From the pages to the big screen– what makes an adaptation a success?

I just saw the trailer for Ender’s Game, and I am really excited! The Wheel of Time is probably the only other adaptation that might excite me more (and Universal has the rights to it…) Even better, Harrison Ford plays a lead role in this upcoming movie based off of Orson Scott Card’s epic science fiction/fantasy/ethical drama.

After seeing the trailer, I started thinking about other book-to-film adaptations. What makes a good adaptation? Is it just a good story, or is more required? Here are a few examples.

1. Lord of the Rings/Hobbit – All four of these collectively are my favorite film. I know, I know… that is a bit of a cliche, right? How could someone who claims to be a fan of film choose a cultural favorite and not a true cinematic gem? In my opinion, these films bridge the gap that all too often separates a masterpiece from a blockbuster. Like other film greats, the story itself is epic on a grand scale, and the cinematography matches the plot in its grandeur.

How did the movies change from the book? For the most part, the film stayed true to the book. A few changes, like the removal of Tom Bombadil, streamlined the film’s plot so that it fit better in its cinematic form. (Fellowship was already long–while many lament Bombadil’s absence, it also kept the movie from reaching 3.5 hours!) So while the film stayed true, it also made several significant changes that impacted the flow of the film.

2. The Chronicles of Narnia – Thankfully, the more recent rendition of the Narnia series redeems the atrocious BBC version, although the BBC version’s faults admittedly are enhanced by its era of yet-undeveloped CGI technology. The newer version follows the books very well, and in my opinion, do a great job at capturing the mood portrayed in the Lewis’s prose. The bad guys are all gruesome (either in looks or in personality), Aslan is regal and majestic, and each of the four siblings are really portrayed well. Unfortunately, the first film’s success was followed by some liberties taken to too high of a degree. In Caspian, one of the best scenes in the series is completely written out (when they discover Cair Paravel. This is awesome on the same level as the intrigue in any episode of Lost that reveals more of the Dharma Initiative.) While changing the plot for the flow of a movie is not inherently bad, there is no excuse when said plot changing is an obvious ploy for an attempt for an more-impressive battle scene, especially when the CGI is slightly underfunded. (The centaurs look as glitchy as the Scorpion King in The Mummy Returns.) Overall, the films did well to stick to the book plots, and when they strayed in favor of CGI, disaster struck.

3. Harry Potter – Harry Potter is perhaps the best case example of both failure and success in adapting a book into a movie. The first movie was almost identical to the book. The book is great, but surprisingly, the movie really leaves a lot to be desired. It does not flow well, and while it really does have some awesome elements to it, it is fairly obvious that it is an adaptation, not an idea original to film. The pace moves too slowly, but to the credit of the series, film executives rectified the problem with each new film. By the final chapter of the saga, significant liberties modified the earlier template. (The most obvious being that besides a darker tone than the book, the final movie was even broken into two pieces, for twice the profit.)

I think the universal lesson learned is that books and movies have different formulas for success, and in such adaptations, no fans of a book will ever be completely and totally satisfied with a film adaptation, because either the film will be paced too slowly (other other similar problem), or changes will upset fans (like no Tom Bombadil). Given that such a fan base cannot be 100% satisfied, it is better to err on the side of cinematic success (Lord of the Rings, latter Harry Potter), rather than on the side of remaining true to the books (the first Harry Potter. But, as seen when applying this lesson to Narnia, there is no formula that truly is universal.

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Book Review: Biblical Theology In the Life of the Church, by Michael Lawrence

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For my Biblical Theology class, one of my required readings was Michael Lawrence’s Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry. In his book, Lawrence takes the reader–whom Lawrence assumes is a pastor or other church leadership position–through a general overview of Biblical Theology. He assumes that the reader has absolutely no background knowledge of this type of theology, or its counterpart, Systematic Theology.

