More overthinking about those bloody idiot directors and their self-indulgence.
by Mark Lee
In last week’s article, I started with a simple question: how do book lengths, as measures by word count, compare to their adapted movie run times, as measured by seconds? I was mostly looking for a statistical basis to express my displeasure at The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (and by extension, parts 2 and 3 of this unnecessary trilogy), but I wound up comparing the density of the Hobbit movies, as measured in Words in Book per Second of Movie (WIBPSOM), to other prominent movie adaptations of books: The Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games, and the Twilight franchises.
The findings were interesting in and of themselves (TL;DR: The Hobbit Books have way smaller WIBPSOM values than the other franchises), but they begged for a larger scale analysis, both in size of dataset and scope of inquiry. To address the size of the dataset, I found all of the (English language) entries on this list of best-selling books that have theatrically-released, non-silent movie adaptations. After including multiple movie adaptations of the same movie and excluding movies where I couldn’t find any data on book length as measured by word count, I came up with a dataset of 59 movie adaptations of best selling books.
As for scope of inquiry, well, let’s get down to brass tacks: is there any relationship between the density of a book’s movie adaptation, as measured by WIBPSOM, and the quality of the movie, as measured by its IMDB rating?
In a word, the answer to this intriguing question is an emphatic “no.”
Overthinking It strikes again, with a lesson for all of us who write for the visual media. (Um, you know, like not just films but also TV.) And wait’ll you see the neato graphs!
by Mark Lee
I know I’m late to this party, but I finally got around to seeing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey after hearing much belly-aching over how the story of a single book is split into three separate movies: it seems like a blatant cash grab by the studios, a cynical move that put franchise movie economics ahead of things like storytelling and pacing.
After seeing the movie, I can definitely sympathize with these complaints. It felt slow at times, particularly during the multiple expository scenes in the first half and the interminably long action sequence in the second half. Most importantly, I felt like the story didn’t advance far enough to justify taking up an entire movie on its own, especially compared to the Lord of the Rings movies.
So me being me, I decided to put this issue into quantitative terms. Specifically, I wanted to compare the length of the Hobbit movie to that of the source text, and run the same analysis for the three Lord of the Rings movies.
For movie length, I simply used the run time for the theatrical version of the movie as listed on IMDB. For book length, I chose to go with word count rather than page count, since there’s so much variability when it comes to the number of words that get squeezed onto a single book page.
Before I hit you with the graphs, I should mention the obvious caveat, which is that a long word count of a book does not necessarily translate to more story elements that need to be crammed into a movie. Also, it’s been a while since I’ve read the various works of J.R.R. Tolkein, so I can’t speak authoritatively to the density (or lack thereof) of plot in those books.
All this is to say that word count is an imperfect proxy for the amount of plot-related content in a book that might need to get translated to a movie.
OK, enough caveats. Let’s see the numbers, or more specifically, my key metric for comparing movies: the number of word in the book divided by the number of seconds in the movie. In other words, words per second of movie. The idea is that a movie like The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will have a small number of words per second of movie, since it’s only adapting part of a short book into a rather long movie.
Time now to continue my heartwarming mini-reviews of the screeners I’ve received from Oscar, DGA, and WGA award contenders. When we last met on this playing field, I reported on 5 films, only one of which my wife, Gwen the Beautiful, and I disliked little enough to watch all the way through. Here’s how the next 4 fared:
PROMISED LAND Both Gwen and I wanted to like this film. First, because it stars and was co-written by Matt Damon & John Krasinski (and Frances McDormand’s here too), and I’ve always liked Matt and Frances both as people and as actors. Second, because my son is President of Production at Focus Features, which is PROMISED LAND’s producing/distributing angel. Unfortunately, Gwen didn’t make it past the 38-minute mark, and I made coffee, let the dogs out to do their business, drank the coffee, and brought the dogs back in when they were done while trying to make myself watch the rest. Back in the ’70s, on a show I wrote called MEDICAL STORY, we did crusading stories like this every week, and all of them were more interesting than this film because – sorry, Matt & John, when we did this kind of thing it was new. Now both the story and I are sadly antiquated and predictable.
Gwen wasn’t interested, so I watched this alone. For about 10 minutes. The opening is like a slightly more intense version of the TV show ER its first season. Pediatrician George Clooney – oops, sorry, airline pilot Denzel Washington – wakes up after a night of crazy drinking and sex, sobers himself up with cocaine…and inasmuch as I didn’t feel one thing for the guy and the dogs wanted to go out again, I turned the DVD off and never remembered to turn it back on.
THE HOBBIT – AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY
I genuinely enjoyed every minute of this film and did, in fact, watch all 5000 minutes of it. Okay, so it was “only” 2 1/2 hours long. Believe me when I say it felt a lot longer. Also believe me when I say that I also genuinely hated every minute. Because to me this wasn’t THE HOBBIT. This was some generic prequel to LORD OF THE RINGS. And that’s far from the same thing. Oh, we watched this with Oscar, our 8-year-old child genius neighbor and his family. At the 35 minute mark, Oscar turned to me with what’s got to be the kiss of death for any film based on a children’s book. “Larry,” he said, “this movie isn’t engaging my interest at all. Do you mind if I go outside and play with the dogs?”
In a word: Garbage. Gwen was gone by minute 7. I stuck around for 25 minutes more thinking this piece of junk would turn into something more than a lo-ong trailer for a book I’ve never read and, now, never will read. Maybe it all comes together at the end, but none of the non-scenes at the beginning made me want to find out. Total trash.
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
Ahh. Everyone in the room watched this one all the way through and thoroughly enjoyed it – even the dogs. Bradley Cooper completely won me over, totally believable in the kind of part that Adam Sandler has thoroughly destroyed over the years. And Jennifer Lawrence was my dream date of dream dates. In fact, Lawrence and Cooper reminded me so much of Gwen the Beautiful and myself that I giggled crazily at even the serious parts. I know it’s just another romcom following the numbers, but, man, it hit each one perfectly, reinvigorating the format and, well, me too. A screener deserving Oscar accolades, at last!
I still have more DVDs to watch, with LINCOLN ensconced at the top. So brace yourselves for another nail-biting go-round.
I saw this at The Grove theater in L.A., and the quality of the full theater image is simply breathtaking. Word is it was filmed at 60fps and scaled down to 48fps — it seems normal humans can’t even process 60fps.
When I first heard about this film, I was disappointed that Ian Holm couldn’t play Bilbo, he’s just too darn old. For some reason Sir Ian nailed the character of Bilbo for me. Bilbo had always been one of my favorite characters. A quietly sly little fellow… and for some reason Holm nailed that quality on the big screen. But even though young Bilbo will be played by Martin Freeman, Sir Ian will reprise the older Bilbo once again.
And lastly as a rule, I HATE previews, but I am tempted to go back to the theater and sit through the lackluster BRAVE again, just to rewatch this one. Because, like Sir Ian did for Bilbo, this brief collection of sounds and images holds a promise of capturing one of my favorite novels on the big screen as well as I had imagined it.
Here it is, if you can’t wait, but if you can, check it out on a high quality screen.