Friday, September 19, 2014

Classic literature on film

So my last post on here was about book to film adaptations.  I mostly discussed the young adult genre and deliberated whether or not such adaptations should be as close to the source material as possible.

However today, I will be discussing a whole different genre of writing: classic literature. Now, there are two major approaches I have found to adapting a piece of classic literature into a film. The first, is to make the film as close to the source material as possible, practically matching it line for line. The second, is to completely reimagine the story so that it best translates to a modern audience, but still keeps the basic structure, themes, and/or issues of the original content.

Now, there is one of these two approaches that I'm more partial to. You probably have already guessed which it is, but if you haven't heres an example of my point. Let's take Shakespeare's Hamlet for example.

Here are two film adaptations of Hamlet. Which one would you rather watch?

Did you pick the one with the singing lions? Because if you did you probably agree with the point I'm about to argue. 

I find films that take elements or plots of classic stories and adapt them for a new audience to be extremely clever and interesting for several reasons. To start, let's be honest, not everyone has read the original Hamlet by Shakespeare and even fewer probably understood it on first read. So it's probably safe to say that to someone who is not familiar with Shakespeare and his works might find a direct adaptation of the play (such as the one featured above, starring Mel Gibson) to be confusing or even daunting. But, an animated film about a young lion cub is something that is much more accessible to people of all ages. 

Now, you can say what you want about the dumbing down of great literature or that people should be challenged by art, or even that The Lion King isn't really shakespeare at all, but I beg to differ. I don't think that The Lion King is the dumbed down version of Hamlet at all. While it's not a direct adaptation all the themes of the original play are there. The Lion King deals with issues of family, morality, corruption, responsibility, and leadership just like it's source material. And, the film is able to do this without the complicated language that is Shakespeare. It also features similar plot, the villain kills his brother in order to become king and the hero of the story must avenge his father and take responsibility for the kingdom. Sure, he may not die in the end along with most of the other characters, but come on this is a Disney movie.

You might actually be surprised how many movies are actually based on Shakespeare and other classic literature. For some reason, the teen movie genre tends to pull from classic literature quite a bit. The films below are just a few examples.


Based on The Scarlet Letter                   Based on Twelfth Night           Based on Taming of the Shrew

Even when films aren't directly adapting classic literature, a lot of films have plot points or lines that reference it.

For example, it took me several watches before I realized this scene from Lord of the Rings was actually referencing Macbeth.

You guys get it? In Macbeth, no man that was born of a woman could kill him. Macbeth naturally believes this makes him invincible and tries to take over the kingdom, only for him to later be defeated by a man who was cut from his mother's womb not "born". 

Get it? Get it??? 

I don't know guys, I thought it was cool.

Anyway, what do you guys think of the relationship between classic literature and film? Do you prefer direct adaptations or modern retellings? And, more importantly do you get as excited as I do when you pick up on a reference to it?