I know it’s been complicated between us over the years. I know I’ve been caught saying some things behind your back. I know I got a little testy when The Golden Compass came out and it was like some low-IQ interpretation of Philip Pullman’s literary masterpiece. I know I spent hours railing against Fantastic Mr. Fox and its ill-conceived third act. Even George Clooney failed to make the movie version of Roald Dahl’s classic palatable.
So yes, I’ve been strident. I’ve whined about your choices, and I’ve moaned when you’ve turned one of my beloved books into some pale and horrifying version of the original. I may have even sat, in open-mouthed disgust, when a fellow student in one of my college lit classes referenced something from the movie version of The English Patient during a discussion that had everything to do with the original text. Yes, my trauma was real and unfeigned.
But Hollywood, I have to hand it to you. In a world where vanishingly few people are readers, you manage to sell books. I’m not just talking about books like Twilight and The Hunger Games. I’m talking about classics. Yes, the big-screen version of The Great Gatsby is due out May 10, and already, sales of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s monumental novel are up–WAY up. 88 years after his book’s publication, it’s back on the bestseller list–at least on amazon.com.
As someone who continues to find relevance in the classics, I wish I could say, “Of course it’s still a bestseller.” But the fact is that the resurgence of Gatsby–no matter how much the book has to say about the dangers of excess (in Fitzgerald’s time, as well as in ours)–is still remarkable. The classics mainly endure because of academia–not because the bulk of the population thinks they’re good stories.
But they are good stories. Great stories, actually–though I could talk myself blue in the face saying so in my tiny little corner of the universe and I might be able to convince .00000000000001% of the English-speaking population that I wasn’t just some cracked-out English junkie.
Hollywood, though? Hollywood = entertainment. If Hollywood puts it on the big screen, it must not just be a good story–it must be fun and engaging (in other words, worthy of people’s time). It must be worth seeing in the theater, and even purchasing in book form.
And to that I say, Amen. Have your way with the classics, Hollywood. Stylize them. Add subplots and characters not in the original texts. Make them bigger and flashier. (And by all means, cast Leonardo DiCaprio.) Sure, you may be telling a completely different story than the author was. But if it sells copies of his or her book? I promise I’ll stifle (most of) my complaints about authenticity and watch…well, maybe not the movie, but certainly the classics fly off the shelves.
I don’t have to love what you produce, Hollywood. But I can (and do) love the effects.
Your sorta-BFF, Jenny