A confession: I prefer the Harry Potter movies to the books they're based on. This opinion is usually met with a chorus of decriers: "Iconoclast!" "We're not friends anymore!" "Ha-ha. Oh, you're serious?"
Admittedly, I'm being a little contrarian, but I am serious: The plot-heavy stories feature mostly static (but compelling!) characters and earnest commentary about the value of friendship. We don't benefit much from roaming around inside Harry's head, but we do benefit from actually seeing the Great Hall in all of its magical, candlelit glory.
My one complaint about the movies is that they don't allow enough time to bask in the pleasurable details Rowling offers in her books. Daniel Radcliffe does not explore every store in Diagon Alley, which is a shame. This seems to be the chief complaint on the part of book fans, too: not "This medium waters down my favorite character's powerful interior monologue," but "I can't believe they left out my favorite scene!" So it follows that cinematic adaptations of written stories aren't inherently bad. While plot-heavy stories may be a more natural fit for a visual medium, plenty of psychologically rich novels have been added upon by their silver screen counterparts, too (historically: The Grapes of Wrath, Bladerunner and Lolita; more recently: Life of Pi, No Country for Old Men). Movies don't always deflate something round into something flat. But when tasked with reorienting a story into a two-hour format while maintaining a pace worth following, details must be cut.
"The President of the United States told me he and his kids thought the movie was good. That didn't happen, say, with my column in The Believer magazine about the Nobel Prize in Literature."
It's exciting, then, that authors (or their agents) are increasingly eschewing the two-hour format for a several-season format. The details of their books can be satisfyingly fleshed out, and the tension that builds and releases when reading a cathartic novel is recreated.
Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) will be the fourth author whose works will be adapted into an original series for Netflix. Handler's 13-book series, A Series of Unfortunate Events, has already been turned into a movie starring Jim Carrey and produced by Paramount, who Netflix will be teaming up with. Handler shared his enthusiasm with The Huffington Post: "The President of the United States told me he and his kids thought the movie was good. That didn't happen, say, with my column in The Believer magazine about the Nobel Prize in Literature."
Other writers whose works have been turned into Netflix series include Piper Kerman's Orange Is the New Black, Michael Dobbs' House of Cards and Brian McGreevy's Hemlock Grove. These books are all very different, thematically and in terms of quality, but each lent itself neatly to an enjoyable show.
House of Cards is particularly successful -- it was Netflix's most-streamed show when the first season aired. Kevin Spacey's punchy, cynical asides and David Fincher's token ability to turn the existing plot into a hyper-paced sequence of crimes, were a predictably winning combination. In fact, Netflix did predict the show's success using its wealth of data about watching habits. A director or an actor or a trendy theme with a built-in fan base makes a potential series worth the money and effort, so successful books are a natural source of inspiration.
There's been bubbling cynicism about Netflix's Big Data approach to television production, an inherently creative endeavor. A writer for FastCompany observed, "there's no way it would've given the green light to 'Twin Peaks,'" and The New York Times reported that Dobbs was originally wary of handing his story over to Netflix, for "fear of relinquishing control and seeing [it] sullied or sold out."
But Netflix has said that their numbers-driven acquisition process has nothing to do with the creative side of their shows. Joris Evers, the company's director of corporate communications, told NYT that they "don't get super-involved" with the desires of the production company.
"Books are pausable, so their adaptations should be, too. In fact, Netflix's binge-watching setup may parallel the experience of reading more closely than any other medium."
Handler mentioned that he'll work closely with the director of his adaptation (who is to be determined), even joking that he'll be too involved. "I'll be saying things like, 'Hey, I know! We could do it like the flashback scene right at the beginning of that old Mexican melodrama, L'Aventurera! What, you haven't seen it? Let's watch it right now! I'll make cocktails!' And everyone else will put their heads down on the desk."
He also said that a TV series may be a better fit for his story. As opposed to the movie, he says, "The show should be longer, the better to encompass 13 books. And pausable, so that people can say, 'Let's all change into our pajamas and then watch them get thrown down an elevator shaft.'"
Quips aside, he's right: Books are pausable, so their adaptations should be, too. In fact, Netflix's binge-watching setup may parallel the experience of reading more closely than any other medium. Each episode is a chapter contributing to a meandering arc that's wound a little less tightly than a film is. If you'd like to space out the story, allowing events from the show to inform events in your life and vice versa, you're free to. If you'd rather immerse yourself completely, that's okay, too.
It's no secret that big-budget television, as opposed to big-budget film, is becoming an arena that lends itself to risk-taking and creative storytelling. It is also arguably a bigger part of the cultural conversation. And now I'd argue, too, that it's the best way for novelists to project their stories to a bigger audience.
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