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Le Guin unhappy with TV Earthsea

Discussion in 'Ursula K Le Guin' started by Jayaprakash Satyamurthy, Dec 17, 2004.

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    Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

    Jayaprakash Satyamurthy Knivesout no more

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    "[font=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]My principal feeling about it is one of sadness, loss. An opportunity thrown away, at great expense. [size=-1]. . . [/size]I'm sorry for the people who think they've seen Earthsea, but saw a stale, senseless rehash of bits of other fantasy films instead.[size=-1]"[/size][/font]

    Ursula Le Guin is less than thrilled with the current TV adaptation of Earthsea. Her books had a purposefully multi-ethnic milieu, which seems to have been largely thrown over in favour of shades of white by the producers. In addition, producer Robert Halmi Sr has been making claims about 'Ursula's' intentions and themes in the story that Le Guin points out are quite innacurate, apart from the fact that she's never actually met the man and is unlikely to be on first-name terms with him.

    Here's an essay she's written about the whole issue: http://www.trashotron.com/agony/columns/2004/12-15-04.htm

    I suppose it's clear I'm a fan, but I would like to point out that the moderation and basic civility of her tone and content is like a breath of fresh air, especially as compared to Anne Rice's famous retort to disgruntled readers, discussed elsewhere here.
     
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    The Master™

    The Master™ Science fiction fantasy

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    All I can say to that is: "GO, Ms Le Guin!!!" As I have never met her, and therefore, don't feel that it would be appropriate to user her first name... :D

    She has a great many points to make and every right to set the record straight...

    I enjoyed reading The Dispossessed, so I think I'm gonna put these two books (A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan) on my wish list... :D And I'll avoid watching the miniseries, should it be shown on Sci-Fi Channel in the UK!!!
     
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    McMurphy

    McMurphy Apostate Against the Eloi

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    Thanks for posting this thread, Knivesout.

    Le Guin certainly does set the record straight with far more grace and dignity than Anne Rice could muster.

    I have only read The Left Hand of Darkness, but it is a novel that was key in how I believe noteworthy science fiction/fantasy should be written. The work did not win the Hugo and Nebula award for nothing.

    I noticed that one of her core complaints in regards to the televised adaption of Eathsea was the whitening of the characters and world. I have not sat down and watched a full episode of the newly released Sci-Fi channel series, but I had already wondered about that myself. To have a cast so mono in race seemed absolutely counterweight to what readers experienced in The Left Hand of Darkness. In fact, can anyone tell me if she challenges the common views of gender roles in the Earthsea novel series? I have not read it, and that was another aspect of the former novel that I admired.

    It was not a good sign that, despite how much I looked forward to the Earthsea televised series debuting, I still could not conquer the wandering will of the remote control.
     
  4.  
    Brian G Turner

    Brian G Turner Writing and reading Staff Member

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    While it's a good diea for her to set the record straight, there is absolutely no way most film and TV productions are going to be able to properly honour the stories they cover from novels.

    I've actually considered that this is usually a good idea - you cannot hope to reproduce the hundreds of pages of a book to a mere couple of hours on-screen time. And sometimes er-interpretations can be pretty interesting.

    One thing film especially seems keen to do, is to dumb down towards a lower denominator for marketing purposes - to justify working in the more expensive medium. In some ways that can be dishonest to its source, but in others, it helps capture a wider audience than might possibly ever have encountered the book before.

    Maybe Earthsea on TV isn't the same as Earthsea as a series of novels - but it was never going to be that way. However, let's see if sales of the books don't jump as people who would never had touched it before, encounter her worlds - and her ideas - in the detail she originally intended.
     
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    The Master™

    The Master™ Science fiction fantasy

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    The only way you are going to get a true representation of an authors intentions and mindset, is to get the author to work closely with the production staff, and be ponying up most of the cash for it... :D
     
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    Leto

    Leto Outside

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    Being a Dune fan (both book and movie, but hating with passion the mini - mostly for bad acting and bad directing IMO) I can understand why an adaptation can't be strictly following the novel, or even be loosly based on. What I can't understand is the specific problem Mrs Le Guin brings : the whitening of the characters. Why was it necessary ? From what I read in her article, it's as stupid as if they tried to whitening the cast of "Roots: the next generation" (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078678/).
     
