Posted on Starpulse.com
I was recently flipping through channels on a quiet Sunday evening when the new show “Merlin” caught my eye. It was originally a British TV drama that did fairly well and premiered in the US on June 21. So far it’s viewership isn’t too bad and they even got a second season, but seriously? It’s terrible. It’s terrible in that awesome way where the plots are silly and the acting is somewhat ridiculous, but yet you can’t help but keep watching. It has a certain badly budgeted charm that is a reminder of “Hercules: The Legendary Journey” and “Xena: Warrior Princess.” Only it’s lighter, fluffier fare with a cast of pretty actors in prettier costumes. Merlin and Arthur are the same age, Gwen is a servant girl, and Giles from “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” (eeee!) plays King Uther.
The first thing I noticed was how inaccurate it was to the original myth, but this is nothing new. Listen, the one thing that nerds like me hate more than anything is inaccuracy, and this is something that hardcore geeks share. You mess up something that we love, and you will pay for it. Star Wars geeks know tiny details that no one would think is important, but they are, okay? Have you ever heard someone say, ‘Oh that movie was good, but the book was so much better?’
Why is it that inaccuracy seems to be the only way to get these things made? If they were popular enough to gain attention in the first place from studios, there has to be something worthwhile in the original story…right?
Take My Sister’s Keeper, a movie which just came out based on a well known book by Jodi Picoult. This is a shameless tear jerker, very well done in fact, but it completely changes the ending of the book. The original ending is a bit darker and more bittersweet rather than just plain punching you in the emotional stomach, and therefore not the expectant ending for a Hollywood film. Is there something wrong with not doing the usual dramatic turn for a film? The book had a greater impact than the movie ever would because it doesn’t try to prey on your emotion; in fact, it hits you so hard you don’t know if you can feel anything in particular. That’s why it works. That’s probably why the movie is getting mixed reviews.
Then you look at “The Tudors,” a very successful Showtime show, and this is an example, like “True Blood” when diverting from the original text is important. In “The Tudors” sense it is based in human history, which can often be chaotic with several different “official” reports and just a liiiiittle boring. So they took King Henry VIII and the sexiest/darkest parts of his personality and reign, and then just had a ball. The Kingdom is full of danger and twists and turns and Henry may be handsome, but he’s a ball of rage just waiting to strike out and behead the nearest wife. A lot of historical figures are ignored, blended with others for a single character, or altered slightly in their quest on the show. It works for entertainment, because it keeps the show exciting and doesn’t bog viewers down with two hundred unnecessary manservants or soldiers. Is it perfect or even remotely accurate? Not really. Is it good TV? Yes. Do I really want to see him bloat out and become a giant redheaded monster like the real Henry VIII? Kind of. Will they do it? They’ll never mar Jonathan Rhys-Meyers‘ beautiful face!
Then there’s “True Blood” which is based on a fantasy book series, and in general ways it follows the formula fairly well. Each book seems to take place in a single season, and the characters from the pages are there. The best change that Alan Ball did to that show was bringing the secondary, ill-defined characters and making them regulars. Tara doesn’t even come into the series until the second book, but it is hard to imagine the show without her acerbic wit and difficult mother problems. Lafayette was a small character, barely one dimensional, and now he’s a fan favorite that managed not to get himself killed in the season premiere, unlike the book. But without him the show would be lessened, so that glaring error is forgiven.
See, there are ways to be inaccurate but still respectful of the text…most of the time. You just have to prove that your version is better for your medium. Prove that cutting out things helps the show/movie, rather than the film Watchmen, which didn’t make the full impact it deserved because the cuts detracted from the overall story. Fans are ruthless. We love what we love, and we will fight you to the death for it. But show a little respect, some attempt at loving the subject too, and you’ll be more like Christopher Nolan than Brett Ratner. Geeky fans are unforgiving people, and they are who can make or break your project.
You can’t say I didn’t warn you.