adaptations, Hugo style

A couple weeks ago they came out with the main cast of the new Les Mis BBC miniseries that’ll be coming out sometime in the next few years. Filming apparently starts this February on-location in France and Belgium.

Guys, I am yelling about this.

Which, you know, isn’t surprising given that I’m a humungous nerd about the book. A tv mini/series gives you the chance to spread out and really delve into the fun details of a monster like Les Mis (they call it “the brick” for a reason – the unabridged novel is almost 531,000 words long). And while the musical adaptation is a lot of fun, and there have been scads of movie adaptations in the last four decades, most of them haven’t … well … really been all that accurate to the book.

I know, I know. Treat adaptations like they’re completely separate entities and you’ll have more fun. It worked with Neil Gaiman books like Coraline and Stardust, it worked (mostly) with the Harry Potter series, it worked with Wicked by Gregory Maguire. The book-to-movie or book-to-musical transition, which naturally involves snipping a lot of things to make sure it’s at the generally accepted 2-3 hour time limit, means that something’s gotta give. And that’s only taking the plot and characters into account, let alone the execution.

Anytime that you switch media, there are going to be changes you have to make. A graphic novel transmutes fine to a movie or tv series because it’s essentially a storyboard; a novel transmutes fine to a podcast because it’s essentially a script. But going from something with only one medium (pure words, pure sound, that mix with the reader/listener’s imagination to produce an experience unique to each individual that consumes it) to something multimedia (words and image, or image and sound) means that the image in the reader’s head isn’t going to match what you see on stage or screen. How can it? Unless we develop telepathic technology to project our imaginations onto a screen, there’s no way to tailor-fit someone else’s thoughts into a movie. Even a movie or stage director won’t be able to do that exactly, because the actors or the set designers or someone will throw in something different. And sometimes the things that other person thinks up are really awesome. I sure wouldn’t have pegged Coraline for a stop-motion adaptation. But inevitably there’s going to be somebody complaining that the adaptation “isn’t what I pictured.”

The time constraints create the biggest changes, though, and these can make or break an adaptation. Cutting down a megalith like Les Mis into a two-hour movie or a three-hour musical is … well, that’s why a miniseries or a full tv show is a better multimedia idea, just off the top of my head. I mean, heck, just look at the Mortal Instruments series, or A Series of Unfortunate Events. Both had movie adaptations that kinda bombed at the box office, but that are doing really quite well on the small screen. (I still need to watch ASOUE on Netflix … one more New Year’s resolution, I suppose.) It gives the adaptation creators a chance to really take their time with all of the plot.

Wicked the musical and Stardust the movie? Almost completely unrecognizable from their original books. I found the adaptations more enjoyable, but then again I’m prejudiced; as much as I respect Maguire and Gaiman’s writing (and I can’t thank Neil Gaiman enough for introducing me to Terry Pratchett’s books), I … really just don’t have a taste for a lot of the weird stuff that went on in Wicked and Stardust. Sorry, but nihilism and unhappy endings just aren’t my cup of tea. I’m an escapist at heart. And probably, for all the same reasons that I love the adaptations, other people might think they’re too saccharine and dopey and prefer the original books. Whoops. To each their own.

Les Mis? Well …

… This requires a Part 2.

Stay tuned.