Monthly Archives: December 2012

The Hobbit: Narrative Validation or Vandalism? «concluding observations»

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☞ Again, adaptation becomes an issue… How close is the film to the original? When should this become an issue? Or, to put it in the terms of this review, when does a film begin to “vandalise” the original?

“What began as a necessary fleshing out of narrative allusions and foreshadowing to effectively translate literature into a movie ended up as Jackson’s sheer invention and gratuitous abuse of the characters, all of whom sword fight more often than Conan the Barbarian and more bloodily than Leonidas. If Thorin had shouted in the midst of battle with the Goblins, “Dwarves! Tonight we dine in Mordor!” no one in the audience would have been the least bit surprised. Zorro and the Three Musketeers had less skill with a blade in hand-to-hand combat than do these Dwarves, Gandalf or at times, Bilbo Baggins.

The only scenes where Jackson manages genuine fidelity to the story are the ones with Gollum, Bilbo and their Riddle-Game – perhaps out of fear of trivializing his previous movies, Tolkien’s actual dialogue and plot enters the script before vanishing again into a Jacksonian cinematic homage to every American action movie ever made. No wonder Christopher Tolkien looks on with weary despair.”

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Christopher Nolan’s Following, from Film School Rejects’ “Year in Review: The Best of Criterion in 2012”

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☞ It’s the end of the year, and writers and periodicals produce lists of the best (or worst) films of the year. In Film School Rejects’ “Year in Review: The Best of Criterion in 2012,” the most narratively interesting brief review is of Christopher Nolan’s first feature film, Following.

“Earlier in his filmmaking career Christopher Nolan was drawing comparisons to Quentin Tarantino in his toying with writing structure by breaking up his linear story line into movable chunks that could be mixed and matched to move the story forward to a more entertaining effect than had the story been told in sequence. Also like Tarantino it was with his second feature film that Nolan would make his more prominent impact. While the two would separate themselves from comparison beyond that point their roots remain planted in similar soil.

In Following Nolan tells of a writer who chooses to stalk people to assist in getting material to write about. In doing so he meets a professional thief who gives our unsuspecting writer a tour in the life of a criminal. Like in his second feature, Memento, Nolan does a fine job of locating the climax in his story and ensuring that while the plot doesn’t follow a sequential timeline, the events that occur are told to us as they should be in order to accommodate a familiar, expected, and enjoyable rhythm. – Adam Charles

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‘On the Road’: Writing as a Way of Life | Jesse Hassenger

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☞ The difficulties of adapting a cinematic narrative from another medium can be seen in Walter Salles’ adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. The difficulty faced here is not that the film veers too far away from the original narrative, which was inspired by non-fictional events — to the extent that one questions its truthfulness, as in the case of Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty — but that it stays too close to it. In this regard, some parts of the film suffer cinematically, or could even be seen, as argued in this review, as engaging in a losing competition with the language of Kerouac’s original narrative.

On the Road does not bind itself by rules of traditional cinematic narrative.

But it’s also shaped by the difficulties of adapting such a book for the screen. It includes many shots of Sal at a typewriter, much dialogue about being a writer, and even more voiceover narration taken directly from the book’s prose. Besides their clunkiness, these devices put the movie in direct competition with Kerouac’s words; even when Riley reads them nicely, it’s more a testament to their power than the film’s.”

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Movie Review: Rurouni Kenshin is a hack and slash live-action treat | Mikhail Lecaros | GMA News

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☞ The accuracy in the depiction of non-fictional narratives boils down to the crucial similarities between the two narratives. In a similar vein, films that have been converted from another medium, even if the original medium involves moving images, usually involve changes, as the following article, on the life-action feature film version of a televisual animé series, illustrates.

“The bulk of the film takes its plot from the anime’s first two story arcs, with a few sequences lifted directly from the OVA (original video animation) mini-series that chronicled the protagonist’s bloody backstory for good measure.”

“Sadly, fan-favorite characters Saito Hajime (a pitch-perfect Yosuke Eguchi) and Sanosuke get short shrift in their big-screen debuts. In the case of Saito, the former Shinsengumi captain-turned-police officer’s personal history-based storyline with Kenshin is condensed to the point of near irrelevance, his very presence hovering dangerously close to glorified fan service.

This is especially evident during the final battle where, after much build-up, his big moment is so awkwardly edited and executed, I had trouble figuring out what I’d just seen. Fortunately, Sanosuke, despite randomly popping in and out of the plot as necessary, gets several applause-worthy moments.”

