Sunday, January 31, 2010

Two of a Kind

On Wednesday, author J.D. Salinger died. Salinger was best known as the author of The Catcher in the Rye which I must have read at least part of at some point in my life. I do remember reading the first part of Franny and Zooey, although I really don't remember anything about the book. At the time, I happened to be suck in the bathroom for an extended period of time. For future reference, don't order a rare steak at a cheap diner. I know El has copies of both books, as well as Nine Stories, so perhaps I'll get around to reading some of Salinger's works eventually.

I am more familiar with Salinger as a character in W.P. Kinsella's book Shoeless Joe which is the source for the movie Field of Dreams. The main character in the book, Ray Kinsella, travels to the New Hampshire home of the reclusive Salinger. In the movie, Salinger's character is replaced by the fictional Terence Mann played by James Earl Jones. (Jones is not dead, even though his character in an episode of House was killed by Dr. Chase). Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, fulfills Mann's childhood dream of attending a Boston Red Sox game at Finway Park. Then after a stop in Minnesota, they travel back to Kinsella's home in Iowa where he has carved out the baseball field in the middle of his corn field.

I think that Shoeless Joe and Field of Dreams fall into that rare category of movie adaptions that are better than the original book. In most cases, movies are pale comparisons of their sources. Examples of movies that are poor reflections of their source material are the adaptions of books by Michael Crichton or John Grisham. I think there are several reason movies fail to live up to their source material. One reason is that full-length novels are really too long to be converted into two-hour movies. Much of the plot must be reworked and shortened to fit into the allotted time space. Often subplots not considered essential have to be dropped altogether. I think short stories and novellas make better source materials for movies. Regardless of the length, written material has another major downfall for the film format. Thoughts and internal dialog are easily expressed by written words but have to be expressed in movies using the dreaded voice-over or a lengthy monologue. Otherwise, the same ideas have to be converted to dialog between characters. In the case of Field of Dreams, I think the movie is improved by trimming up the plot of Shoeless Joe. Mostly though, the film is better because the book lacks the epic monologue by James Earl Jones on baseball.

The only other book and movie pair that I think falls into the movie-is-better category is Forrest Gump. The book by Winston Groom was turned into the multiple-award-winning movie starring Tom Hanks. The book and its sequel, Gump & Co., are more slapstick comedy with the title character being more of a big lug. The movie version maintains the comedic feel, but adds more touching moments. Also, Hanks brings a more sympathetic feel to Gump. In addition to Field of Dreams and Forrest Gump, two other things that I group together for an obscure reason are Elton John's Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting and Helter Skelter by the Beatles. Both songs are harder-rocking departures for Elton John and Paul McCartney, neither of which are exactly Led Zepplin.

Random Thoughts: While thinking about Helter Skelter and then Charles Manson, I had the thought that there is no such thing as good and evil. Of course, the same thought has occurred to many people throughout history. Instead of absolute good and absolute evil, each individual person has his or her own concepts of right and wrong. The best that can be hoped for is to have a majority of people agree on those basic concepts. Even that situation is fraught with uncertainty. Imagine a society where the majority of people belonged to a religion that revolved around human sacrifice and sex with children. Instead of murder and child molestation being the epitome of evil, they would be holy acts. The victims of those horrendous crimes would be celebrated for giving their bodies to the glory of whichever god or gods. Also, the perception of some actions can change as society and religion evolve. An example is Christianity's views regarding alcohol. The consumption of alcohol is central to the Bible which may have been written by a bunch of drunks. Christianity even considers wine is to be the blood of Christ. Yet today, many Christian denominations frown on the consumption of alcohol if not forbidding it completely.

No comments:

Post a Comment