After the very enjoyable Read Along of this title, Carl added a suggestion that we view the film adaptation and then post a discussion.
I have to confess that I first watched the film just after reading The Graveyard Book because it was recommended by the others who had taken part in that Read Along and the one of Neverwhere. It was interesting to re-view it after finally tackling the book because I could see that it had prejudiced that reading experience. However, I can safely say that both I and my husband, who was a little reluctant to watch the film, were both very entertained and that it is fairly true to the spirit of the book, even if there are some fairly major changes.
Now I know why I had such an intense feeling that one of the brothers was going to fall out of the window in the King’s bedchamber! I actually liked the way that they handled this in the film, because it did seem like such a wonderful opportunity that I am surprised that Mr Gaiman did not take this route himself. It condensed so much story telling into one wonderfully black moment: I loved it!
I did wonder why I was misreading Tristran as Tristan, because I am normally very nit picking in my reading. Apparently they changed the name in the film to make it easier to say, although I do not really see what the problem was.
My biggest dislike for the film was the character of Ferdy, as portrayed by Ricky Gervais. I know that he is a friend of Jane Goldman, the screenwriter, but I did not like his scenes the first time I saw the film and they irritated me even more this time because I now know that they do not appear in the book. I read on IMDB that Mr Gervais improvised his lines, and this could have been the problem: they simply did not fit with the tone of the rest of the film and felt faintly embarrassing to me.
I also wish that they had not named Una right at the beginning. My husband turned to me straightaway and said “So that’s the mother then!” I do not remember making the connection myself the first time around, but I am rather clueless about hints like that in films!
I was rather sorry that they decided to make Victoria so two-dimensional. One aspect of the book that I really enjoyed was the fact that everyone had a journey to make and displayed personal growth.
I was rather sad to see that the man with the black hat, the little hairy man and the copper beech tree were all absent from the film. I can understand that they wanted to streamline the story and minimize the number of characters, so this is not really a criticism, just some things that I would have liked to see. I thought the decision to transfer the tree’s role to the stars was fairly neat and shortened the scene, keeping it magical without the need to introduce another character.
I would also say that I preferred the plotting in the second half of the book to that of the film. The way in which Septimus and the witch defeated each other was much cleverer and more satisfying, as we discussed last week. Yvaine’s treatment of the witch was also more to my taste in the book, as was the choice to have a ‘real’ ending, with Tristan dying of old age and leaving Yvaine alone. However, I can see the need to have a much more dramatic and climactic end to a film, and I particularly enjoyed seeing the second witch getting eaten by ferrets and wolves! The changes were not too out of character so they did not jar as much as they could have. I actually liked the way that the dead Septimus was used to fight Tristan because it made him slightly more sympathetic.
I really enjoyed the use of the landscape, most of which was in Scotland I believe. It was so good to see actors in a real place rather than obviously in front of a green screen. The use of long, panoramic shots was particularly effective and enhanced the feeling of reality that is so present in Mr Gaiman’s writing.
The casting throughout was excellent and I loved the balance between the big star names and talented, but relatively unknown, British actors many of whom are best known for comedy shows.
I thought the choice of the lead actors was spot on. Claire Danes has a very naturalistic style to her acting and yet has a natural inner beauty that made her perfect as Yvaine. Although I was a little disappointed that she did not get the opening line that I was waiting for, I still thought that she nailed all the pain and frustration that we had seen in the book. Charlie Cox managed to be an idiot and rather heroic as required, and still retained an air of innocence that was perfect.
The witches were well done, and I thought it was interesting choice to use two fairly young actresses for the ones who never got rejuvenated (they are 51 and 42 at present). Michelle Pfeiffer did an excellent job of exuding menace and conveyed her advanced age very well. I am always pleased to see an actor that can take a melodramatic part and not spend all their time chewing the furniture. We could feel her power and evil without her resorting to appearing like a crazy person.
Surprisingly, this is going to be the longest list!
Dare I say it? I think the brothers were much funnier than in the book and the screenwriters took every opportunity to include them in ways that were hilarious. Even Septimus was funny, what with pretending to die at the beginning and then his helplessness at his body being used as a fighting machine. It was good to see Mark Strong getting the opportunity to do something other than just play a totally bad person. Jason Flemying’s Primus was rather sweet and decent, staying close to his character in the book. Meanwhile, Mark Heap’s Tertius was edgy and a bit of a pervert, which is pretty much the type of character that he often plays but he is so good at it. Of course, Rupert Everett as Secundus was a nice nod to the actor’s role as Prince Charming in the Shrek films, so it was fitting that he got his handsome face mashed in.
Also improving on the book was the scene at the inn. I absolutely LOVED Mark Williams as Billy: not a single line but one of the funniest physical performances for ages. Most people will know Mark as Mr Weasley from the Harry Potter franchise, but he has been doing comedy on British TV for years and he is vastly under-rated as an actor. Then there was the feminized Bernard and his ‘interest’ in his own boobs! Such subtle writing, but it really got so much comedy into a potentially lethal and nerve-wracking scene.
Speaking of physicality: how awesome was the wall guard when he went all ninja on Tristan? So totally unexpected and yet so hilarious: especially as the actor looks like a stiff breeze would blow him away!
I really liked the decision to have Tristan take a ‘piece’ of Yvaine across the wall and have it turn to stardust. This was such a dramatic way of informing him of her possible fate: so neat and yet so very effective.
But I have to save my greatest praise for Mr Robert De Niro: you, sir, are a star! I know that the part was written by someone else, but he took it and blew everyone else out of the water. I have no idea how they came up with the idea to take the Captain in that direction, but it was absolute genius. Not only did it allow a nice montage of Tristan learning to fight, whilst giving our heroes time to fall in love, but it also carried a wonderful lesson about being yourself. It seems that, as he gets older, Mr De Niro is getting more comfortable exploring his comedic skills, and I hope that he gets many more opportunities: the image of him dancing about to the Can-Can is one that will stay with me for a long time!