Guest Blog – Sciffy Veteran, Gavin Smith…

Don’t go the cinema! 

They’re destroying your favourite books there!  Constantine, From Hell, and Gods, what have they done to the poor League of Extraordinary Gentlemen!?  And that’s just the graphic novels.  Mr. Moore, the crimes committed against your literature pale in comparison to the crimes committed again Philip K. Dick: for every Blade Runner a Total Recall, for every Through A Scanner Darkly a Paycheck (John Woo, why hast thou forsaken us?)  The cinema is destroying genre fiction.  It’s probably best to burn them all.

Except.  I suspect I could find someone who liked Total Recall, though I hope I would have to look harder to find someone who liked Paycheck (or at least liked Paycheck and didn’t have some kind of vendetta again old Horselover Fat) and if I’m honest the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film seemed like average Hollywood fare to me.  The script was dreadful but the set pieces were alright, though symptomatic of Hollywood’s increasingly cavalier attitude to physics.  I actually quite liked the design though, like most Steampunk, too clean for my tastes (but that’s a rant for another day).  See the thing is I’ve not read the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen so I’ve got less invested in it.  I will however get round to reading it and my righteous indignation at the dreadful adaptation of it will be felt the length and breadth of Britain wherever geeks, like myself, gather to whinge about how Hollywood have screwed up another good book or comic.

But what are we actually complaining about?  When we say “they’ve” done it badly, what we mean is: it’s not how we would have done it.  But what we actually mean is that what we are seeing on the screen is not how we imagined it to be in the cinemas in our head.  The director had a different vision to us and a studio has probably interfered with it to make it more “commercial”.  The dastards!  In many ways the most heartbreaking thing is it’s no longer just for us.  It can’t be just for us, there are not enough of us.  Now it’s for everyone and that means change.

So don’t go to the cinema.

I have a friend.  This friend was named for a character in Lord of the Rings.  We will call this friend Bombadil.  As you can imagine school was hard for Bombadil (okay I admit it, my friend’s name isn’t really Bombadil, nobody hates their children that much) but they are named for one of the characters in the book, my friend had hippy parents).  As you can imagine Lord of the Rings is an important book to my friend.  My friend has never seen the films.  The book is so important to their life and, to a degree, their identity, that they didn’t want it messed with by anyone else’s interpretation other than their own.  Extreme?  Perhaps, but do you see Harrison Ford when you read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  Do you see Daniel Radcliffe when you read Harry Potter or Liv Tyler when you read Lord of the Rings?    There’s no doubt about it – a film adaptation plays with your perception of the original book.

So don’t go to the cinema.

But of course we will and we’ll get angry and we’ll write about it in blogs and talk about it at conventions and stalk the director of the film with pain in our hearts and a gun in our hands (okay don’t do that, well, maybe if the director’s Michael Winner. If nothing else it will be ironic).  Besides film adaptations aren’t all bad, some are even better than the books.  The Crow, Once Were Warriors, Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil (though they will hang you in Savannah, Georgia for suggesting this), Lord of the Rings (sorry Bombadil) and I like my alien psychic death squid as much as the next man but the film ending of Watchman is more elegant.  Or maybe, with the exception of Watchmen and LOTR, I just came to the above books through the films so I already had film interference in the cinema in my head when I read them.

My debut novel Veteran would make a kick arse film that you would all want to see if it were made my way.  I know who I would like to see cast in all the principle rolls.  I know who I would like to direct it.  (I’ll give you a clue it’s a director who has a talent for making the fantastical look plausible.  If you think you know who it is from that vague description then drop me an e-mail, the address is on my site, and I’ll send the first correct answer a signed copy of Veteran.  Only one guess each mind.)  However, the only way to make sure that the film was made exactly how I wanted to see it would be to finance and direct it myself and I suspect I would then struggle to get distribution.  (Not to mention I wouldn’t want to direct it and if I could afford to finance it I’d probably do something else with my money.  Something productive.  Like start my own freaky sex cult on an island in the pacific close to good dive sites.  Thank goodness I didn’t admit that publicly, phew!)

A bit of background:  I love film, my educational background is in film and I have worked on the periphery of the, mainly low budget, film industry for many years.  Mostly as a dog’s body or a pyrotechnician.  I have also sold the options to three of my feature length scripts, though nothing has been made yet, unless you count the odd promotional video; and it was an odd promotional video.

My opinion is, and at the end of the day that’s all any of our vehement dislikes are, that I can only be so precious about an adaptation or a script after I have sold the rights.  I will give my opinion on things if asked but it becomes the filmmaker’s story in their hands and then it becomes the audience’s story if/when they see it.  This is not to say I don’t value what I have written, just that you have to divorce yourself from it to a degree if you’re prepared to sell the rights; if for no other reason than emotional protection when you see this thing that you’ve worked so hard over, probably have a love/hate relationship with already, turned into something that you don’t like.  (In defence of Alan Moore I don’t think he had control of the rights at the time any of them were sold to film companies, so he’s got a legitimate grievance.)

So if Veteran were made into a film (and there is a reasonable amount of interest) I would probably try and influence the process as much as I could, depending on the deal, to get it made the way I see it because you have to fight for your own creations.  That influence, at best, would be an opinion or advice in the role of executive producer.  More likely I’d have nothing to do with it and I’d be lucky to get invited to the premier.

If I don’t like the final result then there’s only so much I can complain about because I chose to sell it.  Of course if this actually happens I will fully turn hypocrite and rail mightily to all who will listen to me in the pub.

Still it couldn’t be worse than Paycheck and it might be a whole new way of looking at Veteran that I’d never considered.  For example Veteran the musical!

So go to the cinema because there’s a lot of good stuff on, and some of the stuff that’s not so good is still quite entertaining.  But if you love the book then remember you can always do something else that night (stay in and read Veteran for example) because Hollywood can’t get to the cinema in your head unless you let them.

I would just like to say thanks to Andy for giving me this chance to rant, much appreciated.

Thanks to Sonia Gibbon for looking over the article.  Mistakes remain mine own.

www.gavingsmith.co.uk

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