American Gods – Book to Television

Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday – American Gods

Starz, a pay-for cable station in the U.S., has been making some really good series over the past few years. They’ve spent a lot of money on them and it shows in the casting and production. Several have been based on popular books including:

Pillars of the Earth based on Ken Follett’s novel (World Without End was the sequel to Pillars but was not produced by Starz)
Outlander, based on Diana Gabaldon’s series, heading into season 3 (I can’t wait! I must blog about this one, too!)
The White Princess – Phillippa Gregory
American Gods based on Neil Gaiman’s novel

American Gods has recently just finished it’s first season on Starz. I read the book several years ago and though I don’t remember a great deal of detail, I do remember that I liked it but it was also one of those books where you feel like it’s doing your head in, as well. It’s filled with a lot of characters and there’s a lot of references to gods and mythology. The series is very good though there are quite a few differences from the book. A lot of it is extra detail added and more focus put on some characters that were only minor ones in the book. The first season is going to cover about a third of the book and, from what I’ve read, the second season will take a lot of material from the Lakeside storyline in the book. There’s also a sequel, called the Anansi Boys and there may be plans to work that in. If so, it’s likely the series go run for a few years. Gaiman is also writing a sequel but that won’t be out for a few years yet.

American Gods cast

The casting is superb with Ian McShane as the central character Wednesday aka Odin and the (rather lovely) Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon. The real standouts for me have been Emily Browning as the undead Laura Moon (and also as Essie McGowan) and Pablo Schreiber as Mad Sweeny, the leprechaun. The rest of the cast is excellent as well and there are some very well known names.

The basic premise is the Old Gods of mythology have lost their power as people forget them and turn to new ones (technology, media etc). The Old Gods have come to America with various groups of people who brought their beliefs with them and we see a lot of the stories of those Gods’ arrival. Wednesday has decided to bring all the old Gods together to start a war with the new Gods in order to defeat them and bring back the power of the Old Ones and he enlists the help of Shadow Moon, a recently released convict whose wife has just died. Shadow is mainly his bodyguard and goes through much of the first season confused about what’s going on around him and having some very bizarre visions and dreams as well. Then there’s his wife. She comes back to life thanks to a magic coin from a leprechaun. She’s a walking dead sort of gal, though, with flies buzzing around her and later, maggots as she slowly starts to rot. The makeup here is fantastic, as she gets paler and grayer looking, with eyes slowly clouding over and dark circles under her eyes.

Gillian Anderson as the New God, Media – American Gods

There is a lot of violence and there is sexuality. It’s a series for grown ups and it’s smart and edgy. You aren’t spoon fed or hand held in this one. You’ve got to pay attention. Everything means something even if it isn’t always obvious. The differences to the book seem to be more enhancements. The book was written in 2001 and there have been a lot of changes in the world since then. Obviously, the Gods of Technology and Media are going to be updated, for example.

There’s a very good interview with Neil Gaiman here. I like what he has to say about his original vision for his work vs how it ends up translated to screen. “You try to push it towards the thing that you have in your head, but you know that not only do you never get there, you also know that the joy and the magic comes from seeing what other people have in their heads.” He also says that while the casting for some characters is vastly different than how he wrote them, they are doing such a superb job that if he were to write a sequel, those characters would sound a lot more like the versions that the actors brought to life.

Cloris Leachman in American Gods

Books to screen can be a very precarious tightrope. I think that a series is the better way to do it rather than a 2 or 3 hour movie. You have so much more scope for keeping in a lot more detail and it lends itself to enhancement as well (as long as it keeps within the spirit of the book). There are some things that just don’t translate from page to screen but if they do it well, the choices that they make will work just as well. I think, after watching this series, I might have to reread it before the second season comes out next year. American Gods is proving to be very popular and well received and we certainly give it thumbs up from our house.

Laura Moon and Mad Sweeny the leprechaun – American Gods

Review: Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler

2017: 52
4.5 of 5 stars
Published 1997

This is the second book I’ve read by one of Canada’s esteemed authors. Richler has been publishing successful novels since the late 1950s. I previously read The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and enjoyed it and I chose Barney’s Version for my second Richler. The story is about the life of Barney Panofsky as told by his good self, a man in his late 60s whose health and memory are both precarious and whose freedom is in some doubt. He may or may not have murdered his old friend, Boogie, 30 years ago and though he was deemed innocent by a jury of his peers, the scandal and doubt hangs over him like an Atlantic fog. The body was never found, m’lud, so there was no murder is Barney’s defence. We do find out what happened at the end of the book.

