14 Jun 2010
The Book, the Movie, the Graphic Novel and Me
Was able to finish three versions of SHUTTER ISLAND in the last four months. I must say I was blown away when I read the book and was little skeptical when I read that Scorcese was going to direct the film. But somehow the film took the story onto a different plane. Yesterday I finished the graphic novel. The artist was someone for whom English is not the first language so his approach to the story was different from the film.
This set me thinking – how does a novel change when it is adapted to other formats. We have various examples of book to film but this was chance to test three mediums at one go. In this case the film and the graphic novel are much shorter than the novel so it was interesting to see what was left out and in the retelling how well do they tell the original story?
Of course this being a thriller, the surprise element for me was not there in the film and the graphic novel. I knew how the story ends.
The book is greatly detailed but like a radio play it leaves much to imagination. Words are fun since one can picture anything. A case in point was the Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy. Both the radio series and the books were leagues ahead of the television series and the film since the last two could not compete with our vivid imaginations.
In the case of SHUTTER ISLAND (the film) it has Leonardo DiCaprio. He would not have been my top choice - I may have liked a younger Russell Crowe. But somehow DiCaprio does manage to get his character right. It is just that towards the end they could have edited it down a bit.
The prime problem is that the material might have done better in the hands of someone who is comfortable in this genre. David "Seven" Fincher or Hitchcock. This is a never ending debate but one must marvel at the fact that Scorcese does get the look and the feel of the 50’s right and for most part delivers.
The graphic novel is done a watercolour format with tones differing from the film. This was an independent project not undertaken by the studio that produced the film, so the images have a radically different look compared to the film. The washed out look does work in some portions like when DiCaprio’s character climbs back onto the cliff and realizes that his partner has disappeared. That feeling of loneliness is not effectively captured in the film.
The code breaking sequence is long in the graphic novel. And what is strange is that this is not even a visually interesting sequence to retain in that format. The film version is much better scripted. They do not go into the details of the code and yet maintain the mystery of the woman who has disappeared.
At another place a doctor offers a pill to one of the police officers. He is suspicious about the doctor’s motivations. The graphic novel elongates this sequence superbly showing the conflict in the police officer’s mind since he wants to take the medicine to suppress a migraine but also he is not sure what is in the medicine.
In fact, the graphic novel concentrates more on the inner world of the main character and edits out sequences like the trip to the cave. Also when the police officer visits Ward C, the graphic novel is able to maintain the tension better.
Another difference between the film and the comic version is how much time is given to Mark Ruffalo’s character who plays an important role. In the film there are close ups of his reactions to situations which do add up when the mystery is solved. In a film you can control the duration of the shot and therefore decide how much of something you will let the viewer see. But in the graphic novel this kind of a close would give away the story since each image is read and seen for the same amount of time. So no close ups here.
However the climax works better in the film. The tension is built up as DiCaprio’s character breaks into the lighthouse and here we see Scorcese at his best keeping his grip on the viewer’s mind till the end. In the graphic novel the ending is slow whereas in the book it is long drawn.
And the last line of the film betters the book. This was the surprise that the director sprung at the very end. In a mystery narrative this can leave the viewer with a feeling of surprise that maybe there are layers that he did not see in the first place. This kind of an ending forces you to return to the story again and again. Many books do leave you with that feeling but in a film this is rare.
Sometimes a well written story can be become better in its retelling.