Goldman’s The Princess Bride is the best adaptation of Goldman’s The Princess Bride conceivable.

After just finishing reading William Goldman’s The Princess Bride I couldn’t think of anything better to do than to watch the movie that was adapted from it.

The movie, I believe, was better for once. A rare occurrence but one that I will argue my case for.

In my opinion, the movie was better.

In my opinion, the movie was better.

It certainly helps that the screenplay was written by the author of the novel. Most screenplay writers when adapting a book make changes to the story to not streamline the story for time but often change plot points, character motivation and character development that they feel fits better in a film and puts their own twist on the story. Nothing wrong with that mind you, change is part of adaptations. What William Goldman did however was instead take the novel he had written and streamlined it for film without cutting any part of what made the story charming and engaging.

Goldman managed to make a film version of his novel without cutting anything that makes it great.

Goldman managed to make a film version of his novel without cutting anything that makes it great.

Let’s get the negative parts of the adaptation over with that way we don’t have to dwell on it too long.. Out of all the characters the one that suffers most from the change from book to film is Prince Humperdink. His character looms over much of the plot in the book. A  much more intimidating, sociopathic and physically capable figure who poses a major threat to Westley and Buttercup’s romance. His abilities as a great hunter and tracker are explored with greater detail to back up his claim, rather than in the film when the characters just state it as fact. It could be argued that his tracking of Westley and Buttercup in Guilder showcase his hunting skills in the movie but I was never really sold by it too much. 

While Chris Sarandon did a great job as Prince Humperdink he comes off as more of a sniveling schemer who is in fact quite weak compared to the strategic military-like mind of the Prince Humperdink of the book.

What else the reader will get from the book that we don’t get as much in the movie is the backstories of Inigo Montoya and Fezzik. If you love those characters then I highly suggest you read the book. You get both of their upbringings, their trainings and how they end up with Vizzini. Their friendship blossoms in the book as well as Fezzik’s love for rhyming that the film just lightly touches upon.

Speaking of Vizzini, while I would never want to lose Wallace Shawn’s portrayal of the character we don’t get a great understanding that he is fact the planner of the trio. He just comes off sort of silly and dimwitted next to Westley. With the use of backstory we learn that the trio had been successful before in doing mercenary work like this in the past using Inigo’s fencing skills, Fezzik’s strength and Vizzini’s plans. Lastly, and this isn’t the movie or the books fault, but if you’ve seen the movie before you read the book the surprise of the Westley being the Man in Black is ruined for you as it is hard to disguise someone’s look and voice to make that surprise work especially considering when it came out.

Details is what is key. If you like details I highly suggest reading the book because you get better details of every main character and some characters who never get named in the movie. That was what was a shocker for me, that those small characters didn’t get cut from the movie at all. Yellin, the man who has the key to the castle, the Albino who helps Count Rugen torture Westley, Miracle Max’s wife, the lady who boos Princess Buttercup and even Prince Humperdink’s parents who do nothing to move the plot along in the book at all still make appearances in the movie. What else is significant is all the best lines from the book make it into the movie as well. In this day and age book readers usually have to prepare themselves for their favorite line or character to be cut. Not so with The Princess Bride, everything from As You Wish down to To The Pain make it into the movie. Reading the book in a sense was like reading more detailed version of the script while also getting new details about all the best characters.

What was removed from the movie that it benefitted from was two things. First of all, while entertaining, the framework of Goldman translating S. Morgenstern’s much longer version of The Princess Bride into the short version his father read to him as a kid tends to go on too long and interrupt the flow of the story. The part the movie uses involving the grandfather and the grandson in place of Goldman and his father still has the great framework of the story being read to a child without so many interruptions like in the book.

The other part that the movie loses from the book is the horrible ending. Not horrible in the sense it was poorly written or ill conceived but it is so anti-climactic and covered in loose ends that it reduces the rating I gave the book by a whole star on Goodreads, all to sell this weird theme of life isn’t fair. The movie has a much more satisfying ending to both cap off the main characters of Inigo, Fezzik, Buttercup and Westley and ends sweetly with the Grandfather and Grandson. The book’s ending fails on on all fronts.

Inconceivable! A movie would actually have a better ending than the book? It's true.

Inconceivable! A movie would actually have a better ending than the book? It’s true.

So do I recommend the book? I certainly do as I am the type of reader who enjoys the little details along with a good plot. Ultimately though I do believe Goldman did a better job of taking his novel and making into a much better screenplay and film.

Inside Coen Brothers’ Inside Lewyn Davis

     I haven’t seen every Coen Brothers film but I’ve seen the big ones: Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, No Country for Old Men, True Grit, and now Inside Lewyn Davis. 

     All you need to know about the film is that Llewyn Davis is a folk singer, one stuck in a cyclical life of living on couches, barely making ends meet. The movie has no plot but one giant theme of failure. Anyone who is hoping to one day turn their creative outlet into something that can sustain them financially will leave this film feeling down, putting themselves in Llewyn’s place as he struggles to just get by.
     Once part of a duo, his partner threw himself off the George Washington Bridge, now he is basically living the life of a tramp endlessly couch surfing between the parents of his former partner and the couple who is beginning to succeed where he can’t. There is no character arc for Llewyn Davis, but that’s the point. The fact that he does not go through any significant changes, not when he finds out Jean is pregnant, not when he finds out Diane never received the abortion, not when he goes to Chicago and not when he passes the town his now 2-year-old kid would reside in. By the end of the film he is left the same, performing at the Gaslight the songs of his former duo opening for a young Bob Dylan who is about to become a star.

