward with a new studio: hopefully they will learn from the mistakes of the previous filmmakers.

bardiafox7 wrote:Not saying the CON would never have been adapted into films, but I'm saying that the heightened interest in the property stemmed from the fantasy craze at the time. I feel the best thing is that the fantasy trend in films for the most part has died away. So any interest in the series going on will not be because its simply fantasy but because its Narnia.


That's a good point about perhaps needing to market to Narnia fans as opposed to fantasy fans in general. Along with a likely smaller budget, this is largely why I am as optimistic as I am for The Silver Chair. They can't capitalize on the popularity of other fantasy franchises; they have to make the public interested in the film on its own merits. They're going to have to sell it as something new and unique, and they will probably even need to distance themselves somewhat from the Walden trilogy in order to revitalize the franchise and make it seem fresh. I'm really curious to see how they market this film, to say the least.
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Re: Adaptation: Where is the line?

Postby waggawerewolf27 » Mar 02, 2017 11:54 pm

bardiafox7 wrote:The central problem that's dogged CON as a film franchise is that it was only adapted into films to capitalize on a trend. That's always been the way Hollywood operates.... The only reason LWW saw the light of day as a live action film was because of LOTR and Harry Potter....That's one of my huge problems with PC, it feels too LOTR with some cutes. It was jarring seeing the tree sequence and the water god sequence. I half expected Treebird ( =)) ) to be leading the troop of trees.


That is why PC was made darker, to make the most of battle scenes and to stick in the sort of romance not apparent in the book. And why Prince Caspian was too overdeveloped for a 14 year old, as was Peter. King Erlian is right. If Prince Caspian had still been a fourteen year old boy he certainly would have been more appreciative of the help of even the teenaged Pevensies he summoned when in battle with his uncle for his rights. But then, of course teenaged movie stars do grow up, especially if there are multiple delays in filming, even if it was imperative that Peter and Caspian should appear to be the same age for the finished result.

However, Business has had the idea that to make a fantasy blockbuster movie, the recipe is Special effects, battle scenes with good against evil, aannnd...Romance. I'm not complaining about one kiss, really I am not. I still prefer Susan kissing Caspian to the total lack of recognition of any sort of romance at all in that horrible rendition of Rosemary Sutcliffe's Eagle of the Ninth that I saw around 2010. It is just that neither movie was true to the story allegedly being filmed.

One thing that LOTR also did extremely well with was that spectacular mountain chain in New Zealand. It was as if Aotearoa/New Zealand deserved an Oscar of its very own, just for being, well, Middle Earth/New Zealand. There is nothing like that in Australia, though on Ramandu's Island in VDT the Australian location wasn't too bad at all. :ymblushing: I loved the VDT cinematography, and others of the sets were really good, such as on the Magician's Island, and the Dawn Treader, itself. But special effects, 3D and good cinematography and sets aren't enough by themselves to develop a good film, unless people like watching movies with the sound off and don't care about the story that is allegedly portrayed.

Rose-tree Dryad wrote:It is easy to see how a "safe" adaptation like LWW could become a worldwide success, but it was far less clear how it could kick off a series of seven films, especially if you're familiar with the books. For instance, when I take issue with the fact that Aslan was reduced to a wise old mentor-type character, that's partly because he's literally the only character who is present in all seven stories and you need to emphasize his role in order for the franchise to have legs.

So on the one hand, I take issue as a fan, but I also take issue from a business standpoint. I think that if Walden and Disney had been more mindful of the series as a whole, they would have had a lot more success with the Narnia franchise post-LWW. That's one positive about going forward with a new studio: hopefully they will learn from the mistakes of the previous filmmakers.


Hast hit it, friend Rose-tree Dryad. ;)) :ymapplause: That is the trouble with VDT, too. Twentieth Century Fox is part of the News Limited business empire of Rupert Murdoch, and though it was distributing VDT, that sort of movie, with "English toffs", and "Lion-delivered sermons" must have really irked them, as it goes strongly against many of their media values. Especially it was noticeable when the reviews came out. But then The Golden Compass, and Eragon, released here at previous Christmases, didn't do all that well down here, either.

Reepicheep775 wrote:A good example being my opinion of The Force Awakens. The most common response I got to my complaints with TFA was something like, "You have to understand that most people didn't like the Prequels. There needed to be a more familiar film to get people back on board before they push the franchise into new directions." While I understand the situation, I just can't bring myself to use it as an excuse for what I see as safe and predictable film-making in a franchise that has always been bold and inventive. I think you should judge a film on its own merits without considering what happened behind-the-scenes.