If you are not familiar with these two terms, here is each in a nutshell: Biblical Theology looks at the Bible’s storyline as a whole, while Systematic Theology looks at individual sections in the Bible to solve theological questions. In Systematic Theology, issues are settled by asking what the Bible directly says about said issues. Someone studying about the Sabbath would explore Leviticus and Deuteronomy, as well as the Gospels, and create a systematized conclusion, merging what is found in each section, proof-checking the conclusion with the text. In Biblical Theology, someone studying about the Sabbath would keep in mind the context of its establishment, is role within the Law, and the Law’s role with Christ. This is an overly-simple explanation, but perhaps the best way to clarify is that in Biblical Theology, a study of each portion of scripture will eventually lead you back to Christ.

In his book, Lawrence does a great job of not only explaining these two methodologies, but also in explaining how they can be used in tandem with high efficiency. The book is laid out in three sections: The Tools That Are Needed (explaining Biblical and Systematic Theologies, and their relationship with each other), Stories to Be Told (five topics explored under a Biblical Theology lens, and Putting It Together for the Church (application and advice for its use in your local church).

For my class, I was not required to read this entire book. I read it all anyways. (I love reading fantasy, but I hate reading “textbooks.” It is very rare that I will enjoy a book for a class, simply because my learning style usually requires me to hear it in lecture form. This book was a huge exception.) As an added bonus, the author visited our class during the term and answered any questions about his book or his church. Needless to say, I left that class a very inspired student! I also knew literally nothing at all about Biblical Theology before this book, and while my understanding has also been shaped by my course, this book’s contribution to my understanding is immeasurable.

Who MUST read this book: Anyone in or preparing for the ministry.
Who would like this book: Anyone in or preparing for the ministry who is willing to at least look to see if Christ is present in the Old Testament. Also, anyone who is interested in theology, but hates stuffy, academic writing.

Who would not like this book: Non-Christians and very liberal theologians.

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My Top Ten Games

In my blog’s title, “games” is a very vague word, but I did that on purpose; does it refer to video games? Board games? Computer games? Although I originally thought it would be about board games, the truth is it now refers to all of the above. I love games in any format! (Except for perhaps Playstation 2. I hate their controllers.) So, like my lists of books and movies, here is a list of my top ten games, although unlike the other lists, these are in no particular order, so they are in bullet form.

  • Heroes of Might and Magic, Computer Series, especially II, III, and V. 
  • Starfox 64, Nintendo 64
  • Dominion, Board Game
  • Pandemic, Board Game
  • Fable II, XBox
  • Descent, Board Game (especially campaign mode)
  • Shadows Over Camelot, Board Game
  • Metal Marines, Super Nintendo
  • Settlers of Catan, Board Game
  • Scum, Card Game

There are many, many more games that I love, but if I have to choose ten, these are it!

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Movie Review: Wreck-It Ralph

Image Several months ago, when I saw the trailer for Wreck-It Ralph, I was tentatively excited. At first, it seemed like it was a Disney feature based on the premise of Reboot, one of my favorite television shows. (In ReBoot, the characters live in a digital world, and when sucked into a game, they must beat the user to survive, after which they continue to go about their normal lives until the next game). After watching Wreck-It Ralph today, I soon realized the premise was similar, but still substantially modified; rather than being a movie form of ReBoot, it was ReBoot meets Toy Story; the digital characters were more closely rooted in the real physical world.

Wreck-It Ralph is the story of a character with the title name. Ralph is a “bad guy” in a video game in which he “wrecks” a building, and the player, controlling Fix-It Felix, naturally fixes the building. At the game’s 30-year anniversary, a significant run for an arcade game, Wreck-It Ralph suffers from a “mid-life crisis” as he languishes over his role as a villain.

Embarking on a journey to win a “medal,” and thus earning a place of respect and love among his comrades, Ralph causes a few major problems in his journey, and he meets a glitch in another game who changes his outlook on life.

During the movie, of course there are greater conflicts to overcome, but as Dr. Song often proclaims in Doctor Who: Spoilers!

Wreck-It Ralph exceeded my high expectations. I expected to enjoy it, but it surprised me with an interesting plot and decent character development. The basic plot premise practically begs for cliches and awkward scenes solely included for plot development (such as someone hearing just enough of a conversation to get the wrong idea and mistakenly assume betrayal, etc), but the plot actually is intriguing, with any cliches fitting naturally within the plot in a satisfying way. The ending is equally satisfying, and while I predicted some of the major plot resolutions, I still enjoyed seeing the conflicts resolve themselves.

