Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Random Thoughts on Book Adaptations in Movies and TV, Harry Potter, A Game of Thrones and Floyd Mayweather

Lately, I just started the book series that the “Game of Thrones” HBO program was adapted from.  A Game of Thrones is also the title of the first book in the “A Song of Ice and Fire” epic fantasy series by George R. R. Martin. I loved the first season of the show and I’m reading the books in part because I’m too impatient to wait for the next season to find out what happens. If this was my only motivation, it would seem prudent to skip this book rather than read a 750 page book of a story that I already know well.
However, I could not bring myself to skip the first and begin with the second, A Clash of Kings. There are many reasons for this. One, the book usually goes further in depth and details so I would run the risk of missing something not mentioned in the show and missing a later reference. Also, as this was Martin’s first book, I wanted to know his writing style and just how his wildly popular books are written and structured. Furthermore, movies and TV shows based on literature are known to completely change some things or completely ignore other things in an arbitrary manner that frequently infuriates me.
The most recent and appalling example for me was the final battle in the last Harry Potter movie this summer. When I say final battle, I don’t mean “The Battle of Hogwarts,” I mean Harry vs. Voldy. In the book version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, “The Boy Who Lived” confronts his nemesis in the Great Hall of the school that was the first real home for both as boys. They square up in the middle of the room with everyone watching. The students, the teachers, the Death Eaters, the most important people on both sides are there to see the duel. I’m paraphrasing but basically what happens is Voldy asks him if he thinks he has a greater weapon or knows some magic that he doesn’t, knowing this is impossible with the Death Stick in his hand and Harry coolly replies, “I have both.” Then he proceeds to own his foe beyond any measure of a doubt, routing the Dark Lord like the Lions drubbed the Chiefs last Sunday.
But how do they handle the scene in the movie? Harry and Voldemort get separated from everyone else, fall through a window, punch and kick at each other like it’s a drunken bar fight, and Harry finally wins by the skin of his teeth like usual. No one else witnesses Voldy’s demise. Harry collects himself, goes inside and lives happily ever after. What’s the big deal? It led us to the same place, right?
NO! First of all, if it happened like that, the Harry Potter doubters of the Rowling Universe (of which there were many) would not have accepted this story. He goes outside fighting Voldemort, kills him, to the point where there’s not much of a body left if any, then walks back inside and says, “Don’t worry everyone, it’s over.” People would be asking what really happened to Voldemort. The dark wizard had already survived one close call with death in his dealings with Potter, and could he not have escaped in some way again? There would be no closure.
Rowling’s ending of Harry disintegrating his foe in front of everyone was anything but ambiguous. It was the clear victory of good vs. evil. No question remains. Everyone saw it. No one could doubt it. Harry was stronger. There’s nothing left to do but pair off and start making babies.  And I’m not going to even say anything (ok I won’t say that much) about how the movie didn’t even mention that Harry united the three Deathly Hallows which made him the Conqueror of Death and gave him the power to survive Voldy’s earlier killing curse and then beat him, even though it was, you know, ONLY THE TITLE OF THE FUCKING BOOK!
So anyway, I’m reading A Game of Thrones and I was really struck by a certain line. I’m sure that it was in the show, but I couldn’t remember it having any effect on me while I was watching. Several passages in the book make me pause and say, “Wow, I like that.” It really is a beautifully written book that I would recommend to anyone but particularly to Lord of the Rings fans. But I had seen this story before, and the TV show stays pretty close to the book so far, so I was surprised that I hadn’t noted these quotables from the show.
I think this illustrates the futility of comparing a book to its film or television adaptation. Even if they tell the exact same story, they are telling it with different forms of art. While I don’t recall many memorable lines from the HBO series, “Game of Thrones,” I certainly remember several images vividly; Bran seeing the queen and her brother going at it and getting pushed out the window, the white walkers, the mountain fortress of the Eyrie, and last, but certainly not least, Daenerys’s naked body covered in fire and baby dragons (for real, watch this show).  When the canvas is a camera and not a sheet of paper, images are how you communicate your story, while books have to rely on words and the imagination of the reader. Thus, while the story may be the exactly the same a book and a movie will still be separate works of art, from a different (most of the time) artist, using a different medium, with a different vision; like trying to say the same thing in two different languages, 就像试在两种不同的语言说,同样的东西. See?
So, much to my surprise, I am enjoying the book thoroughly. Being kind of more a “word guy” anyway, this is my preferred medium for receiving a story and I’m loving learning more about the minor characters and ghosts of the past. The particular quote from the book that has stayed with me is this: Young Bran asks his Lord Father Ned Stark, “Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid.” Lord Stark replies, “That is the only time a man can be brave.” I find this as insightful as it is true.