  7.  
    McMurphy

    McMurphy Apostate Against the Eloi

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    Pepsi drinkers like midgets. Rethink casting for Little Women

    I agree. The traditional differences between cinema adaptions and their literary sources do not explain some of the changes the producers chose to make. There are always going to be some differences between a book and a film of the same story. They are two different mediums with two different set of tools that are necessary to make the entertainment work. However, when a film adaption chooses to purposefully undercut and/or erase key centeral themes, plots, and thesises for the sole purpose to make the story more marketable, it is not only doing the source a great disservice, but it is even disrespecting the very author they are hoping to profit off of.

    "Marketable" has become a curse word for me. I feel that it has become the cowardly way of creating and has somehow been largely accepted in film and television entertainment. In truth, what is or what is not deemed "marketable" in this medium is determined by business people pointing to pie charts of racial demographics of the average Pepsi drinker. "As you can see, most Pepsi drinkers are white; therefore, it is of the best interest of this project to make all the main characters also white."

    The mindset of "marketable" isn't necessarily the best policy. Studios need to take a chance with stories that break from their profit profile. When it is followed strictly and exclusively, the story suffers. Don't for a moment think that audiences have an unwavering interest in watered-down entertainment. Disney has suffered huge hits in its profit in films and television in the last decade largely due to having more and more competitors who are willing to flush the prescribed formula down the toilet. Spongebob Squarepants gathers more viewers than any of Television Disney's cartoon line-up, and Shrek 2 toppled Finding Nemo's (a Pixar project back when Disney still believed they could call all the shots) record of the most successful 3D animated film ever. Why? Because Shrek 2's story was more fresh and hip than what the recycled story that Finding Nemo had to offer. But I am sure there is a guy curled up in a ball sobbing in a corner of a boardroom while hugging his pie chart somewhere at the moment.

    I have the feeling that if the televised Earthsea overlooked the more artistically devoid aspects of the "marketable" mindset and instead kept truer to the vision of a proved author, the Sci-Fi channel would end up reaping more profit in the long run.
     
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    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    Re: Pepsi drinkers like midgets. Rethink casting for Little Women

    Well, it was pretty dismal, that's for sure.

    I can understand, on a certain level, why they made some of the changes. I love these books with a passion, but even I can see why they wouldn't necessarily appeal to a television audience without a more obvious conflict and a more visible villain -- but if that's what a TV movie needs, why choose Earthsea in the first place?

    And there is a great and terrible irony when someone like LeGuin, who is so particular and meticulous about her dialogue reflecting character and setting, has to watch her dialogue being dumbed down and modernized.
     
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    Leto

    Leto Outside

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    Re: Pepsi drinkers like midgets. Rethink casting for Little Women

    Anyway, the end result is that from her article, Mrs Le Guin gave me the slight incitation needed to have a try at this serie. I'll try to find the first book this afternoon.
     
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    Brian G Turner

    Brian G Turner Writing and reading Staff Member

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    Re: Pepsi drinkers like midgets. Rethink casting for Little Women

    The trouble is, marketing is what marketing does - it sells a product the best way it can. Of course, marketing doesn't always work, and sometimes even back-fires. Ultimately, though, high-brow does not sell as well as populist.

    They should - but someone somewhere has to justify the spending of a few million dollars. Saying it "might" sell is never going to be good enough - the bankers want evidence that a strong targeted marketing base is tapped into.

    Aaarrghh!!! You just shot yourself in the foot here, in my opniion - Shrek2 is a marketing feast run by bankers for bankers, based on realms of pie-charts and market research studies. Pixar is more concerned with innovation and story-telling, rather than being "hip".

