Adaptation Analysis: The Passion of the Christ

For Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, a plethora of texts and even paintings were consulted by Gibson and the screenwriter, Benedict Fitzgerald. In the documentary, By His Wounds We Are Healed: The Making of ‘The Passion of the Christ, Gibson claims “faithfulness” to his source material. The “faithfulness” that Gibson claims comes from his and the screenwriter’s use of the “canonical” gospels to make sure they had not contradicted the authority of those texts. For John Desmond, co-writer of Adaptation: Studying Film & Literature with Peter Hawkes, “faithfulness” comes with various questions attached to it. The Passion of the Christ is an adaptation of multiple sources, so the question comes of “faithfulness” by what standard. In the text, Desmond states, “If we leave aside the problem of identifying what is essential in the text, we are still left with the difficulty of judging the degree to which the essential has been transposed.” (40). In the film, it is clear that Gibson took artistic liberties to The Passion. Some of his inspirations are Renaissance painters, some of whom were referenced in the documentary. Paintings by Bosch, Rembrandt, Carravagio, and Grunewald, could all be taken as visually influencing Gibson and his Cinematographer, Caleb Deschanel. Desmond states another problem, which pertains to the language of fidelity: “The reviewer claims the adaptation is ‘faithful’ or ‘unfaithful’ and that this degree of faithfulness is either good or bad. The problem with this language is that it tends to imply that the book is better than the movie.” (41). For the depiction of the Passion, it seems that using multiple texts while simultaneously having Mel Gibson’s assert “faithfulness’ would cause difficulty in determining what was essential to the adaptation. Suppose a filmmaker uses artistic renderings from a variety of time periods. In that case, it does not seem reasonable to assert faithfulness in the sense that it is an exact replica of the document. Besides, the four Gospels have differences in focus for each event leading up to the crucifixion. If Matthew, Mark, and Luke all focus on different aspects of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, what would Gibson consider more authoritative and important to depict in his adaptation? The three Gospels similarly portray the events, while John is distinctly different, so what authority does Gibson go by? By looking at Gibson’s use of The Stations of the Cross, and the abundance of texts outside of the Gospels, in his portrayal of the crucifixion, The Passion of the Christ becomes a loose adaptation of the Gospels.

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Adaptation Analysis: Lord of the Rings- The Fellowship of the Ring

For the adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring, Peter Jackson and his team claim to have remained exceptionally faithful to J.R.R Tolkien’s original novel. However, when comparing sequences, there seems to have been major truncation and combination of scenes, and removal of characters. For example, the length of travel in the chapter “Flight to the Ford” is truncated compared to the corresponding film sequence. The scene in the film does not last many days compared to the novel’s version, and the character development and journey itself seem to be less expansive. Frodo is also incapacitated in the film, while Tolkien has him regain strength at various moments of travel. The particular chapter, “Flight to the Ford,” is not an exact transference of what Tolkien included in his novel. In John M. Desmond’s Adaptation Studying Film and Literature, he explains the problem with “fidelity” and how when one claims “faithfulness,” they are putting literature above the film medium  anytime they employ “the language of fidelity.” In addition to this claim, Desmonds states, “Moreover, there is no standard measure as to how much of the “essential” text must be transferred in order for the film to be judged as faithful.” (40). In an attempt to create a system of evaluation of faithfulness, Desmond defines different metrics of evaluation: close, loose, and intermediate. Since Jackson repeatedly emphasizes the closeness of his adaptation, the definition Desmond gives of close adaptation is, “when most of the narrative elements in the literary text are kept in the film, few elements are dropped, and not many elements are added.” (44). 

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Adaptation Analysis: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

For Adamson’s adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, he chose to expand on scenes that would particularly fit the cinematic medium. For many moments in the film, he shows scenes that were merely mentioned in the novel and dramatizes them. I find the dramatization of the opening scene adds stakes to the film compared to the opening line in the book, “This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the war because of the air-raids.” (3). As the children are in the professor’s home, it is evident that the reason for the characters going into the closet and reaching Narnia is quite different from the novel. Both versions focus on Lucy’s dilemma of not being believed by her siblings and Edmund lying that he did not visit Narnia. However, in the novel, the children go into the wardrobe while attempting to escape the housekeeper Mrs. Macready and her house tours. In the film, they shatter a window while playing ball, which causes them to seek refuge in the wardrobe. Much of Adamson’s transformation of the story goes after expanding upon what would be more visually appealing for the film. In Lucy’s encounter with Tumnus, as a crucial scene for Narnia, it had the feeling of the chapter through its visualization. The look of Tumnus is spot-on:

 “He had a strange pleasant face, with a short pointed beard and curly hair, and out of the hair there stuck two horns, one on each side of his forehead. One of his hands, as I have said, held the umbrella.” (10).

