(FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE ONLY SEEN THE SERIES OR READ SOME OF THE BOOKS, I WILL TRY NOT TO SPOIL ANYTHING IMPORTANT THROUGHOUT THE POST, BUT I CAN’T GUARANTEE ON WHAT OTHER PEOPLE WRITE IN THEIR COMMENTS!)
Last night I watched Disney’s The Sword in Stone. It’s a classic, so I’m taking for granted that all of you saw it too. Do you remember when Arthur takes out the sword from the stone, his master bows to him and then says to his son: “Bow to your king”? Well, what I thought in that moment was: if we were in Westeros, Arthut would be dead in 5 years. It just takes someone like a eunuch in silk slippers, a Lannister in golden gown or a turncloak ward. Here’s what George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire does to you. Then I also watched Camelot‘s pilot, but that’s another story.
As you could tell, I’ve just finished the last book available, A Dance With Dragons. Actually, I must say that I’m really disappointed. Not only because of the awful ending, but above all because after a sort of preparatory book like A Feast For Crows, where nothing really happens, you expect a huge blow on the following chapter. Nothing like this. Everything that really happens could have been told in 200 pages, instead of 800… Seriously Mr. Martin, do your editors pay you per page like in the 19th century? Do we really need to know the deatils of every meal? Do we really need to read every character’s thoughts, even if they’re just about taking a piss or not? I swore I wouldn’t spoil anything important, but let me also ask you this: why do you hate us, Mr. Martin?
That being said, aside from a huge amount of useless and totally uninteresting pages in the last two books, the saga is just awesome, as you may have noticed from HBO’s A Game of Thrones. The first three books (A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords) are mind-gripping, breath-taking and every other absolutely cool adjective you can add to the list. They just surprise you every time you turn the page. So I’m really hopeful and enthusiastic about HBO’s series: first season was just perfect. I think that second, third and fourth (the third book is going to be split up in two seasons) will be on the same page. As for the other books remaining… Mr. Martin, here’s your chance to make things right. I’m not suggesting to change the story. But I’m sure that nobody is going to let you write a one hour episode about Cersei’s breakfast. That’s why, Mr. Bienoff and Mr. Weiss, we also rely on you and your cinematic wisdom: Winter has come. Don’t let us freeze.
Sometimes I just take it up again and flip through it, until I end up lingering on a quotation, a paragraph, a page. I’m talking about Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but I could apply the same rule to most of my favorite books. Here’s what’s special about them: though you know them already, they can still surprise you when you randomly open them. I read The Road for the first time three years ago, when I was about to go to the 2008 Venice Film Festival for the premiere of its adaptation, John Hillcoat’s The Road. I remember starting to read at around 10 am, and not dropping the book until the same night. That was love and pain, two of the feelings that can get you hooked in a heartbeat. Yes, The Road is short. But those 100 pages are dense, deep and highly painful. It’s about a dark and dry world, as dark and dry as its inhabitants. You can find no reason for them to keep on living and no reason for yourself to keep on reading since you know that there can be no hope. But you go on nevertheless, like them. Because, like them, you’re human.
Then came the film. By the time I saw it, the book was one of my favorite already, so you know how hard it is to be objective. I tried not to think about those 100 pages, but it was impossible. Parts were missing, parts that I had so vividly pictured in my head and that never got out. Then the movie ended and I felt like I had just finished reading the book once more. The feeling was the same, though some things were missing or different (Viggo Mortensen was also sit three rows behind me so yes, the broader frame was definitely different). The movie could have never been like the book. But it was good, it created the same atmosphere and conveyed the same feelings. The soul of the book was somehow there. The same thing happened to me with Barney’s Version. Let’s be honest, that book is almost freaking impossible to adapt. I like to picture Charlie Kaufman trying to do it and getting crazy as he did in Adaptation. But the movie is actually good, though different.
So that’s the secret of good adaptations, I guess: being a compromise. There’s no way a book can become a movie and stay as it is. It will always disappoint you. But the best a film director of a film writer can do is to take up the spirit, the soul of the book and turn it into images. Only then, even if you haven’t seen the part that you had pictured in your head while you were reading, you can end up saying: “Yes, that’s how I felt when I read the book”.
“Sustained by a breath, trembling and brief. If only my heart were stone”