As far as I know, there was nothing wrong with the Prequels, unless the viewers were purist fans. I did see those movies, more out of love of a Star Wars fanatic offspring than by my own choice, and so I don't like to criticize them. Star Wars is an old movie series that had enchanted an older generation as long ago as 1977, and was revived in the 1990's when new developments in Special Effects made further films possible, especially the last one, Revenge of the Sith, which was released in 2005. But now The Force Awakens looks like the producers are trying to milk the Star Wars cash cow for as long as possible, even though I rather enjoyed the movie. Even Kylo Ren, stomping around, looks to me uncommonly like a bad-tempered Severus Snape rip-off. I wasn't aware the Star Wars series was actually based on books, and thought the books are based on the films, which I think is the same as the Indiana Jones series.

That is the reverse situation compared to the Narnia series, where you have the book first and the film second. Maybe that is what makes some of these series films more marketable. We don't know if filmmakers are following an original book story, as is necessary in either King Solomon's Mines, or the Narnia books. Or whether the book, if found in a bookstore, is just a retelling of the movie.
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Re: Adaptation: Where is the line?

Postby Anhun » Mar 04, 2017 10:06 am

While the discussion of making dramatic changes out of film-making necessity is interesting in general, I don't think it applies to Silver Chair (or HHB for that matter) at all.

Yes, there are a number of complex thematic things going on in Silver Chair, but if you squint and just look at the plot, it's a linear, character-driven adventure-quest. There are some parts I would curtail, like the parliament of Owls, trudging through Ettinsmoor and crawling through the dark. Perhaps use a dialogue or visual device to indicate that time is passing for the latter two, but don't actually spend a lot of screen time on them. There are parts that I would give more room to breath because they could be visually interesting: Cair Paravel, Harfang, the sleeping forest in Underland. There are some things I would cut out altogether, like Bism and Caspian's resurrection, because they would interrupt the flow of the plot. None of these changes would drastically alter the story or it's themes.

Silver Chair could practically have been written to be adapted to film (Yes, I know it wasn't). We don't need to worry about necessary changes, like we did with VDT or we would with MN. The only fear is the possibility that there may be people at the helm who don't know a good story when they see it, and will try to shoe horn random movie cliches because "we have to have that." People like that would ruin any adaptation, except where the source material itself is mindless and trite.
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Re: Adaptation: Where is the line?

Postby waggawerewolf27 » Mar 04, 2017 5:43 pm

Anhun wrote:There are some parts I would curtail, like the parliament of Owls


Oh no! :-o You couldn't omit the Parliament of Owls! It is so typically Parliamentary in debate, you know. ;)). And a bit of light relief as well. A bunch of owlish parliamentarians discussing the background of the story, trying to shed some light on the present Narnian predicament, because of the attrition rate of seekers, and establishing what has been done about the problem so far. Shedding light on the subject might be very hard to do in the darkness of ignorance, but even a modestly funded film surely could come up with something innovative, whilst staying within SC guidelines.

Wouldn't a parliament want to discuss the problem of going to council as Trumpkin suggests, comments about what he does and doesn't do right and their complaints he is a stickler for the rules? I wonder how colourful the owlish language might become or how many feathered friends might end up as dusters on the parliamentary floor? Some cries of Order! Order! And don't forget that someone has to take the minutes, but of course make sure they really are minutes, not hours. Naturally we must meet Trumpkin beforehand, at his most deaf, and maybe it would be nice to visit that banquet at Cair Paravel, as well, where someone or other sang a ballad about The Horse and His Boy. ;)

Getting back to the Owlish Parliamentary Session, there are important bits, like Eustace informing both Jill and the Owls about his allegiance to Caspian, who is his friend, how he met Caspian and telling them what he and Jill has to do. Of course in true Parliamentary fashion, they all agree Something Has To Be Done, but don't ask the Parliamentarians to do anything, themselves. Perish the thought. At least the Owls know at least one useful person who can go along with them. And getting Jill and Eustace to meet Puddleglum is crucial for the story.
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Re: Adaptation: Where is the line?

Postby Sonny » Mar 11, 2017 8:42 am

No one had mentioned the epic fan fiction that is the Hobbit Trilogy?! I personally enjoyed it, but, as I said, I view it as a lovely bit of fan fiction packaged with the original story as written in The Hobbit In such cases it seems absolutely imperative to be able to separate the movie from the book as completely separate works of fiction.
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Re: Adaptation: Where is the line?

Postby Reepicheep775 » Mar 12, 2017 9:28 am

Sonny wrote:No one had mentioned the epic fan fiction that is the Hobbit Trilogy?! I personally enjoyed it, but, as I said, I view it as a lovely bit of fan fiction packaged with the original story as written in The Hobbit In such cases it seems absolutely imperative to be able to separate the movie from the book as completely separate works of fiction.


Maybe the fact that Narnia isn't as culturally relevant as LotR is a blessing in disguise. At least we don't have to put up with The Silver Chair Parts 1, 2, and 3. :p
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