October 2007

Liz Miller

hollywood madam

Childhood Classics Can Be Traumatic: The Dark is Rising, and a Call for Young Adult Adaptation Anguish

I have a confession to make. When I started working on this column, I was doing it for the explicit purpose of making fun of people.

See, there I was, casually web-surfing, when I came across this breakdown of the changes being made to The Dark is Rising for the sake of adaptation. I knew nothing about the movie or book, but Livejournal user klandra_fire seemed, to me, a little overworked about the whole scenario. After all, without any emotional attachment to Susan Cooper's repurposing of Arthurian mythology, changes like the addition of a sword cane sound nothing short of awesome.

So, let me be completely forthright in my confession: I was going to give Dark is Rising fans shit about being unrealistic and hysterical. In short, I was going to mock them because they were fans. Given my own tendencies towards fan-oriented hysteria, that might have been a little hypocritical of me. And I felt guilty about it -- guilty enough to sit down and read the damn book.

But I was about two-thirds through The Dark is Rising before coming to the conclusion that while the book is lovely, it could never work on film without some changes. On the page, "Will's powers lie with his words and in trying to be in the right place at the right time" may be enough to keep the tension of a scene going, but filmic storytelling is ultimately action-based, and saying something at the right time isn't much of a climax in this context. Most of Will's confrontations with the villainous Dark Rider consist of extended staring contests and psychic shouting. It's not exactly a visual work.

However, when properly processing the aforementioned list of changes, it does seem like director David Cunningham and writer John Hodge stepped over the line. I can see the justification for a large number of the modifications (which mostly seemed geared towards increasing conflict and tension), but in total it's a pretty dramatic reinvention of the story. For one thing, instead of learning about his powers by magically absorbing the content of an ancient text, our young hero learns about "the light and the dark" by Googling it. For real.

So I come away from this with a slightly better understanding of where the Dark is Rising fans are coming from. But I'm still unable to empathize completely. Why? Because I am a lucky lucky duck, whose childhood favorites have never been sodomized. Most of my dearly beloved, such as the more obscure Roald Dahl classics or Lois Lowry's Anastasia series, have been ignored by the studio system, and the TV movie adaptation of The Westing Game was completely ignored by the world.

So I've been trying to think of an adapted franchise that inspires in me an anger equal to the Dark is Rising fans, and I can't really do it. So I'm wondering -- what am I forgetting? Seriously. I'm asking you.

Consider this a survey of sorts. Drop me an email at childhoodfavs@lizlet.com, telling me what young adult adaptation most dropped the ball for you, and I'll compile the most interesting responses for the next column. Interesting can mean pretty anything. Points for conciseness and creativity.

If I can think of a really awesome prize for the best response, I'll dole it out. But isn't bitching on the Internet about something that pisses you off enough reward?

Yeah, I thought so. That email address once again is childhoodfavs@lizlet.com.

And in the meantime, don't go see The Dark is Rising. I mean, The Seeker. Critics agree -- you'll be doing yourself a favor.