April 18, 2012

Reimagination

This past Friday most of my family - my brother, sister, brother-in-law, and cousin, to be precise - went to the theater to see "The Hunger Games." However, my sister-in-law and I not being theater-going people, we opted to stay behind and watch "Treasure Planet" with my six-year-old niece and three-year-old nephew. (I do realize that some of you are thinking, "Good heavens, she gave up The Hunger Games in favor of watching Treasure Planet? Is she crazy?" This was the general assessment among my siblings, too, but that's alright.)

"Treasure Planet," silly children's movie though it may be, is one of my favorite films and was my first introduction to Treasure Island. For years the only reason I knew anything about Stevenson's classic novel was because of "Treasure Planet." Having recently read the book for myself, and not having watched the movie in some time, I was interested to see how closely this re-imagining of the story kept to the plot itself. After all, my reputation is staked as being very much opposed to re-interpretations of classics and I would have to be appropriately outraged if too many liberties were taken.

Because changing a story's setting from sea to space and an island to a planet, not to mention replacing half the characters with aliens, isn't a large liberty at all.

At any rate, we settled in with our pudding parfaits to watch the movie. The first part of it was spent in freaking out over whether or not my niece was going to freak out: she was none too sure about the aliens, although Silver's cyborg eye was much appreciated. My nephew, on the other hand, was all for the movie because he had been impressed with the idea that there were going to be rockets. I don't think the solar-powered "space-ships" quite measured up, but he was excited by them, all the same. The guns got his attention, too; he gave me a water pistol and got a Nerf gun for himself, so we were prepared to take on anything that might come through the screen. The conversations went something like this:

James: "Are you weady?"
Me: "Okay, I'm ready!"
J: "Don't be weady, 'cause they're not firing yet."
M: "Okay, I'm not ready!"

or...

James: "I think he dwopped his gun!"
Me: "No, he just put it back in his belt."
J: "SHOOT! SHOOT!"
M: "They're not shooting, they're talking!"
J: "...Are they gonna shoot?"

B.E.N., the robot interpretation of the marooned Ben Gunn, was another hit with the children, although James didn't quite grasp the idea that he was a good guy. Thus another conversation...

James: "If that wobot comes through the scween, I'm going to SHOOT HIM."
Me: "But he's a good guy!"
J: "...Yeah, but if he comes through the scween, I'm gonna SHOOT HIM!"

In the end we all had a good time - even my niece, although she was rather alarmed at the idea of going to bed afterward. I think my sister-in-law and I had the most fun out of the four, as we were better able to understand what was going on. And I came away with an appreciation for what the producers had done with Stevenson's story. Certainly not everyone agrees with me (people tend to roll their eyes when I mention the movie), but I find "Treasure Planet" to be one of the few instances where the movie-makers have made improvements on the original story. While reading the book there were only two things I wasn't thrilled with: Jim himself and how he relates to Silver. Jim is fairly typical: a decent and well-mannered boy who gets into an adventure and, through it, is forced to become a man. The development of his friendship with and respect for Silver is more stated than shown, perhaps because the voyage to Treasure Island is passed over so swiftly in order for the adventure to really begin.

The screenwriters of "Treasure Planet" changed both these things. In re-imagining the story, they made it less a straight-up adventure (which is what Stevenson wrote) in favor of adding nuances to the characters themselves. Jim Hawkins becomes a rebellious teen, bent on proving himself by finding Treasure Planet; Silver becomes the father-figure Jim has never had. In this the producers were probably pandering to sentimentalism, but the fact is that it works for the story. It gives both characters more dimension and makes the discovery that Silver is a pirate more cutting for Jim. In the process, the movie is made more emotionally engaging.

Re-imagining any story is a tricky business: any major changes, even to subplots, tend to alter the whole thrust of the story. Though "Treasure Planet" is one of the few cases where I have enjoyed these alterations, I still have to admit that those alterations have indeed been made. It is no longer the unfettered, fast-paced adventure that Stevenson tended to write, but rather the sentimental and complex story that most people nowadays enjoy. Pulling Sherlock Holmes out from among the fogs and rattling coaches of Victorian England and plopping him down in the modern world of Google and mobile phones drastically changes the whole atmosphere of Arthur Conan Doyle's mysteries (sorry, Mirriam!). Adding green fog and seven swords to The Voyage of the 'Dawn Treader' turns the whole plot on its head.

Such changes can still be quite enjoyable, and I can't say otherwise. Still, it is interesting (and perhaps even worthwhile) to consider what the authors themselves would think if they could see what has been done with their works. Would Lewis like green fog? What on earth would Doyle think of the internet? And would cyborgs and solar-powered ships totally befuddle Stevenson? What would I think - what would you think - if, years down the road, my story were so drastically altered for the sake of its audience? Perhaps the question is pointless; and yet I think there is a point to taking the original authors into consideration whenever we're faced with some new re-imagining of their work. After all, they were the ones who wrote it to begin with. They deserve, at the very least, to be remembered and given credit for that.