The character is spot-on; however, there are differences in his speech and the dialogue. Through this scene, and the rest of the film, Adamson’s adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, seems to be fairly close but on the whole intermediate. Adamson employs some techniques John M. Desmond highlights in his Adaptation: Studying Film and Literature. In the chapter on the novel, some of the techniques in the scene when Tumnus meets Lucy are adding dialogue, cutting, and finding correlatives. 

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Adaptation Analysis: Minority Report

Philip K Dick’s short story,Minority Report,” focuses on the paranoia of the protagonist, John A. Anderton. As Dick describes, Anderton is “Bald and fat and old (119)” and is the retiring commissioner of the precrime unit who arrests people before they commit murder. The precogs are what they use: mutants who receive visions from the future. The precrime unit treats these mutants (Mike, Donna, and Jerry) as a means to an end with no autonomy. The story intensifies as Witwer comes into the picture as a future replacement for our current commissioner. Everything is set in motion when Anderton finds his name on a card that tells the commissioner who is going to commit murder. The card says he is to murder a retired army general, Leopold Kaplan. As this is all developed, Anderton wonders if Witwer is looking for power and if his wife is conspiring against him. As a filmmaker known for his spectacle, Steven Spielberg takes Dick’s short story and expands it with many new elements and possibilities. Evidently, Spielberg uses the interweaving strategy. Desmond’s definition of point-of-departure indicates extreme distance, and I think Spielberg does not go far enough for this strategy. Spielberg takes some of what Dick grapples with and reimagines and reconfigures the plot. He keeps character names, narrative details, and disperses them in a different order. He is not afraid to scramble many essential elements of the story to fit a vision that he wants to accomplish for Hollywood and himself. A sequence that is indicative of Spielberg’s application of the interweaving strategy is the murder of Leopold Kaplan in the short story. Spielberg scrambles this scene and retains details in other parts of the film. When Anderton (Tom Cruise) confronts Lamar Burgess (Max Von Sydow) in the film, the sequence is a reimagining of this crucial climactic scene in the short story.

With his mise-en-scene, Spielberg uses Dick’s story in a way that complements the visual storytelling of cinema. He has a radiant ability to create mood or tone through various choices in partnership with cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. For example, the filter that the filmmakers employ is “bleach bypass,” which highlights blues and causes paler skin. This filter pairs well with the subject matter; the bluish tint compliments the futuristic world, the theme of an all-seeing surveillance state, and overwhelmingly present technologies (which often overtake the frame). Both iterations interestingly tackle “extrapolation”— a common occurrence in science fiction when a writer takes known scientific concepts and imagines how events and circumstances may evolve. Spielberg extrapolates on the surveillance state and uses context from post-9/11 United States policies to predict how these policies will develop with technology. Spielberg opens the film with a close-up of an eye and subsequently has eye-scanners as a means of surveillance. He does not extrapolate everything that Dick does. He still has some similarities. Philip K Dick extrapolates on authoritarianism, the criminal justice system, penal servitude through exile to other planets, and individual freedom. For authoritarianism, Dick uses Leopold Kaplan, “General of the Army of the Federated West-bloc Alliance.” as the conspirator to authoritarian rule. Kaplan tells Anderton that he is, “Retired, since the end of the Anglo-Chinese War, and the abolishment of AFWA.” (127). The indication that the military has lost power and Kaplan’s attempt to seize power by discrediting the pre-crime system extrapolates that authoritarian rule will always be possible. At the end of the short story, Anderton waits to fulfill his exile to “Centaurus X by inter-system transport” (149). Lisa, his wife, declares, “I suppose we won’t be able to use these new atronic appliances. They’re still using electricity on Centten.”(150). Dick extrapolates on the future of punishment and even something as universal as electricity.

