Saturday, February 1, 2014
By MICHAEL WALSH
"You can't judge a book by its movie."
I first saw that slogan in the mid-1980s on a lapel pin in a shop just off Seattle's Pioneer Square. It summed up one of the working rules that I'd made for myself as a critic paid to judge movies: Don't read any book that looks like it will be made into a feature film.
It was just common sense. My job was to offer my opinion on movies as movies. While a book might be acknowledged as source material, film was its own medium, with its own standards and its own audience. To my mind, it was important that I see a new movie on its own, free of any preconceptions or expectations.
In practical terms, I was on a fiction-free diet, avoiding best-sellers the way a vegetarian shuns cheeseburgers. My movie-going readers knew that I was a movie guy, not some book reviewer looking down on the mess a hack film-maker had made of an author's masterwork.
But, as I learned, every rule has its exceptions. I felt safe in reading non-fiction (history, biography, social-science stuff), and that's where I'd run into some real surprises. Who knew that Tom Wolfe's eccentric history of the U.S. manned space program, The Right Stuff, would eventually be a major motion picture? (Not me.)
It happened again when reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein published their Watergate memoir, All the President's Men. I read that one, confident that I wasn't going to see it on the big screen any time soon.
And yes, inevitably, having read the books coloured my response to the movies, as is obvious from a reading of my reviews of those pictures at their time of release. Over the years I've wondered how a writer feels about seeing their work shaped into something new and quite different from what they'd created.
Four years ago, I had the opportunity to hear one of my favourite authors, Tanya Huff, speak to that very issue. She was the guest of honour at VCON 34, Vancouver's annual science-fiction and fantasy convention, and she'd been asked how she felt about Blood Ties, the 2007 TV series based on a series of books that she'd written.
Her answer was the same as the one she gave the editors of Locus Magazine during an interview published in the December 2013 issue:
" . . . when you sell to television, the TV show is like your grandchild, and everyone knows that if you want access to your grandchildren, you don't criticize how their parents are raising them. Once the [Blood series] books became Blood Ties, they were no longer my babies. During the run of the show, people would say things like 'Weren't you upset about the changes they made to your books?' And I'd say, 'Honey, they didn't change the books. The books are exactly the way they were when you read them.' "
So, rather than judge a movie by its book (or vice versa), let's enjoy our art where we find it.