Wednesday, December 22, 2004

A Whitewashed Earthsea

The Farthest ShoreUrsula K. Le Guin is not happy about the SciFi channel's representation of Earthsea. On her webpage she disavows any responsibility for the mini-series and more specifically in an essay in Slate sounds off about the way her rainbow races have been whitewashed by the SciFi channel, who she charges with producing "a generic McMagic movie with a meaningless plot based on sex and violence".

The current mantra is that it's not possible to remain faithful to a book because a) what works in a book does not translate well to the screen and b) commercial realities require the product to be marketed to the widest demographic possible.

To my mind these are just weasel excuses for sloppy work and lazy scriptwriting, a banal justification for the marketeer's obsession with turning art into product. So what if TV is a different medium to literature? That doesn't mean you can't use it to tell a powerful and compelling tale.

There's no point kicking against the pricks, ain't nothing gonna change till advertisers start targeting their products at an older demographic that really doesn't want to be spoon-fed baby pap any more. And I'm not holding my breath for that, as marketing appears to be largely staffed by fresh-faced accountants, incapable of imagining anything more exciting than getting paid, laid and trashed.

But as a personal gesture and out of respect for Le Guin I will boycott the Earthsea remake and instead re-read the books. It'll be interesting to see how they hold up 30 odd years later.


Yvonne said...

Bless Ursula K. Le Guin's heart but unfortunately it's once more a case of (dare I say it), a niave novelist meeting The Hollywood Beast and losing. There's a telling comment in her article which unfortunately points to the fact the Ursula maybe didn't really understand how these things work. She said she agreed to the project because Phillipa Boyens (scriptwriter) was rumoured to be on the project. Scriptwriters, even Oscar winning scriptwriters, count for precisely nothing in TV and movies. They have not one jot of influence (no, not even Oscar winning ones). They get hired and fired more often than changes of underwear. Which is why there's an actual book out there with the title "The Writer Got Screwed (but didn't have to)" by Brooke A. Wharton.

Poor Ursula would have been better off asking about the Producer. Because then you look at Robert Halmi Sr's filmography and go, "oh shit". This is not a man who's going to go for quiet introspection and character depth. This is a Biblical Epic type of guy who likes swords and battles and skimpily dressed women. You see, what the Producer says, goes. Scriptwriters don't have any control - they can try to make a script okay - but if the Producer says, "I want an explosion on page 80", then that's what they get. The Producer is the one that pays the money to the writer and therefore is the 'employer'. How many of you have weighed up your salary against telling your employer that they're an unintelligent bully and thought better of it because you have to pay your rent?

Oh, and just to add more pain - the fact that it was picked up by the SciFi Channel should have sent shivers down her spine. The freaking SciFi Channel was never going to produce anything other than a show they thought a 16-year old white boy living in the USA would like. That's their demographic. Now HBO on the other hand, would have probably done a bang-up job. HBO has a good reputation for producing quality programming. Say what you like about "Angels in America" but that's one hell of an issue to explore. But the SciFi Channel? Dear God no.

So with the cross pollination of the SciFi Channel and Robert Halmi Sr you know what the result is going to be. A very simple tale for teenagers that features things that they think teenagers would like in the context of "how many slots can we sell to McDonalds, and Burger King" and "let's not offend anyone in the Red states who like their heroes white". The writer doesn't feature in this tale of woe very much - the writer was just the poor bastard that got hired and thanked God he had a pay cheque.

Poor Ursula. Oh well, now she knows - the writer whether novelist or screenwriter is at the very, very bottom of the Hollywood feeding chain. Strange, but true.

Anonymous said...

Frankie here posting anonymously because of that horrible BlogSpot interface I mentioned that just won't let me log in easily, and I can't be fucked using it.

I'd disagree with the both of you about not being able to do something about this. People are beginig to realize that the old network TV paradigm is dying, and will die completely if it doesn't keep up with what people want.

Here's what someone much closer to the coal face than I said recently :

"I don't think that network programming will die but I do think that the means of distributing it will no longer be locked into the old networks. That wouldn't happen if all we were seeing were the advent of an alternative pipe: the internet v. cable. What we will see at the same time is the growth of alternative content that will be produced at a MUCH lower cost, FAR better targeted to niche interests (the mass market is dead; long live the mass of niches), providing, as a whole, new competition to the old networks. The old networks and their programmers and advertisers will see that they can get BETTER distribution via the new, distributed network and consumers will DEMAND to get material that way -- because it puts them in control -- and so we will see the hegemony of the old, centralized network start to fall away and break apart: explode."All any author has to do is refuse to sign over exclusive rights to any story, and then if they don't like what the network is doing, they can get someone else to do it better.