     The most heartbreaking line in the entire film is when Llewyn Davis is Bob Grossman hears this beautiful song and simply replies “I don’t see any money here.” While Llewyn’s story is sad in a pathetic kind of way the movie doesn’t paint him as a saint. In fact, he’s kind of a jerk who is unable to connect with people, dismissive, a bit pretentious and a philanderer. You’re left to wonder if his failures are his own fault or do you admire a man who isn’t willing to compromise his music in order to make a living? The act in which he tries to rejoin the merchant marines after being rejected by Bob Grossman and returning to New York is where Llewyn is the most sympathetic in the film. He returns ready to give up, tired from the stress and burden of it all, realizing he’s not going anywhere with his music. He plans to return to being a merchant marine like his father, to just “exist” as he puts it. He visits his father one last time before he plans to head off, playing a song he says his father used to like. Now his father’s only reaction, due to the onset of dementia or alzheimers and in response, summing up Llewn’s music career nicely, he shits himself without registering his son is even there besides some dead eye contact.
          In the end, he can’t even return to being a merchant marine. Llewyn Davis cannot even enact any kind of change in his life away from his own failures. Is Llewyn Davis’ story a tragedy? No but that does not make it any less sad to see. 


Jackson’s The Desolation of Smaug expands Tolkien’s The Hobbit for Film

 
     The director of The Hobbit film trilogy expands the film version of Middle-Earth for it’s second outing. While some have called turning the children’s novel into a three part film a stretch, Jackson manages to flush out the Tolkien’s world and characters. In the second part of the film trilogy Jackson continues to do without the slow pace some critics complained about in An Unexpected Journey.

     Right out of the gate the hobbit, the wizard, and the thirteen refugee dwarves of Erebor are still on the run from Azog the Defiler and his orcs. From there the breaks in the action are very short transitioning from Beorn’s House to Mirkwood to Thranduil’s Kingdom to Lake Town to Erebor. Beorn himself and the encounter with the spiders receive the short shaft of this film sure to be expanded upon in the extended edition.
     The second film is far more removed from the source material, but in doing so Jackson makes a better film than the first one. Adapting literally means to make suitable to requirement or conditions and Peter Jackson does a wonderful job in this film. It is different from the book and in one of the rare cases this change made it a better movie than if they strictly stuck to it.
     While Thorin continues down his path to Shakespearean-like tragic hero, Bilbo’s characterization takes a step away from the books that was refreshing. Bilbo struggles with the power of the ring, Unlike Frodo, who has information about the ring during The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo has no idea there is an outside force working against him. This makes his struggle with the power he now has a more inner conflict he needs to work out. In that way, he becomes a better foil to Gollum’s struggle with the ring then Jackson tried to do with Frodo.
     What is highly interesting is Jackson’s depiction of where Gandalf went off to during the journey. Technically, Jackson and company cannot use any material from Tolkien’s other works other than The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings that explains exactly what Gandalf was up to when dealing with the Necromancer. Instead, Jackson surprisingly skirts around the story depicting what happens differently while remaining as close as possible to how it Tolkien canon it actually went. This also gave him the opportunity to backtrack over his mistakes in The Lord of the Rings with his depiction of Sauron as a giant eye.
     Like the Riddles in the Dark scene in the first firm, the highlight of the second was easily Bilbo’s interaction with Smaug. Benedict Cumberbatch was the perfect choice to depict Smaug, which the trailers so far do no justice to how incredible of a dragon he is. Even the often criticised scene of the dwarves and Smaug together is enjoyable just to see more Smaug. The dwarves cowering outside of the Lonely Mountain as depicted in the book would not have worked for this film.
     Complaints of Tauriel’s inclusion will come unfounded as her addition add great dramatic conflict to Thranduil’s philosophy of withdrawal from the problems of the world. Legolas’ inclusion comes more into question as he remains there for pretty action scenes. Despite this, another criticised moment that was highly enjoyable was the barrel action scene depicting it in a fun way that shows off Legolas’ action and a good transition to Laketown what would otherwise be a slow moment.
     Laketown and it’s inhabitant was another expansion of the small scene in the book that served to make a better movie, as Bard the Bowman, The Master and the town itself are more flushed out to make a better conflict for the story. Overall, with a few minor quibbles like changing Bard’s ancestor from a king to a lord and the shortened scenes involving Beorn and the spiders of Mirkwood, The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug is an example of a film where change is welcome.
     J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit will still remain the way it is, and this film does no harm in highlighting what is great about the author’s creation.

How Faithful Are ‘The Hobbit’ Films to Tolkien’s Books? by Corey Olsen, the Tolkien Professor

The Desolation of Smaug Review by Aaron Diaz, author of webcomic Dresden Codak

Movies Will Never Be Books, and TV too! by Me