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Zero Dark Thirty and truthfulness 3: Review by Michael Wolff — “this torture fantasy degrades us all”

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☞ Finally, a review of the film, highlighting the fact that inaccuracy may affect the artistic integrity of a film. It’s not merely the non-issue of American senators or the CIA director who may not know how to appreciate movies, but a film does leave a yawning aesthetic gap if the historical accuracy of its central events is questionable, especially if it claims to be based “on a true story.” (See also, the related articles below)

Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal‘s film claims to be ‘based on a true story’ but no non-fiction writer could take such liberties

“Zero Dark Thirty is a dreary and predictable movie (predictable even beyond that we know Osama bin Laden‘s fate). Also, it’s a bit copy-cat. It’s Homeland without the character quirks. (“OK… picture this… Homeland… but the girl isn’t nuts – just super-focused. What about that?” is something like how the screenwriter, Mark Boal, must have pitched it.)

The controversy about the movie involves its unambiguous cause and effect assertion that the torture of al-Qaida principals and hangers on was the key to finding Osama bin Laden – ie: torture works. Pretty much everybody in the intelligence community in a position to say this isn’t true has said it isn’t. And then there’s the girl-alone-against-the-world narrative: Maya, our heroine, thinks about nothing else but Osama bin Laden for almost 10 years and because of this single-minded obsession, American forces are able to find and kill him. That according to everybody and anybody, and to common sense, is hogwash too.

A non-fiction writer couldn’t do this. If you did this and maintained, to the extent that the makers of Zero Dark Thirty appear to maintain, that this was true, and with as little documentary evidence, either no one would publish you or you would have to invent evidence to get published. And then, you’d invariably be found out, scandal would ensue and your name would be blackened.

Movies, on the other hand, even when they represent themselves to be non-fiction like Zero Dark Thirty, are still what we accept as a “dramatization”, so therefore not really real. How that is different from a non-fiction author using novelizing techniques to bring to life his story – and subsequently being humiliated by Oprah when he turns out to have significantly stretched the truth – I don’t know.

It certainly isn’t that this is just mere suspension of disbelief and that, when the lights go on, we go back to known reality. In fact, Zero Dark Thirty, wrapped in the great praise that invariably accompanies middle-brow claptrap claiming to cope with the big issues of the day, will compete as a true narrative for how al-Qaida was dealt with and Osama dispatched. (Similarly, The Social Network, an almost entirely made-up version of the founding of Facebook, has pretty much become the rosetta stone of social-media history.)

Notably, the makers of this silly, stick-figure and cartoonish movie, director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Boal, are not out on talk shows defending the verisimilitude of their film. Their affect – which perhaps journalists caught in the act of making things up ought to study – is much more sphinx-ike. They are artists and don’t have to lower themselves to defend or respond.”

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Zero Dark Thirty and truthfulness 2: The CIA responds

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“[Acting CIA Director Michael] Morell slammed the Oscar-contender, which he said “departs from reality,” for suggesting that “enhanced interrogation techniques,” or what some would call torture, “were the key” to locating and killing the Al Qaeda leader.

The film, which hit theaters Dec. 19, shows agents using waterboarding and other extreme techniques to force Guantanamo Bay detainees to speak.

“That impression is false,” Morell wrote. “And, importantly, whether enhanced interrogation techniques were the only timely and effective way to obtain information from those detainees, as the film suggests, is a matter of debate that cannot and never will be definitively resolved.”

The acting CIA director also blasted “Zero Dark Thirty” for taking “considerable liberties in its depiction of CIA personnel and their actions, including some who died while serving our country.”

“We cannot allow a Hollywood film to cloud our memory of them,” he added.

Morell’s note comes just two days after three senators, Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), John McCain (R-Az.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.), condemned the flick for being “grossly inaccurate and misleading” in suggesting that torture led to the May 2011 killing of bin Laden by Navy SEAL Team 6.”

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Zero Dark Thirty and truthfulness 1: McCain’s response

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☞ Authenticity or truthfulness seems to be a major theme of responses to some recent films. The following is one of the preliminary responses to Zero Dark Thirty: that its depiction of the CIA is false. Senator John McCain also criticises the film’s inauthenticity with regard to its negative propaganda value for the United States.

“One of the most eagerly-anticipated movies of the holiday season, Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, is getting very positive critical reviews ahead of its release, and it has emerged as an early Oscar contender. However, critics of the film are alleging it paints a misleading picture of the role of torture in getting the intelligence that led to tracking down Osama bin Laden. John McCain told Greta Van Susteren tonight that he has serious concerns with the portrayal of torture in the film, and has sent a letter to the head of Sony, the movie studio behind the film.

McCain explained that he watched the film, and it depicts very graphic torture scenes and waterboarding carried out by CIA interrogators, and the implication of the film is that torture was a “major factor” in receiving critical intelligence that led to the raid on bin Laden’s compound. He stated plainly that no important information related to bin Laden was a result of torture, and suggested the filmmakers received “bad information” in researching the film.
Van Susteren asked McCain what he is trying to accomplish with his letter to the head of Sony Pictures. McCain said the filmmakers should acknowledge that they had inaccurate information, despite the remarkable level of access they had from the CIA.

McCain made it clear that even if any important information was obtained as a result of torture, the fact that the United States is torturing people “harms the image of the United States.””

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