    You just showed that the marketing suits were doing their job properly. :)
     
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    The Master™

    The Master™ Science fiction fantasy

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    Re: Pepsi drinkers like midgets. Rethink casting for Little Women

    I thought that Shrek was more innovative and fresh and Shrek2 was purile and boring... Okay, a few one liners, but not nearly as much fun as the original... It only did well on the back of the original one... Kinda like Matrix - rough and ready, innovative and fresh, Matirx 2 & 3 - marketing hype and not nearly as good... :D
     
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    dwndrgn

    dwndrgn Fierce Vowelless One Staff Member

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    I like Kelpie's point here - if you want a story that is geared for the lowest common denominator, with no risks or chances taken, nothing out of the ordinary or interesting, why choose Earthsea in the first place? It was chosen (IMO) because of it's previous popularity and consistent sales. That series has been out for ages and still sells without any trouble at all. So, they chose it because it is a good story with a large audience already attached to it. That throws Brian's 'marketing' idea of 'not taking risks' out the window because they chose it specifically because it was already a familiar story with a large built in audience. The biggest remaining problem is the same for most fantasy stories - cost of production, but the SciFi channel knows that before it begins and there is no cost savings in making the cast monochrome. Therefore, why make the story bland and dull by removing particular themes and ideas that made it interesting in the first place? There are many directors and producers out there who realize that the world isn't solely white, they should have chosen one of them to portray such a multicultural story.

    I wasn't able to catch the miniseries when it aired as I had to work and forgot to set the vcr. I might have to see if it plays again so that I can see what Ms. Le Guin is disappointed in. Just so I can whine and moan knowledgeably here with you guys :D
     
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    Michael

    Michael The Defiler's Rule

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    Although I haven't read the book, at first I started to enjoy the show. I ended up disappointed, however. Often, if I watch the movie first and then read the book, I have a deep appreaciation for both (for example, "The shining"). When I do it the other way around, I usually hate the movie. This time seems different. I'll have to find "Earthsea" and read it. I'm sure I'll love it.
     
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    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    The casting wasn't entirely monochrome, because Danny Glover was in it -- but even that was inappropriate because he should have come of the same racial stock as Ged. Tiny little islands at the back of beyond don't usually boast much diversity.

    Under the circumstances, bringing in one black character where the majority ought to be dark-skinned reeked of tokenism.

    Henceforth, I have decided, I shall refer to this production as "From Earthsea to Poughkeepsie."
     
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    Lacedaemonian

    Lacedaemonian A Plume of Smoke

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    Firstly, I have not read the books, but plan to.

    Is the series so bad, because I am downloading them as we speak?? :)

    Lastly, Shrek 2 was far funnier than the first one.
     
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    McMurphy

    McMurphy Apostate Against the Eloi

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    Finding Le Guin

    I think to make the distinction of how a television or cinema piece of work is damned to be either bubblegum or a fine steak dinner (bare with me, I am typing this before heading out for a bit to eat :D ) is being a bit black and white. The television adaptation of Earthsea doesn't need to devoid of any artistic strengths to be widely successful. In fact, it is reasonable to assert that a series that is able to bring something fresh and original to the table (ah!) while keeping intact the popular and familar aspects would be far more successful than if it relied on only the former.

    Also, let's not forget the role of marketing. ;) Marketers are there to successfully channel a product to the right target groups, not create the product. That seems to be the problem with visual entertainment: marketers believe they should overstep their educated role. Keep the story writing to the story tellers. For a marketer to believe that he/she is more skilled at writing well received yet worthwhile entertainment than a writer---a famous one in this case---is arrogant at best. They should have faith in a "product" that has already proved itself through decades of noteworthy book sales.

    Compared to Disney, Shrek and the sequel did break the profit profile. It was not all that subtle about taking stabs at Disney's approach and tradition either. Remember the parody of the Disneyland scene? It sums up the thesis behind the whole project.

    Maybe Pixar is more concerned with innovation and storytelling now, but not during the Finding Nemo era. This isn't Pixar's fault, mind you. It was a Disney story, a Pixar visual masterpiece. Ignore the great animation and take a closer look at the story only. It is generic. What is even worse, Disney itself has already sold us a form of this story many times before. I am not implying that Shrek didn't have its fair share of pie charts navigating the productions, but it certainly took more artistic chances than Disney would ever let one of their creative team members suggest and still keep his job.