13 comments:

  1. *gasp* ABIGAIL! Don't diss BBC's Sherlock! How dare ye! *grin* That's fine, I don't actually mind people who don't like them. I just... um.. disagree with them. In a friendly way. I LOVED this post (and the picture. Oh. My. Word. Owls AND Beatrix Potter!!!) I love new twists and re-writes, especially with fairytales; however, sometimes they're 1. Not original enough or 2. Just... 'don't work.' So yes; I heartily agree (with MOST of this post. XD)

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  2. Oh Abigail!!! I'm an Holmsie fan (go figuere, I call him MY Holmsie...)but the BBC doesn't bother me the same way the Downey Jr. one does.

    And yes, Treasure Planet. I like it better then the Island version, because T.I was kinda..uhm...boring.

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  3. *cringes at the mention of green fog and swords*

    I've never seen Treasure Planet, but I have seen the Muppet's Treasure Island; and I can't help but wonder if you've seen it, and what you think about that adaptation- especially on how they do the relationship between Jim and Silver. It's not completely a re-imagining but it's not a direct adaptation, either.

    But, yes, not all re-imaginations are bad...and not all are good, but it's all interesting.

    And I like BBC Sherlock! ;-)

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  4. Mirriam - I know, I'm a terrible person! It's a good thing you already sent off your letter; you might have decided not to write it if you'd read this first!

    I tend to panic over the idea of change in any form, so rewritten stories are naturally not my favorites. But I will admit that sometimes they can be re-imagined quite cleverly, especially in the case of ancient myths and fairytales and the like.

    (And isn't the owl adorable? I've been wanting to use that image for a while now.)

    Ashley - I started watching Sherlock, but it just wasn't my cup of tea. Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, I say!

    I enjoy both "Treasure Planet" and "Treasure Island," but I admit that I am more fond of the former. Characters tend to be my first love in any story, so I'm partial to the emphasis on characterization rather than plot.

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  5. I've only seen the latter half of BBC's Sherlock and so far I think it's cleverly done. Dawn Treader's my favourite Narnia book and I see nothing clever about the changes they made there with the green mist and swords (considering they changed the essence of the message). Having said that, I was less taken aback by them rearranging the order of the islands visited (there was some sense in that for cinematic purposes). So I guess the question is how differences effect the original story and message. What is the point of the changes and how do they reflect back on the author's intentions and or message?

    It's been a while since I last saw Treasure Planet, but putting the same characters into a different or modern setting, which shares similar characteristics to the original and yet is somewhat different, can be entertaining. The similarities between sea-travel and space-travel are self evident. I think too of the Bollywood-style film Bride and Prejudice. Perhaps not the best remake ever, but it does make use of the similarities between 19th C England and modern Indian society in a clever way, and by doing so retains some of the original intent/impact, especially for those who can relate to the new setting better than they could to the old.

    I'm keen to know what you think about Tangled (if you've seen it). I think it's a case where Disney did improve on the original tale, particularly on the ending. Because of their age, and the fact they are retold more frequently than newer stories, it is, in a sense, easier to retell classic fairy tales. But at the same time one must be careful because the retelling is not always going to be an improvement. Here, however, I think Disney got it right.

    As usual, a thought provoking and well written piece.

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  6. Rhoswen - Any resemblance to Muppets living or dead was entirely unintentional! I've never seen that version, although I was aware of its existence. (And I do seem to be in the minority of those who don't care for "Sherlock," don't I?)

    Ajnos - Fortunately I have succeeded in blocking most of the movie "Voyage of the 'Dawn Treader'" out of my memory, but I do remember that the rearrangement of the islands didn't bother me. It was everything else that did it! But I shan't get started on that, or I won't be able to stop.

    I very much enjoyed "Tangled." I'm not well-acquainted with the story of Rapunzel, but from what I have read, it doesn't sound like a kid-friendly tale! I think they did a good job "re-imagining" it for a young audience and gave it some clever twists. Certainly one of Disney's more original productions from the past few years!

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  7. We'll, I seem to be in the minority of those who don't like Hornblower, so I think we're even.

    As to Rapunzel being kid friendly...most publishers over the years have changed the one point that wouldn't make it kid friendly, so it can be. But even in the original tale, it's unclear if Rapunzel and the prince did get legally married somehow while she was in the tower or not until the end of the story, because some tellings say "they were married and he came to visit her every day after the witch would leave." Were they actually married or just "married"? But either way, when the prince finds Rapunzel and brings her home to his kingdom, there are twins in tow....unless you're reading one of changed-to-kid-friendly versions.

