Sex and the City, Dexter or True Blood? When TV turns to modern fiction, every one’s a winner – so says Hattie French
Last week, writing up the best of the Big Read, I was struck by how many popular books are made into films. Maybe it started with the blistering success of Gone with the Wind in the thirties. Today, books are getting optioned for film before they go into print.
There are varying degrees of success for these adaptations. Peter Jackson‘s The Lord of the Rings had more money thrown at it than the London Olympics, and yet only really scratched the surface of Tolkien‘s original. And as I’ve expressed previously, the great advantage of the Harry Potter books over the films is that you don’t have to look at the smug, grinning face of the multimillionaire Daniel Radcliffe while you’re reading.
You do get films which match the depth and quality of the original book – or even surpass it. The English Patient, for example, is a miserably difficult book to read and impossible to enjoy. I would characterize it as a chore. But the film, starring Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas, is completely the opposite – suspenseful, emotional, memorable.
Where movies try, TV triumphs…
Nowadays a new trend is growing, and I have to say it’s one that I fully support. Films aren’t where the big money is any more – it’s all about television.
The first big success story – that I remember, anyway – was Sex and the City. Does the name Candace Bushnell mean anything to you? Well, she was the original Carrie – a journalist writing a column on relationships in New York City. The columns became a book, the book became a TV series, and in 2008 the circle was complete when the film of the same name arrived in cinemas.
In fact, this is one case where the book is the least popular and profitable aspect of the franchise. I’ve read the book and it’s easy to see why – although it’s engagingly written, the characters and the stories are just made for TV. It was all froth. Froth and fashion. And sex, obviously. A visual medium was clearly called for.
Answering the call for gore
The same goes for Dexter, based on Jeff Lindsay‘s series about the serial killer cum homicide forensic scientist with a vigilante streak and an inevitably complicated life. In this case it’s the blood, not the Jimmy Choos, which we want to see, and once again, in my view, the series outshines the books.
Lindsay‘s a fairly average talent – he can tell a story but he can’t turn a sentence. Michael C. Hall, on the other hand, inhabits the lead character so fully that when I discovered he was married to the actress that played his sister, I was quite nauseated.
Although the first series sticks relatively closely to the plot of Lindsay‘s first Dexter novel, the same characters and setup have developed in parallel universes. Lindsay has Dexter battling cults and coaching his girlfriend’s traumatized kiddies in the fine art of righteous bloody murder, while HBO‘s writers, working in a radically different format, have to produce action every episode and have introduced intricate rollercoasters of storylines peopled with every recognizable face they could get their hands on.
and fantastical fornication
Last up tonight is perhaps my favourite of all and certainly the show that I’m most looking forward to seeing again. Unfortunately I haven’t read Charlaine Harris‘s original novels (yet), but they are possibly the best thing to come out of the recent pandering to every adolescent’s inner Goth – True Blood.
Friends have recommended Charlaine Harris‘s works to me, but to be honest, after seeing Viking vampires, villainous Christians, Maenads, and a short-order gigolo named Lafayette, I can’t see the books being anything better than a slight disappointment. The visual format, I feel, brings it truly to life.
In fact, thinking about it, True Blood combines the salient features of both Sex and the City and Dexter – gore and fornication. Blood is drunk from bottles, injected as an hallucinogenic, sprayed over walls, and of course, slurped from the necks of luckless humans. A staked vampire practically explodes in a fountain of guts and slime. And then there’s the frankly inhuman quantities of sex being had. I was unsurprised to learn that the two central characters are engaged in real life. They spent so much time having simulated sex on screen that it was bound to have an effect. Series two is practically one long orgy.
If you think I’m exaggerating, you haven’t seen it. But you should.
Not that we’re complaining!
So I fully support the growing trend to film books for the silver or small screen. Yes, you’ll have to endure the occasional dud. I hear The Lovely Bones, for example, is worth neither your money or your time, although the book was enjoyable enough. But sometimes a mediocre book will become a fantastic film, like Steven King‘s brief novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption which became an Oscar-nominated blockbuster.
But best of all is the benefit to television. So many channels and so much time to fill means that TV is, nine times out of ten, unwatchable dreck. The more the executives borrow from the world of modern literature, the more likely it is that we’ll see some real quality being produced. Is it a coincidence that writer David Simon describes his series The Wire (one of the best things ever made) as a “visual novel“? I doubt it.