Anyway, he’s writing his autobiography that centers around each of his three wives, one of whom doesn’t even get named. The book is sectioned off by each wife but don’t think that means the story is told in any sort of alignment. It’s all over the place, with anecdotes and his personal history told as it occurs to him in random order as one thing reminds him of the next and you’re not even sure he’s remembering incidents correctly. He also revisits some of the incidents as need be. His life is filled with crises and scrapes, and he’s not portrayed as all that sympathetic a character nor is he portrayed as a scallywag that the reader treats indulgently. He makes bad judgments and choices, he drinks, he curses, he’s obnoxious,  he has more failures than triumphs, and you wonder how his children and friends can stand him at all though most of them do seem to keep him at arms’ length.

I guess I can’t relate to Barney that well but it doesn’t take away from Richler’s talent at bringing the characters off the page. His humour is dark and cutting, his observations on life’s aspects are as jaded as the characters but spot on.  I have to say I found it a bit more difficult to like at first but it soon hit its stride and carried me along for the ride.

There has been a movie made of this starring Paul Giamatti, released in 2010 and it’s quite a good film, particularly because it puts the events of the novel in their proper order! Duddy Kravitz gets name checked and makes a few brief appearances, now a grownup and it appears he’s as successful as he always planned. The Gursky name also gets a mention which probably relates to Richler’s book, Solomon Gursky Was Here.  I think I will come back to Mordecai Richler again.

Not one of my #20BooksOfSummerChallenge because I started it about a month ago but I am going to use this for my Cross Canada Challenge for Quebec.

The Handmaid’s Tale – the series


Only two episodes left for this series of The Handmaid’s Tale based on the book of the same name by Margaret Atwood. Are you watching? What do you think?

We’ve really been enjoying it. I’m loving it and even my husband likes it quite a lot. It might not normally be the type of series he would have thought to watch but he’s interested in it though finds it difficult to imagine how a society could turn into what Gilead has become. I don’t think it’s so out of the question, considering how many places in the world already treat women in a not-so-different manner. Human rights, especially for women, in some countries, are being nudged and subtly undermined as we speak.

I reread the book earlier in the year to refresh my memory but it isn’t necessary to read it first, I don’t think. There are differences between the book and the series but there isn’t anything in the book that would make you miss something in the series which is doing an excellent job of covering all the details in flashback of the progress to where the series/book started. They have kept to the main points of the story very well. They’ve filled in a lot of background detail which I really don’t want to spoil for anyone that hasn’t see it yet because I believe the series has just begun airing in the UK, you have it all to look forward to, lucky you!

The series has even been renewed for another season to air sometime next year. Mind you, if the series ends where the book did, it’s hard to imagine where it could go. Well, I kind of can imagine it but it would be all new material and would be about what happens to Offred afterwards. The ending of the book left you dangling a bit as to whether it was a good or a bad ending for Offred. Either way, I guess we will find out what happened to her next. Will she ever reunite with her husband and daughter? The very ending/appendix of the book takes place about a hundred years in the future from the main timeline where Gilead has fallen and future researchers have found the journals of the Handmaid which makes up the text of the book. Perhaps they can do the second series from there with flashbacks, filling in the blanks about Offred and the fate of Gilead. It would definitely have to be in keeping with Atwood’s vision.

I also think I heard that Margaret Atwood is considering writing a sequel so if she’s doing that or planning that, she may be involved with the series to keep it synced, much like George R. R. Martin is with Game of Thrones. I wouldn’t want the story to continue if it was just random stories from Gilead. People will want to know what happens next to Offred and that’s where the story should follow, in my opinion.

In the meantime, there are two more episodes to sink our teeth into and things are ramping up!

Graphic Novels – Yes or No?

I read comic books as a child. I read MAD magazine as a teen. These never translated into an appreciation for the graphic novel as an adult.

