how to make a movie, from a book

First, throw out the book.

I’m reading Under the Skin (mostly because it popped up on my Kindle for a really good price one day), and it’s made me think again about what makes a good movie adaptation of a novel.

With really popular books (Hunger Games, Harry Potter) the studios obviously decide to make the movie absolutely as faithful to the book, in every detail, as possible. This is understandable, but this method almost never leads to a really great movie (there are exceptions — The Maltese Falcon comes to mind). On the other hand, obviously it can lead to the studio making pots of money.

In the movie of Under the Skin, a nameless woman drives around Scotland picking up male hitchhikers. She chats them up, finding out if they would be missed if they vanished.

If not, she brings them to her room, which is so completely black that it seems to recede into infinite space. She walks in slowly, removing her clothes, and the man follows her, removing his clothes. The man gradually sinks into the floor, which is apparently solid under her but liquid under him. Then, when the guy is gone, she retraces her steps, picking up the discarded clothes.

We never find out exactly who she is or why this is going on, though she’s clearly an alien.

I’m only a quarter of the way through the book, and I already know her name (Isserley), and a lot more about what she’s doing, and how, and why she’s allowed herself to be (to her humiliation) surgically altered into this repulsive form. Her methods are very different, too (much more mundane: no featureless black room and no nudity).

A movie that was a literal adaptation of the book would have probably been fairly pedestrian, and a prose adaptation of the movie would have been a very short and probably tedious novella.

But the movie works at what a movie should try for — being a good movie.

2) Here’s more on the upcoming Captain Marvel movie, which I talked about last time:

Meet Captain Marvel: Fighter Pilot, Feminist and Marvel’s Big Gamble

“She’s a control freak with a big ego and a quick temper.”

This is why I’m so hopeful about this movie. Not because, hey, finally a superhero movie about a woman (though that is pretty cool), but because Captain Marvel is such a specific woman, as individual a character as Iron Man or Magneto or Wolverine (as they have been portrayed in the movies).

Unless they screw it up.

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