    Speaking of Finding Nemo's direct competition in some fields, let's not forget that it was Spirited Away, not the Disney-Pixar project, that won the Oscar. The only involvement Disney had in the American release of Spirited Away was selecting the English voice actors, otherwise the company only distributed the film. As cutting edge as Pixar's work may have been in Finding Nemo, it just didn't have the core story to warrant a "Best Animated Film" nod.

    If a marketer can't figure out how to effectively use an Oscar award as a selling point, then the person should really think about getting into a new line of work. :p
     
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    Brian G Turner

    Brian G Turner Writing and reading Staff Member

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    Yes, but my argument would be is that they need the prior reputation of the work even to get any funding to begin the project. However, funding usually comes with strings - not least "Give us a maximum return on our buck" - hence how such projects are always in danger of getting watered down.

    Ultimately, it probably requires a personality of force in production in the first place - Jackson was probably able to maintain a lot of integrity for Lord of the Rings precisely because he was a successful individual in the industry - but even then, he ended up bowing to the marketers by highly exaggerating the importance of the Aragorn-Arwen love interest in the overall story, and still had teen-panding moments - extreme sports on shields in Two Towers comes to mind as an example.

    So I guess the lesson is - if you want to maintain integrity in a novel adaptation, you need someone with real clout on your side and who believes in your story in the first place.


    EDIT: As for McMurphy's points - certainly not all marketers are going to be good marketers, and they certainly shouldn't be writing a script. But the tools of the marketers are often there to fulfill the will of the funders. It's pretty infamous for large film productions to suffer pressure from studios to modify and rewrite scripts to keep the bankers happy.

    As for Pixar vs Shrek franchises - they were targeted at different audiences, so it's harder to compare - Pixar were probably writing forst for the older child (under 12's) whilst Shrek were probably tapping into a more teen market, with pop songs by pop artists gracing the soundtrack.

    Disney are only the distributors for Pixar, by the way, and Pixar's majority shareholder I believe is Steve Jobs - the maverick innovator behind Apple.

    Bottom line - we ourselves are the people the marketers are trying to feed as consumers.

    And, true, there's not enough niche marketing of mentally demanding adaptations.
     
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    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    I suspect that Jackson's two female collaborators may have had something to do with playing up the Arwen/Aragorn love interest; in which case it was probably a personal artistic choice not a corporate one. The studios, as I understand it, were more interested in making Arwen into a warrior princess type.

    Of course it's easy to justify anything we happen to like as an artistic choice, anything we don't like as mere pandering to the masses, but sometimes isn't it just possible that any "pandering" being done is simply to the director/screenwriter/corporate lackey's OWN bad taste? I'd bet money that Peter Jackson thought that surfboard/shield sequence was the coolest thing ever. He is clearly a man with a mighty artistic vision -- at the same time, he is just as clearly, in many ways, a very young teenager at heart.
     
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    Cailleach

    Cailleach Immortal Love

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    She may have a point, I don't know. I've never read her books. I've seen Earthsea and didn't find it all that bad. Of course there were glitches, but hey, I'm a fantasy fan.

    I found the acting good and the story refreshing, but there were many aspects that I found too typical for a fantasy world. Common in everyone. And the black and white view on the world was basically annoying, but like I sad, can't have everything.

    Of course there's also the fact that a book and a movie made of a book are two entirely different things. I mean LeGunn wrote it and therefor it is more or less perfect in her mind. She's the only one who truly understands her books and seeing as she had little contact with the producer...yup can see a big hole there.

    So there are things you can do in a book, because you have the thoughts behind it, which you, in turn, miss on screen or can't set out on on screen....

    Anyone follow me? :confused: :confused: :confused:
     
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    Lacedaemonian

    Lacedaemonian A Plume of Smoke

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    I am downloading this having missed it on TV. I have not read any of Le Guin's books so I hope not to be disappointed. Perhaps I will read her work as a consequence of watching this. Anyway regardless of how bad this series may be, I will treat them as seperate works.
     
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