Graphic novels have been around a long time, depending on your definition of the term. There have been books collecting strips of cartoons or anthologies and roughly related stories as cartoon strips, often first serialized and  published in newspapers since the late 19th century though, for me, that’s not really a novel or a continuing story. The definition is a bit subjective.  There’s a pretty good overall history of the graphic novel here. 

Graphic versions of classic novels were published in the 1940s, aimed at children. That’s closer to the mark, I’d say. There were a few other full length illustrated stories and books published around that time as well including this gem as described by Wikipedia:

In 1950, St. John Publications produced the digest-sized, adult-oriented “picture novel” It Rhymes with Lust, a film noir-influenced slice of steeltown life starring a scheming, manipulative redhead named Rust. Touted as “an original full-length novel” on its cover, the 128-page digest by pseudonymous writer “Drake Waller” (Arnold Drake and Leslie Waller), penciler Matt Baker and inker Ray Osrin proved successful enough to lead to an unrelated second picture novel, The Case of the Winking Buddha by pulp novelist Manning Lee Stokes and illustrator Charles Raab.

It Rhymes with Lust.  That’s just all kinds of awesome, a novel about a gutsy, red headed woman. Fantastic! Through the 1960s, there were other publications but it wasn’t a growing industry yet although monthly comic books were highly popular.

Blackmark by Gil Kane and Archie Goodwin, published in 1971, is the first to be termed a “graphic novel”  in retrospect and is a sci fi/fantasy adventure. The first books to actually call themselves graphic novels, however, happened in the mid 70s and a genre was born. It isn’t just an American phenomenon, either,  though in Europe and other countries, the term was not used as such, not at first. The product was the same or similar, though.  I’ve noticed that they have become hugely popular in the last 10 or 15 years but it’s not a genre I’ve really taken to on the whole.

I have read a handful of them, but it’s only reinforced my view that it’s not really for me, though I can see I may continue to pick one up now and then depending on the author or subject. The first one I read was written by my favourite author, Diana Gabaldon. It was based on the first Outlander book that introduced Jamie and Claire Fraser to the world but was told from Jamie’s point of view and was called The Exile. I own it but for the life of me, I can’t find it anywhere.  I can recommend The Exile for Gabaldon fans as a companion to the Outlander series.

Last year, for a reading Bingo challenge square, I read the autobiography of Stan Lee who was instrumental in founding Marvel comics. It’s called Excelsior: The Amazing Life of Stan Lee. I had bought it for my husband for Christmas a few years ago and decided that would do for the Bingo Square.  I enjoyed The Exile more, I would have to say but reading about his life this way gave me the highlights if not the detail.

I guess that’s the thing about graphic novels that I don’t like. I read a lot and I like to read thick books which generally have lots of detail. Reading a graphic novel is something you might read in one sitting, giving you the bare bones or highlights of a story but not as much depth as I prefer. The Exile was a nice complement to the rest of the big, chunky books that Ms. Gabaldon writes and I knew the detail and story behind it albeit from the point of view of Claire rather than Jamie, so I could fill in the detail myself.  I’ve not been one to read comics as an adult and a graphic novel by its very nature is just a longer comic book. I know people love them for the artwork as much as the story and some of them do have beautiful illustrations which I can appreciate. You can read Ms. Gabaldon’s own version of the history of how she came to write it here on her website.

The most recent graphic novel I read because it was by another of my favourite authors, Canadian writer Margaret Atwood. It’s called Angel Catbird and is a fantasy about a scientist whose DNA gets mixed with an owl and a cat and finds that there is a secret group of animal/humans in his world. I believe it’s going to have further volumes though I may not continue the series. I was curious as to what she’d do with it and it was pretty good, I have to say. She found a good artist to go along with her concept.  I can recommend this as well, for Atwood fans and for fantasy fans. It’s quirky and fun with a good introduction by Atwood as well.

There’s apparently a very good Canadian graphic novel called Essex County by Jeff Lemire who is going to be appearing at our local library one night in June. Essex County is a trilogy of books set in semi-rural Ontario and is highly recommended apparently. The trilogy is quite a large book from what I remember seeing in the bookstore. It’s not something I would purchase but perhaps someday I might borrow it from the library.  Although a few of the co-members of one of my Goodreads groups did not rate it highly, seeming to have a similar opinion to mine about the genre in general, it does get very good ratings and was included in a Canada Reads contest . The stories are apparently emotional and somewhat bleak but that might make it more interesting. Lemire is quite prolific, he’s got a number of series of graphic novels out .

