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The adaptations of Benjamin Button

December 26, 2008 |  8:43 am

Bb_fsgreads_2 This week we began a discussion of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It takes about an hour to read and can be found online here at Project Gutenberg (with the rest of "Tales of the Jazz Age") and here on its own. John Fox looks forward to the film version, which opened Dec. 25.

What gives me hope that the movie will have reviewers hanging superlatives all over it?

Well, at least B.B. has a good history of adaptation. Faulkner wanted to turn it into a stage play or screenplay back in the ’40s. Gabriel Brownstein gave a literary makeover to the short story in 2002, focusing on certain episodes in Button’s life. And here in 2008 Nunzio DeFillippis and Christina Weir put out the graphic novel version (with a great cover image!). Still haven’t seen any ads for "Benjamin Button: The Musical," but I wouldn’t bet against it. But maybe the adaptability of the story’s premise is also what makes it prone to radical changes –- the concept is so strong that people want to offer their own take on things inside Fitzgerald’s framework.

Shaft, as far as your worry that the movie bears little resemblance to the original story, I guess that brings up the problem of adaptation. Should we judge the film on its relationship to the original? It depends on whether you think fidelity to the source material is a necessity or whether it’s only one option among many. In Hollywood, it doesn’t seem anyone would take a principled stand on either position: they’ll stick close to the material if it appeals to the broadest demographic, and alter the entire thing except the name ("Cheaper by the Dozen" -- what an insult to the excellent book) if it will rake in more cash.

I usually prefer if the movie hews close to the book, but that’s often because I’ve read the book beforehand. It’s also because when the film deviates from the book, sometimes it’s just to pacify the god of ticket sales. (I still haven’t seen "Blindness" because I loved Jose Saramago’s novel so much I’m scared the film will ruin it). But in principle, I recognize that film is a different beast and that changes are necessary for the story to thrive in the visual medium.

After the jump: some concerns.

Many of us mentioned the humor of the original story -– I wonder how much humor will remain in the film, and if it’s been erased, how that will change the nature of the story. But if they cut it, well, drama always scores more Oscars than comedy, anyway.

At least it has a solid pedigree, with David Fincher directing and Eric Roth writing, as well as positive earlier indicators, with the Golden Globes nominations.

But here are some worries:

I’m worried that the film had a pre-pre-production longer than the lifespan of some of the audience that will see it (the project might have begun as early as 1994? Originally starring John Travolta?)

I’m also worried that it’s two hours and forty-seven minutes. That’s "Titanic" length. It’s also "Waterworld" length. Takes a lot of audience stamina to make it through a movie that long. Or maybe I’m just revealing my bladder weakness and lack of patience.

-- John Fox

Photo: F. Scott Fitzgerald. Credit: Cornell University