Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Film Adaptations

This week's assignment is to talk about how we would integrate media adaptations into our teaching. If I were teaching a class where this type of thing was appropriate, I can imagine a couple fun projects.

#1 Shakespeare.
Shakespeare offers rich opportunities for this kind of thing because so many versions of various plays have been created. We did the classic Romeo & Juliet vs. West Side Story thing way back when I was in ninth grade. A couple similar things would be to have students watch either the Laurence Olivier or Ian McKellen version of Richard III and then watch Al Pacino's Looking for Richard. The latter is a sort of meditation on the play, including scenes from it as well as interviews with the actors about the play itself, its history, and what's involved in performing it. The students could then discuss how Looking for Richard serves as an adaptation of the play and/or as a commentary about it, and to what degree they benefited from having seen the whole play before watching Looking.

Another fun Shakespeare adaptation is a version of Macbeth called Scotland, PA, which satirically transposes the story to a fast food restaurant in 1970s Pennsylvania. Students could watch the 1948 Orson Welles version, followed by Scotland, PA. This would give them an opportunity to discuss adaptations that change the tone of the original: is it a "faithful" adaptation if it's now a comedy? Where is the line between adaptation and parody? Students could then come up with their own original take on the story: instead of a fast food restaurant in the '70s, where else could the story of Macbeth be made to work? What themes - as well as characters and plot points - are intrinsic to the story that make it so "universal"? (This type of exercise could be done with any work that's had this kind of makeover, such as Emma Clueless, or Taming of the Shrew10 Things I Hate About You (or Kiss Me Kate, for that matter), though arguably the tone of those examples is not significantly altered from originals to adaptations.)

#2 Book ≠ Movie.
I find it interesting that, while I enjoy some movies because they are such faithful adaptations of their source material, I enjoy others despite (or because?) they are distinctly different from whatever book they're based on. For example, the adaptation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is notorious for its dedicated in its attention to detail. In contrast, this year's Where the Wild Things Are is equally famous for being a 101-minute movie based on a book that's only 48 pages long (and mostly pictures). Other examples of adaptations that turned out quite different from their source books while still being arguably "good" are Wicked (the musical is based on the book) and Jurassic Park (movie based on book). Watching and reading these pairs of works will give students the opportunity to discuss (similar to the first activity) what makes a "good" adaptation; and what themes, characters, plot points were kept or changed from one version to the other and (perhaps most importantly) why. They could also do an activity where they have to adapt a book they have read into a less-than-two-hour movie: what elements do they think would be crucial to keep? What would they change? Would they rather do a page-to-screen transfer a la Harry Potter or a more abstract interpretation like Wild Things, and why?

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