27 August 2014

When a Book Becomes a Television Event

Diana Gabaldon's Outlander broke new ground when initially published in 1991. Not quite sci-fi, nor fantasy, it had lots of sex and grand adventure but didn't quite fit the rules of romance either. A smashing success, it went on to span a number of novels, continuing on to the newest just released this summer, Written in My Own Heart's Blood.

After twenty-three years, you can imagine how excited fans of the series were to learn that Claire and Jaime and the Highlanders of Scotland would finally make it to film. Now Outlander is a series on the Starz cable network, which has many people eagerly contacting their cable companies and looking forward to Saturday nights again.

One of the executive producers is Ronald D. Moore, who was the wizard behind the refurbished Battlestar Gallactica series that took a campy space show and turned it into a gritty, realistic commentary on the absurdities of war and the human condition. This boded well in my mind because I knew he wouldn't turn it into some sappy Hallmark sweet-sop or melodramatic Lifetime special.

But I'll admit, I had my reservations about seeing this book brought to life. After all, one of the pleasantries of reading is envisioning the characters in your own mind's eye. The reader comes to care about these people, picturing their faces and hearing their voices in a particularly personal way.

Casting beloved characters is always tricky. Just ask the men who have played Batman over the years in different films. Ben Affleck has been slated to play him after Christian Bale reinvented the character in three films, and the fans have been less than kind. Many fans were not thrilled with Keira Knightley's Elizabeth Bennet after watching Jennifer Ehle embody the role in the 1995 production of Price & Prejudice. And truly, could anyone actually believe Lucille Ball as Scarlet O'Hara instead of Vivian Leigh in Gone With the Wind?

With hesitation, therefore, I watched the first episode. I was thrilled with the cinematography, the locations in Scotland, the beautiful costuming. plays Claire Randall, and does all right with it. She's perfectly thin--for 2014, not post-WWII Britain, but well, okay.  Jaime Fraser is played quite well by , a native Scot who definitely brings some authenticity to that Scots burr. Frank/Black Jack Randall is played by who played Brutus on HBO's Rome series. Not at all what I pictured.  Let's say Rupert Friend might have been a bit more sexy. I would hope the chemistry that should ignite the triangle between the leads will kick in at some point, because so far to me it seems to barely sputter.

I have major issues with the way this story is being told. Because it is literally being told. Claire narrates so much I wonder if she really means to be doing a historical documentary. Authors are constantly warned to SHOW, not TELL, and movies are all about the showing. Claire's narration drives me to distraction. She could talk to herself for heaven's sake instead of the near constant voice-over as she wanders along a hallway or field. Often directors will add a new character as a foil, a sounding board for the protagonist to express his thoughts. They did that in the Hornblower series by keeping Lieutenant Archie Kennedy in the storyline far longer than C.S. Forester ever had him in the books. Horatio discussed things with Archie in a way that let the audience see and hear his doubts, his fears, and his intentions. It worked.  Give Claire a dog to share her doubts and fears with if necessary, but shut that damn narration up.

 I have watched two episodes out of three that have aired, and the disappointment level simply continued to grow. Yes, I am in the minority, I know. Most of my friends who love the books are eating this series up and enjoying the experience. I like the costumes. I adore the landscapes and the camera work is breathtaking. But for me there's no spark, no burning reason to keep tuning in. I might give one more episode a go, but the moment Claire goes into her Ken Burns mode, I'm done.


No comments:

Post a Comment