On a minor note, I also really appreciated the animation. Although done with a realistic style similar to Toy Story, various points paid homage to the arcade game genre– blocky animation when appropriate, and even during the more realistic vantages, characters sometimes had blocky motion to compliment their video-screen appearance.

My one qualm–and I really mean that I only had one qualm–was that Jack McBrayer’s voice (Fix-It Felix) proved to be slightly distracting in his first few scenes, mostly because his character did not match up with Ken from 30 Rock, an association that his quirky voice and tone instantly brings to mind, but after his first scene or two, I no longer noticed this problem.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, and I would have no problems re-watching it numerous times.

Who would like this movie: Families, fans of “retro” arcade games, fans of the Toy Story franchise, and everyone who has a heart, a sense of humor, and an appreciation for an original film idea.

Who would not like this movie: Anyone who hated Toy Story.

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Movie Review: Treasure Planet

Note: There are some light spoilers to the Treasure Island story, but nothing significant to this adaptation.

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I just finished Disney’s most recent take on the classic Treasure Island, in its futuristic animation, Treasure Planet. Like in the book, young Jim Hawkins, upon receiving the location of a fabled treasure stash from the dying pirate Billy Bones, goes in search of the loot. On the ship, he is placed under the supervision of the chef, John Silver. Remembering Billy Bones’ dying words to beware the cyborg, Jim is wary of Silver, whose entire right side is fitted with cybernetics, including his leg, arm, and right eye. Silver gains Jim’s trust before mutineering against the ship’s captain as he tries to secure the treasure for himself.

Disney’s take on Treasure Island is a unique twist on the story, giving an otherwise overdone plot a unique element, although some facets distracted me to the point of reducing my interest. The film attempted to modernize the story, but did not take the modernization too far. Much like I balked at a ceiling fan lifting out of Earth’s atmosphere to provide transport to Mars in The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars, I also balked at the idea that all of the space ships were shaped like sea vessels with rigging and other aspects that will always be exclusive to sea voyages. Even worse, the filmmakers decided that their characters would no longer require air to breathe; the ships contain no atmospheric control, yet the characters are able to saunter through space with no enclosed environment or suit. There are other issues with the movie as well; however, these applying the amount of realism to be expected in other animated Disney films, the other issues can be overlooked.

On the positive side, the characters, cliche and all, were designed well, with interesting alien features. Silver’s cybernetic limbs provided added entertainment, especially in his introductory scene using his arm as a multitude of culinary tools. His sidekick– “Morph,” a small blob of a creature that morphs shapes– also added a positive element, providing the comedic character one would expect in a Disney animation, such as Abu in Aladdin. 

Overall, Treasure Planet is a film that, despite its scientific flaws, is worth adding to your Netflix queue if ever in need of a good family movie that the kids will enjoy, and the adults do not have to merely tolerate. One word of caution, however: if you are just looking for an interesting twist on Treasure Island, you are far better off with Muppet Treasure Island. Where this film is adequate, the Muppet version excels, even if you are tired of the overly adapted story.

Who will like it: Kids, Families
Who will not like it: Those bothered by unrealistic Science Fiction

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Han Solo and Star Wars Spinoffs

Recently, Harrison Ford’s involvement with Star Wars VII was revealed, confirming the return of Han Solo to the Star Wars franchise, answering the call from many devout fans who insisted his return might be a saving grace to the future spinoffs.

In light of this (good?) news, other rumors have flown about in the last week that have fans a little more worried: Ewan McGregor, often credited as being the saving grace of I-III, is the center of speculation about the possibilities of an Obi Wan Kenobi spinoff, featuring his adventures between III and IV. A little more concrete, a Yoda spinoff already has Frank Oz excited. Add this to speculation about a young Han Solo or a Boba Fett story, and it seems like before long, half of the characters will have their own feature film.

All of this leads to two questions: is this a good thing, and how will these fit on my shelf?

First, by far the more important question. I really like that I-VI all match on their box. While replacing 20th Century Fox with Disney, I know the next few will not match entirely, but they could still match the general theme. That said, chronological order just will not cut it; I will have to have I-???, with all of the spinoffs (including Clone Wars) to the side, treated in their role as supplement to the saga.