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Adaptation Analysis: Raisin in the Sun

The 1961 adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry’s play, Raisin in the Sun, is a close adaptation in terms with a disproportionate ratio favoring kept to dropped or altered. Much of the dialogue, and themes, are maintained, and many scenes are exactly as they are in the play text. The theme Hansberry bases her entire play on is from Langston Hughes’ poem “Harlem” (A Dream Deferred), and the title of her play, Raisin in the Sun, is taken directly from the poem. The poem questions what happens to a “dream deferred” or a dream that is never actualized. In the play, Hansberry’s characters are vehicles to explore and embody the African American community and the inability to actualize their dreams in a society that’s against them. A moment that perfectly exemplifies such failure is when Walter after he is double-crossed and loses all Mama’s money, decides to settle with Lindner: 

“What’s the matter with you all! I didn’t make this world! It was give to me this way! Hell, yes, I want me yachts someday! Yes, I want to hang some real pearls ‘round my wife’s neck. Ain’t she supposed to war no pearls? Somebody tell me— tell me, who which women is suppose to wear pearls in this world. I tell you I am a man— and I think my wife should wear some pearls in this world!” (143).

Walter’s response to the family is a declaration by the African American community. Walter goes through these struggles which could be seen as his mode of survival in capitalism. He must follow the rules in a world that was not created by him or for him. Earlier in the play, Walter also asserts that money is what is most important in life. In anger, Mama responds that freedom used to be what was most important in life. Walter claims the African American community only recently got freedom and has only been shown the harsh truth that money runs the world. Both of these essential interactions and developments in the story are retained in the transfer to the film adaptation. 

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Adaptation Analysis: Graham Greene’s and Neil Jordan’s The End of the Affair

My film adaptation series continues on my Cinematic Syntax with an examination of Graham Greene’s The End of The Affair and Neil Jordan’s adaptation. Surprisingly, this is the first novel I have written an adaptation analysis on and I am not disappointed with the novel chosen. For useful information, I use John Desmond’s chapter on “The Novel” in his book (Adaptation: Studying Film and Literature) throughout the piece, and make it clear that it is necessary to cut when adapting a novel because of the sheer amount of content. A film sticks to an average run-time of two hours, give or take, so it cannot fully contain the immensity of a novel. Without further delay, here is The End of the Affair.

The adaptation of Graham Greene’s The End of The Affair successfully portrays the story’s general themes. Some themes in both versions are the struggles with religious belief and unbelief, the effect of the miraculous, the power of love, and marriage as safety. In an interesting move, director Neil Jordan omits Greene’s references to love and hate inextricably tied as two sides of the same coin. Although the film opens: “this is a diary of hate,” which is truncated compared to Bendrix, who is the main character, and his constant rumination: “So this is a record of hate far more of love…” (1) it does not seem to connect love and hate as much as Greene’s original.  In contrast to the original, the film’s ending is reordered with scenes that occur earlier in the novel. Although Jordan keeps Bendrix as a writer in the film, Greene’s novel solidifies the writer’s process, lifestyle, and routine. Greene’s reference to many aspects of writing seems to be his personal meditation on the profession. However, for Jordan’s he chose to visually emphasize the style and sounds associated with his character’s trade (typewriter, zooming into a sheet of paper, and clicking). One of the most notable choices for the novel is its use of the temporal. Greene cleverly switches between different stages of WW2— all shown through various stages of an affair. To comment on this, Jordan uses cinematic techniques to interrupt the present with flashbacks of the past. 

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Adaptation Analysis: Rear Window and “It Had to Be Murder”

Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, an adaptation of Cornell Woolrich’s “It Had to Be Murder,” is an intermediate adaptation that transfers Woolrich’s short story into a film that is classically Hitchcock while maintaining its basic story and development. The auteur theory, or film theory that claims the director’s place as the “author” of the film, would categorize Alfred Hitchcock as an auteur because he developed a signature style throughout his career. Whether it be themes, characters, cinematic elements, there is a certain feeling that Hitchcock films evoke, which later was encapsulated by the term: “Hitchcockian.” As a Hitchcock film, Rear Window explores voyeurism, obsession, illusion vs. reality, and an uncertain romance. The film includes the male gaze or the depiction of women through a masculine perceptive that sexualizes and objectifies them. Like the short story, there is a POV through the eyes of L.B. ‘Jeff’ Jefferies, played by James Stewart. Although Hitchcock does not entirely make the film in Jeff’s perspective since the POV is third person compared to Woolrich’s first-person, there are certain instances that we gaze through Jeff’s eyes out the window. Hitchcock’s mise-en-scene seems to be playing with the other worlds with the windows that are portals to other lives which Jeff, and his companions, stare into. When looking through different windows and what is inside, the composition in some of our frames has us stare as though we are peering into a viewfinder into another. Hitchcock’s use of sound also seems to provide subtext to the subject matter; the constant flourish of sound invading Jeff’s apartment is as intrusive as his obsession with Thorwald and the murder. The adaptation strategy that best fits how Hitchcock develops the story into Rear Window is the interweaving strategy. 

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Adaptation Analysis: “Killings” & In the Bedroom (2001)

Like my previous entry, my focus is again on Adaptation Analysis, which I will continue to categorize as either close, loose, or intermediate. This week my goal is to compare the short story “Killings” by Andre Dubus, and the film adaptation, In the Bedroom directed by Todd Field. The basic premise of the short story and the film is straightforward. Our main character, Matt Fowler, seeks revenge after his son, Frank Fowler, is murdered. The story is a look at what drives an ordinary person to kill. For this analysis, I speculate Field’s strategy to adapt such a short story into a film. Adaptation: Studying Literature and Film by John Desmond, defines the common methods a filmmaker may use to adapt a short story as:

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Adaptation Analysis: It Happened One Night (1934) and “Night Bus”

In addition to writing film reviews, I will use my Cinematic Syntax to engage in Adaptation Analysis. This semester, my film adaptation course, Stories Into Film with Dr. Christopher Wielgos, gives me a space to closely examine the process of adapting a text by comparing it to its film adaptation. Ultimately, my job is to determine what is kept, dropped, and added in order to bring attention and interpret the filmmaker’s choices. For example, practical decisions can often be made when the director does not have the technology to adapt a scene accurately. So, I will speculate on the reason for each choice based on my knowledge of both mediums. Our main text, Adaptation: Studying Literature and Film by John Desmond, outlines the film techniques that convey meaning as opposed to literature— performance, words (spoken or written), music, sound effects, and photographic images.

Film is a multi-track medium that brings meaning through those techniques. While writing can be interpreted innumerably, the written word is considered a single-track medium creating meaning through its words. An issue Desmond brings to the forefront is the problem with fidelity. He explains that when it comes to adaptation analysis, fidelity terminology such as “original material” and “faithful adaptation” often engages in glorifying the writing over the film. As a rule of thumb, I will try my best not to elevate the written material over film by avoiding and/or recognizing such loaded terminology. The end goal of each adaptation analysis is to determine whether I consider the film a close, loose, or intermediate adaptation. Although subjective, I will try my best to determine the category through countless examples between both mediums reasonably. I will engage with both microcosmic and macrocosmic applications.

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Christian’s Cinematic Syntax: A Review of “The Cranes Are Flying”

Welcome back, readers. Christian’s Cinematic Syntax is back for the fall semester, and I am excited to share my thoughts on a new batch of films that really caught my attention. Unlike last semester, I will be less strict on what I review, but I will continue selecting based on my world film preference. My “Modern Cinema From Around the World” series was last semester, and now I intend to just publish reviews as their own, without a series attached.  Without further ado, I will begin with the 1957 Palme d’Or winning drama, The Cranes Are Flying

*Spoilers Ahead*

An anti-war film that battled censorship at its release, The Cranes Are Flying focuses on a young couple facing tragedy. Boris (Aleksey Batalov), a factory worker, and Veronika (Tatiana Samoilova), a nurse, are thrust into a harsh reality of life during wartime. Boris volunteers for service, leaving Veronika with a toy squirrel, a birthday gift, and her only memento of him. The couple, now separated, fight their own battles. Veronika resists the romantic advances of Boris’ cousin at home while Boris fights the enemy on the front lines. As the film progresses, these characters change, and tragedy strikes. Veronika and Boris lose the most so the Soviet Union and allied forces can continue on.

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