Ever have a polar opposite reaction to something someone shared with you? Perhaps a friend urged you to read a book he found life changing or watch a movie she truly resonated with, then having tried it, you discovered you disliked it immensely. Maybe like me you questioned yourself, wondering how you could dislike something your wonderful friend loves so much.
That has happened to me with books I won’t name here that friends loved and I didn’t finish because I didn’t like them. In case you’re wondering, if I don’t like a book, I don’t finish it, unless my loathing for it is a late discovery, the book having taken an unexpected and unwelcome turn.
There have been many movies that reviewers loved and highly recommended that I loathed. I was prepared to loathe a recent Netflix adaptation, since the book adapted is my favorite of those written by the author. I didn’t like what the trailer showed, which told me the main character’s personality was markedly different from the book. (And yes, I know the book and the character well enough that a trailer would show that.) I told myself I would never watch the film because I didn’t want to see a dumpster fire made out of one of my favorite books. But I gave in after reading an article online on the subject of why viewers should see the film. Nevertheless, I didn’t have a good reaction to what the person said about the need to “freshen up” the story (hence the changes in the adaptation).
I was immediately reminded of Clueless, an adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel, Emma, which changed the setting to the twentieth century. I loved the novel Emma and I loved Clueless. The issue for me about Clueless is that though the situation changed to fit our times, the main character’s personality did not change. Cher (played by Alicia Silverstone) is a wealthy, likable young woman who thinks she knows all about matchmaking but is horribly . . . well . . . clueless. That is how she is in the book.
By now, you might guess the film that I have yet to name. And I still won’t. Even if you guess it, I will neither confirm nor deny. I watched it, and my immediate thought was, Can you dislike something and find it entertaining at the same time? I found that to be the case with this film. People who know nothing of the book but love adaptations of this era might be entertained, especially with the gorgeous scenery and well-known actors. People who know the book might also enjoy it. Or hate it.
For me the arch looks, smiles, and clever, sarcastic quips of the main character seemed antithetical to the character I sympathized with in the book. This is where I took umbrage to the remark to “freshen up” the story. You see, I went through what this character went through, which is what drew me to the story in the first place. I felt sad and broken and filled with regret. Therefore, I didn’t like the twenty-first century moralizing as the character archly judged other characters in ways people probably wouldn’t have done at that time. If “freshening up” a story means revamping the personality of the main character, you can keep your adaptation as far as I’m concerned.
The issue I have with some modern adaptations is the avoidance of deep emotion or weakness in a character. Characters must seem strong and clever most of the time, even while telling us how sad they are. (Insert laugh track here, since we gotta have humor.)
This is why I loved Dune 2021. I know I talk about that movie a lot. There are aspects I love about it way more than the first book. In interviews and books the director (Denis Villeneuve) and crew discuss their love for the source material, which inspired them to produce the film I instantly loved the moment I saw it.
Okay. Enough of my opinion. I feel like Negative Nelly here. You might have a completely different opinion about this movie. But that’s where I am. And I know how easy it is to criticize something I haven’t done much myself (screenwriting). I just feel sad that I didn’t quite get what I had hoped to see—a great adaptation of a book I love.
Polar opposites Venn diagram from iSLCollective. Clueless and Dune 2021 movie posters found somewhere on the internet. Other photos by L. Marie.