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  8. First thing is... You are not crazy. I so totally would trade seeing treasure planet for the Hunger Games. Mostly because I have never seen Treasure Planet and quite always very much wanted too (though I'm not terribly fond of Treasure Island. I know I'm weird.) And also because I'm rather sensitive, (I hard to work up to be able to watch the Lord of the Rings and still that was mostly monsters dying.) and the Hunger Games just didn't appeal to me at all. Sorry to all you Hunger Games Fans out there. L

    (I think back when Disney had a Narnia site for LWW they played "the map" from Treasure Planet soundtrack (after you clicked on the wardrobe) as you were going through the coats into Narnia.

    I really liked the title and post though I thought perhaps it might be it to be on the reimagining of classics like “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters” *shudders*

    I have not had too much experience with sherlock. (nor have I seen the BBC show)My experiences pretty much are being scared seriously (at really younge age) by a Video of the hound of the baskervilles that my brother put on. Likely because I didn't understand the story and because I was so offened at the end that someone had been cruel to a dog to cause the situation in the first place. (or something like that if I recall correctly.)Then later on reading an excerpt of a Sherlock mystery (I've forgotten the name.) later in a literature book that I enjoyed. (Oh and I forgot the great mouse detective.)

    And the movie Voyage of the Dawn Treader, (while I enjoyed it and like sections of it a great deal so I guess you could say I like it ) I do agree with you on the mist and seven swords. I think I understand the reasoning a bit. Yeah...I don't want to go on that tangent because this post is probably too long as it is...

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  9. I love Brett's Holmes, Cumberbatch's Sherlock, and Gruffudd's Hornblower. ;) I am almost a SH purist, but I'm in favor of any adaptation that stays true to the spirit of the book, as (IMHO) those two do. After all, SH in its own day was contemporary fiction involving such technology as they had. As for Hornblower, I must admit to preferring some of the major changes they made, especially involving the characters.

    VODT--that's a controversial one! :) The mist and swords were a bit cheesy; like my mom said, evil isn't something you can *see*. However, there is already so much fantasy in Narnia that it didn't bother me too much. There are several reasons VODT is my favorite Narnia film, and one of them is how they expounded upon "temptation from within" that Lucy struggled with in the book. It gives me some hope for the (hypothetical) Silver Chair adaptation, where there's a lot of resisting temptation and doubt.

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  10. Well, I like the BBC, but my favorite Holmesie is Basil Rathbone. I honestly have a crush on a man 80 years older then me, and long dead. Its a good thing Basil isn't alive now, or I'd go insane.

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  11. Honestly, the Hunger Games doesn't appeal to me at all either, so I'd understand if you rather watched something else :). I've never heard of Treasure Planet but it sounds intriguing! So is the movie adaption changing the Treasure Island more into a space story or did I misunderstand it?

    The ejaculations your nephew made are so cute. It must be a joy to share a favourite with the little ones <3, isn't it!

    It seems this isn't very popular, but even though I haven't actually seen the modern adaption of Sherlock Holmes series, what I've heard of it doesn't excite me at all. Yay, you like the 1980s version of Sherlock Holmes best, with Jeremy Brett! I personally think he IS Holmes, isn't he! That series is one of the best movie adaptions of books I've seen, other than LOTR which was good too.

    About the Voyage of the Dawn Treader film, yes, I agree that the added green mist was a bit cheesy sometimes but on the whole I loved it as a loose-adaption, and the second part of the film was very touching! Still, out of the three Narnia adaptions, it definitely was my least favourite of the films. Hmm, I was just reading some of my favourite scenes from the Silver Chair and I've been desperately wishing, wishing that they make a faithful adaption one day...

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  12. Lilly - I suppose that such books as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and its ilk fall under the category of "re-imagination," but I have so little respect for them that it didn't even enter my mind to mention them. I suppose I consider them less an adaptation or re-imagining and more a perversion of the original novels.

    Marian - I've never been able to feel any attachment to the later Hornblower movies, but I grew up on and am very fond of the first four. I haven't read any of the books yet; when I finish White Sail's I'll probably read at least Mr. Midshipman Hornblower. I began that some time ago and was struck by how very not "Gruffudd" the real Hornblower was. That was quite a disappointment!

    My parents enjoyed VotDT as well, but I just couldn't do it. Personally, I still love the (admittedly cheesy) BBC productions from the 80's and 90's and how closely they stuck to the stories, so I was already biased against any new productions.

    Ashley - I've actually never seen any of Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes. Like Joy said, Jeremy Brett is Holmes to me, so it's difficult to imagine anyone else in that role.

    Joy - Yes, "Treasure Planet" is "Treasure Island" in space. The world is described as parallel to ours, since the characters can breathe in space and use solar-powered "tall ships" rather than the conventional spaceships. It's a very cute movie.

    It was great fun watching the movie with the children. It's great to be able to share something I enjoy with them, and to know that they enjoyed it themselves. They're the best! (There's no bias showing there at all. Really.)

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  13. Abigail- Here! Here! I have little respect for them myself. Horrified to find they'd ruined Little Women (vampires) as well. I'm glad you feel the same as I.

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meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
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Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
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Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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