Graphic novels have become a popular source for movies and television, too. That has brought a new legitimacy to the genre, I think and given it a little nudge into the mainstream. I have seen several movies based on graphic novels including Sin City, V for Vendetta, 300, Snowpiercer, (I didn’t realize that was based on a graphic novel), Ghost World (great movie!), R.I.P.D. ,  and the dire Cowboys and Aliens  which I wouldn’t recommend. Awful. Let’s not forget The Walking Dead which is based on graphic novels and is one of the most popular tv series out there though not my thing at all. There are dozens of comics that have been adapted and will be adapted for the big and small screens (let’s not even get started on the phenomenon that is Japanese anime!) Personally, I’m waiting for another big screen TinTin adventure!

People that love graphic novels and comics/anime are passionate about them. They’ve come a long way since they were published as collections of daily comic strips. The artwork is a showcase for talented artists and these days, big name non-graphic authors are trying their hand at them. That brings a lot of new readers to the genre even if only to have a taste of their favourite author but some of those readers might branch out and explore a bit more. I don’t think I’ll be one of them as such but I won’t reject the genre out of hand, either.

 

 

 

Anticipated Book to Film

Movies made from books, love them or hate them, you can’t get away from them. Most people prefer the book because of all the extra detail. Many people dread seeing a favourite book come to screen because the casting is never what you picture in your head. That’s almost as big a deal as the script changing things from the book. I can get my head around changes to a point as long as it isn’t really jarring. Casting is very subjective. There’s a lot of talented actors but sometimes it feels like one is being cast for who they are, not what they can do.

This link was included in a newsletter I get from Penguin Random House, a list of movies coming out in 2017 based on books, comics or graphic novels. There are actually a few on the list that I am interested to see, a few more that I dread and the rest I really have no opinion one way or the other as far as an adaptation from a book or comic goes.

Michael Fassbender as Harry Hole in The Snowman

Michael Fassbender as Harry Hole in The Snowman

One that caught my eye right away is The Snowman, from a book by Jo Nesbo. I discovered him a few years ago. He’s Norwegian and writes crime thrillers. His protagonist is Detective Harry Hole (pronounced Holay) and he’s a screw up, an addict and his personal life is usually a mess but he’s very, very good at catching serial killers. I love Nesbo’s books and I’m excited to see this movie. They’ve cast Michael Fassbender as Harry. I think he’ll be ok. He’s got the required height though he’s a bit on the thin side. Hole  is always described as a tall, very solidly built man.

The “All Star” casting sometimes puts me off because it feels like stunt casting.  You end up seeing the actor, not the character, at least, that’s how I feel sometimes. There’s an upcoming remake of Murder on the Orient Express, originally a mystery by Agatha Christie. It’s a Kenneth Branagh movie and is studded with stars like Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Branagh, Daisy Ridley (One big movie and you see her everywhere!), Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Derek Jacobi and the list goes on. I think sometimes a cast like that overwhelms the story.

Sometimes casting is just so wrong for the part as described in the book that you know damn well the actor probably bought the rights and cast themselves. The rest of us see the ad or hear the news, raise an eye and holler “Seriously?????” Some might argue that a good actor can transcend what you have in your head as a character from a book you love. There are limits. Little Tommy Cruise as Big Jack Reacher from the series of novels by Lee Child, anyone? On the author’s website, Jack Reacher is described :

  • Measurements –  6’5″, 220-250 lbs., 50″ chest
  • Hair  – Dirty-blond
  • Eyes – Ice Blue
  • Clothing –  3XLT coat, 95 cm. pants’ inseam

If that sounds like Tom Cruise to you, you need your eyes checked. It’s only my opinion, of course, but I don’t think he’s a good enough actor to pull that off.

Upcoming movies or tv series based on books that I’m looking forward to seeing include:
New version of A Handmaid’s Tale as a tv series, 10 episodes, on Hulu April 26 (I do hope it’s going to be carried by a Canadian cable station as well) The original book is  by Margaret Atwood (the original movie with Natasha Richardson and Faye Dunaway was pretty good. I’m interested to see it. Series are usually better because they can fit more detail in. On the other hand, series sometimes over-pad. It remains to be seen.

