We’re back with more Game of Games with Satsuma!
Again, SPOILERS AHOY for Game of Thrones up through A Storm of Swords (aka Season 3!)
Part Two: The Pitfalls of Book-to-Screen Adaptations.
Seems that when any popular book series that gets adapted to screen, whether the screen be silver or HDTV, we can with 100% accuracy forecast a Dance of the Die-Hard Fans who argue over its merits. In both GOT and THG fandoms, there are many fans who take the “book purist”, or “books-on-tape with pictures” approach, and bemoan every plot change and cut character.
My approach is different, for I understand that changes are inevitable, not just because of the limits of time and budget, but because film/TV is a completely different medium from books. I do have a line though; I would draw it at the point characters, plots, and themes are changed so much, it clashes with the author’s intent in the original work.
And here I get into many spoilers, up to S3 E10 of GOT, or about mid-way through “Storm of Swords” in the ASOIAF book series.
1. Problem: Unless you resort to Cheesy Voice-Overs, which both THG and GOT has not so far, you lose out on hearing the thoughts of the character(s).
Fix: Have the character speak the thoughts out loud. In the GOT show, Jaime Lannister declares, after being called “Kingslayer” for the 92584th time, that “My name is Jaime”. This statement is only a thought in the books. Catelyn Stark’s monologue about her treatment of Jon Snow in S3 is actually NOT taken from the book, but does seem to be an attempt to show her inner conflict about him to the viewers.
In a similar vein, I strongly suspect that the reason for the much-maligned extra scene between Gale and Katniss in the CF movie, is to have Katniss speak out loud certain thoughts about Gale.
2. Problem: There is only a limited amount of time, and some plot condensation is essential.
Fix: Cut out subplots that don’t contribute much to the main one. For example, Mance Rayder, King-Beyond-the-Wall, regularly sneaks into Winterfell disguised as a bard in the books, and actually saw Jon Snow being kept from the High Table during the King’s visit because of his bastardy. Jon refers to this event, and claims his oppression due to his bastard status is a reason for joining up with the wild-er Free Folk. (Sorry Ygritte, put that bow down!) All of this is cut in the show. (As are the “half a hundred” times Jon and Ygritte go at it before their famous cave scene.) Because in the end, what matters is that Jon manages to infiltrate the Free Folk. Much as I’m sure the CF movie will get Katniss to find out about D13 without Bonnie and Twill being the ones to Explain It All to Her.
3. Problem: There is only a limited budget, and you cannot hire real live actors for every single character the author made up.
Fix #1: Cut or merge characters. In the books GOT is based on, Loras Tyrell actually has two older brothers, Willas and Garlan. It is Willas, not Loras, who the Tyrells try to set up with Sansa Stark. And obviously, Madge was totally cut out of the THG movie, or you could argue that she got merged with Greasy Sae, who also got merged with various other unnamed Hob vendors.
Fix #2: Delay introducing characters until later in the story. In GOT, Roose Bolton is introduced in S2, while Cat’s brother Edmure and uncle Brynden “Blackfish” Tully are introduced in S3. All these characters are introduced much earlier in the books. Similarly, we will likely NOT get Annie Cresta introduced to us in the CF movie, at least, not in the form we will see her in MJ – I think a “glorified extra” version is still possible.
4. Problem: Exposition, that is, people just sitting around TELLING and not SHOWING what’s been going on, can be pretty boring when moved from page to screen. (And many MJ readers will say it’s boring even on page!)
Fix: Actually SHOW what’s been going on, of course! Now, of course, not all verbal expositions need to be converted into visuals; Jaime’s confession to Brienne about the event that led to the whole “Kingslayer” nickname was presented in its original form, more or less, and works out pretty well.
However, in the ASOAIF books, Robb Stark tries to explain to Catelyn why he married a girl who was NOT the one he was betrothed to – and that’s it. Well, okay, we do get some humor in seeing a teenage King have an awkward-as-seven-hells conversation with his mother about his sex life. But said mother is all like “I so do NOT need to know the details of my son’s sex life”, and so we don’t get them. But obviously, HBO isn’t going to let a chance to show any sex, go to waste. I do have a lot of nitpicks with how the show adapted Robb’s romance, but I am totally behind the decision to show the romance (and sex) on-screen.
So, in a similar light, I actually DO expect the Mockingjay movies to show, on-screen, many of the scenes, like the Peeta rescue, and what happened after Katniss was shot in D2, that we learn about through exposition in the book.
5. Problem: There is only a limited amount of time, and some condensation of character development is essential.
Fix: I think this is likely the hardest “fix” of them all, and IMHO, the one both adaptations has struggled with the most. The GOT show has been criticized for “flattening” many of the characters and removing their complex edges, such as Dany Targaryen’s ruthless side, Tyrion Lannister’s darker side, Shae “I-wanna-be-Mrs-Lannister”’s selfish side, Sansa Stark “Well-I-Don’t-wanna-be-a-Lannister”’s stronger side, etc.
Obviously, the THG movie was heavily criticized for flattening Peeta, removing his funny, playful side (except for what turned out to be an ad-lib by the Hutch), his stronger side (not needing Katniss to knock him out to keep him from the feast), and his ruthless side (his involvement in the D8 girl’s death), etc. To the extent that fans have developed Peeta-PTSD/Paranoia in response, about how his role will be developed for the CF movie.
There’s also the fear that Gale will overshadow Peeta, because he is a more conventional Hollywood hero. In this, there are parallels as well. The GOT show gave the Robb Stark character a lot of screen time that he doesn’t get in the books. Some of this was totally justifiable because of “show don’t tell” reasons, but you can certainly argue that this was at the expense of other, less conventionally heroic characters, especially his mother, Catelyn.
6. Problem: How do you show violence, abuse, and other Bad Things on screen without glamorizing or glorifying them?
Fix: Again, a very difficult issue to deal with. Now, I don’t think the ASOIAF books are anywhere near the almost-pacifist work that the THG series seems to be when taken as a whole. But the GOT show has been accused by many fans, especially those with a feminist POV, of glamorizing sexualized violence, especially against women (though men are also the targets of such acts as well), to a much greater extent than the books ever did. Much of this charge is based on scenes made up only for the show.
Now, it seems that very few fans or critics have leveled this charge at the THG movie adaptation. Statements from Nina Jacobson and Gary Ross certainly show they were aware of the risks of glamorizing the violence. Yet, there also was criticism was that the violence was TOO sanitized. This is certainly a debate that will be interesting to watch applied to CF (as many people have suggested CF has more leeway showing violence among the adult characters) and certainly, MJ.