Who do we remember as the bravest people who ever lived? Well, after asking the internet, I was left with several names that came popping up on my screen. Among them were Jesus, The Buddha, Richard the Lion Heart, Gandhi, and Elcano, the navigator of globe circumnavigator, Magellan. Jesus gives us, as usual, a great example. To say that he was never afraid shows that you deny obvious facts or have never read the Bible. He cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" If we try to interpret this, it seems only to suggest that Jesus did not know why his sacrifice was necessary and maybe was expecting something to save him. Jesus was not brave for having no fear, but for doing what he believed was right in spite of it.
And I think that is all being brave really means. Without fear, there can be no bravery. The Buddha dared to go further into his own consciousness then any man before him and thus, conquered worldly suffering and desire. Richard the Lion Heart crossed seas to defend his Holy Church in the Holy Land. Gandhi fought and won a war without any violence and Elcano dared to sail off the edge of the map and come out on the other side. In each case, the person pushed their boundaries far outside the normal or comfortable level and expanded in some way into unknown territory.
They are remembered as brave because they were able to stand firm in a sea of fears and doubt, not for having a lack of them. A bully only fights fights he knows he can win and is not brave for fighting. A coward says on the internet what he will not say in person and is not brave for saying it. A person who shrinks from a challenge that they are not sure they can measure up to never tries and is not brave. To be brave you must go out of your comfort zone, to explore some new land, whether it’s physically, mentally, or spiritually, and to do what your virtues and code of ethics command of you despite not knowing what the final outcome will be.
For all these reasons, I will never remember Floyd “Money” Mayweather, Jr. as a brave fighter. After watching his knock-out of Tito David Victor Ortiz I was convinced of this. And no, I’m not talking about the sucker punch. I was totally fine with the knock-out blow. Ortiz had his hands down, and Money is a surgeon with his fists. It wasn’t a traditional break; they didn’t touch hands, but did share a tender embrace, and once the ref gives the go ahead to fight, it’s game on. In fact, if a guy, especially a friend, in this case, no less, that I’m fighting tries to go for a deliberate, illegal, flying head butt and then comes out with his hands down, I’d cold cock the bastard too.
I actually have always like Floyd. I like my athletes cocksure, eccentric, flamboyant and not boring and Money fits all these to a tee. Also, when he fought De La Hoya I took any and all bets on the Golden Boy while watching it at a party. Money made me quite a bit of money that night. I love his fighting style too. His defense is more impregnable than a, I was trying to think of something funny to compare that too but everything is easier to impregnate these days. His defense is perhaps the only impregnable thing left on Earth! He is a classic practitioner of the sport people used to call “The Sweet Science.” He is a fully certified Doctor of Death.
Many say the fight last Saturday was close and Ortiz had a chance until the so-called sucker punch. I would disagree. Yes, Ortiz got in some shots and might have stolen a couple early rounds, but by the time of the Blanka from Street Fighter head butt, Floyd was stifling his every effort to get inside Money’s guard and getting thumped by Money’s lightning bolt right hand to the tune of a catchy bass instrumental. There was no way Ortiz was winning the fight as long as Floyd set the tone and fought it the way he wanted to fight it, which is the only way he will ever fight. So Ortiz got desparte, Floyd got mad, and Ortiz got dropped faster than any of my efforts to quit smoking.
Risk management is pretty much Floyd's whole approach to boxing, and life in general. He has always avoided the big punch. He has never been knocked out and his mastery of a very technical and defensive style wears out his oppenents while he takes no risks, bides his time, and waits for the other person to get tired and start making mistakes. Outside he is also wary of any potential threats and avoids things that could be a big risk to his livelihood and his beloved money, i.e. Manny Pacquiao.
Now you see, I don’t hate Floyd Mayweather, I understand him, but I’m mad at him. Mad that he would rather retire undefeated rather than give us the greatest fight ever. Mad at him for fighting stiffs and guys with styles he knows he can beat and slow hands. Mostly, I’m just mad that he won’t fight Manny Pacquiao. . Floyd called for unprecedented drug tests on Manny, then backed off from the fight when Manny (eventually) agreed. He made incredibly ignorant and vaguely racist remarks about the man online, but still won’t fight him in the ring. He knows that fighting Pacquiao is a risk to his legacy and that he is not certain that he can beat him, and so, they will never fight. So there you have it, Floyd, I love you, but you are a coward.  You are controlled by your fears rather than being in control of your fears; the true mark of a brave man.

Note: I found out after this was published that Pacquaio never did agree to full testing up to the date of the report, as something else I read cited. So, the burden is not fully on Money's shoulders. Sorry Mr. Mayweather.

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