American Gods  is another series coming up on Starz, based on the book by Neil Gaiman.  The cast looks interesting. Ricky Whittle is playing the hero, Shadow. He’s a man of colour born in the UK but he puts on a very good American accent. I read this a few years ago and it’s a bit complex but it’s quite good.

Outlander season 3,  is one I’m really anticipating. This whole series is based on the books by Diana Gabaldon and  this season is based on Voyager, book 3. The casting for the characters has all be very good. The hero Jamie Fraser is a tough one because everyone has an image of the tall, red headed Scottish hero and the feisty curly haired British heroine Claire in their head. Sam Heughn isn’t quite the Jamie Fraser I’d prefer but he’s doing a good job. Catriona Balfe is really making Claire her own.

There’s a sequel to Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting heading to screen, called T2: Trainspotting. It follows the characters 20 years later. I did like the original but I’m not so sure I’d find the follow up as compelling.

Another remake that I’m definitely steering clear of is The Beguiled. Now, I haven’t read the book and I might just see if I can find it. I absolutely loved the 1971 original movie starring Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page. The story is a Civil War soldier, injured and holing up in a girls’ school and his presence sets all the girls and women on edge with jealousy. It really captured my imagination and I really can’t get my head around a remake at all, especially with Colin Farrell in the Clint Eastwood role and Nicole Kidman in the Geraldine Page role of the school mistress.

 

The Book Was Better

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The Outlander series of books by Diana Gabaldon, now a tv series called Outlander on Starz

Lots of movies and some television series are based on books. “Based on”, that’s the key word. Many times the movie takes an idea from a book and builds a whole new thing. Books generally contain so much detail that a movie can never fit everything in so naturally, it feels like a book is far superior to a movie.

When the author sells the rights to their work, what happens to make the end result  is pretty much out of their hands but sometimes an author is lucky to be allowed to write the screenplay. I’ve even been aware of a book that was written *knowing* it would be then made as a tv mini series and the series written by the book’s author.  It baffles me, then, when events in a book are completely changed for the movie. If the author knew they’d be writing the screen version, why didn’t they write the story to match in the first place? The specific book I’m thinking about is a sequel to Gone With The Wind, called Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley. The mini series had major changes which didn’t enhance the story at all. Boggles the mind.

I’m sure most writers try to be as faithful to a screen adaptation as they can. Changes always have to be made and things have to be left out because they don’t always work in the visual version or the budget might require it. Most of the time, you never know what goes into adapting a book for the screen and why.

Two years ago, my absolute all time favourite series of books was turned into a tv series. Or, at least, the first two books have been turned into series, so far, with the third book/series in production now, I think. The author is Diana Gabaldon and the series is the “Outlander” series. It’s difficult to nail down the genre really. It is superb historical fiction with a time travel element and romance and adventure. The first book, Outlander, was published in 1991 and there are currently 8 books in the series, two companion books and a few “spin off” books about a secondary character. The historical period is the late 18th century, starting in 1743, just before the Jacobite Rising in 1746 and following through to the events before, during and after the American War of Independence.

Ms. Gabaldon has had much interest over the years but wanted to make sure it was in good hands and the producers at the Starz tv channel in the US have taken it on board and ran with it. She has been closely consulted along the way though she has no actual final say in things. She did get the opportunity to write an episode and she had a cameo appearance in another one. She’s been great at keeping the fans informed and often explains *why* things are different book-to-movie which is really great. You get a bit of insight into the production of it. I still hear people complaining that the books are better and yes, yes they are, but I also really love the series and since I understand why things have been changed, I can take the series for its own merits. The changes haven’t been too jarring so far and the interpretations have worked very well, I think.

It still doesn’t mean that I always accept a movie or filmed adaptation’s changes. Sometimes they just don’t make sense to me and sometimes a really interesting or seemingly important part of a book is dropped or changed and it is upsetting when you do love the book. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie that was better than the book aside from possibly added special effects that were jaw dropping.

I could go on and on about various movies and books specifically but I think I’ll leave those for future posts. There will likely be another blog post about Outlander at some point, as well!

How do you feel about book-to-screen adaptations? Do you dread them? Are you often pleasantly surprised? Can you accept changes to the story? Which ones have been done well or not?