So… are these spinoffs a good thing? I guess that depends on how you view it. For fans sorely disappointed by movies marred by Jar Jar, George Lucas’s dress, “Are you an Angel,” “I’m beside myself,” Anakin’s whining, and “aggressive negotiations,” this might be a welcome reprieve. If they are done well, they will provide an alternative for fans craving quality cinematic material that is not animated in the cheap almost-anime used in  The Clone Wars. On the other hand, if lessons on Hollywood attempts at spinoffs are any indicator, we will likely be inundated with money-making B-movies slapped on with the franchise label. Much like Iron Man IX will probably be a dud, it will still make a decent wad of cash because of name recognition.

In the meantime, with only rumors to fuel the fire, I will wait patiently and see how Episode VII turns out. I am a fan of J.J. Abrams, and I have no fear of Disney ruining Star Wars, for much of the same reason why I did lambast them for ruining The Avengers— because they have a proven track record of staying hands-off from their child-studios when the approach was necessary. Maybe in a few years I, my anticipation will be dashed with mediocrity, but in the meantime, I can still be optimistic that…. wait for it….. the Force will be strong with them. Yes, I just did that.

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Book Review: The Alloy of Law

Note: All of my reviews are spoiler-free unless otherwise noted in the title. This review does contain spoilers pertaining to the book’s setting and magic system, but there are none pertaining to the plot. 

Alloy of LawI am a huge fan of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series, so I was fairly excited to discover the release of his spin-off novel, The Alloy of Law, a slight departure from his grand plan of three trilogies, each occurring during a different technological era on the planet Scadrial.

The Alloy of Law takes place a little over 300 years after the first trilogy during an age that invokes aspects of both the American “Wild West,” as well as some latter industrial advancements. It follows the storyline of Wax, a Lawbringer from the Roughs, and his approach to… well, a problem. It is definitely a gun-slinger story, in a world marveling at the early advancement of electricity and machinery. The plot utilizes a mixture of Wild West, Heist, Who-Dunnit, and High Fantasy genres, although the mood is very similar to any of Sanderson’s other works. (Yes, I know this is extremely vague, but the plot is the kind that even minor spoilers have a major impact on the plot.)

Fans of the first Mistborn trilogy will not be disappointed with The Alloy of Law. With the exception of two or three unnecessary asides to the reader (explaining an obvious plot development, or reexplaining rules of the magic system solely as a reminder), the writing is done in an enjoyable, fun, and fast-paced style. As should be expected in a Sanderson book, his characters are relatable and matter to the reader from the onset.

One of the best features of The Alloy of Law involves the magic system. While the first Mistborn trilogy dealt with AllomancersFeruchemists, and Hemalergists, this book primarily deals with just Allomancy and Feruchemy. While the trilogy superbly explored many of the Allomantic combinations, Alloy of Law instead explores Twinborns– individuals who can access just one Allomantic metal, and one metal using Feruchemy. These twin combinations add a unique element to the book, previously only briefly utilized. Exploring this new element to the magic system makes the read good enough on its own.

Another aspect of Alloy of Law that will appeal to fans of the series is a series of references to the trilogy. The main city is Elendel, there are followers of both Harmony and the Survivor, to name a few. There are some other references as well, but as River from Dr. Who always proclaims: “Spoilers!”

Apart from previously-mentioned asides to the reader, my only problem with The Alloy of Law is its short length, but that is merely an annoyance; it is the perfect length for the story that Sanderson wanted to tell, even if it left me wanting more. It also left room for a  sequel, so it will be interesting to see if Sanderson revisits this time period before moving on to the second trilogy. Also on a side note, the name”Alloy of Law” might seem rather strange, but I was surprised at how much sense it really made after finishing the book; it fit to the point of being philosophical.

As with any Brandon Sanderson book, I highly recommend this novel. It is well worth the read. My only caution would be that, if you have not done so first, be sure to read the Mistborn Trilogy. It is not completely necessary (well… mostly), but it sure does enhance parts of the story, both in enjoyment and understanding their cultural mythology, as well as understanding passing events more clearly.

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