Monday, January 2, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Lost Horizon (1937) - When the Protagonist Has No Internal Motive

[Quick Summary: A group is kidnapped and flown to Shangri-La, but it's not as idyllic as it seems.]

Ooof. Tough adaption.

I gather that the novel was problematic to adapt for film.

For example:
- The protagonist gets to Shangri-La and is seduced by its charms.
- Then he wants to leave, but there's no real motive to go.

A passive protagonist is ok in a novel, but in a film? Yikes!

So, the writer did what had to be done: He added things that were not in the book.*

He gave the protagonist a brother, George, who wants to leave Shangri-La and is not deterred. It's not a glamorous fix, but now there's a motive for the protagonist to act.

ex. "MARIA: (a little hurt) You promised to come for tea yesterday. I waited for so long.

GEORGE: I'm sorry. (chagrined to discover he has no cigarettes left) I haven't even got any cigarettes left!

MARIA: I'll make some for you! (pleading) You will come today?

GEORGE: (after a pause) Perhaps.

MARIA: (tenderly) Please say you will. The days are so very long and lonely without you. (a whisper) Please...

GEORGE: All right. I'll be there.

MARIA: (happily) Thank you.

GEORGE: (suddenly) You'll tell me some of the things I want to know, won't you? You'll tell me who runs this place. And why we were kidnapped. And what they're going to do with us?

CLOSEUP - MARIA
From the moment he starts to speak, her face clouds. George's voice continues without interruption.

GEORGE'S VOICE: Chang's been lying about those porters, hasn't he?

She runs off, frightened."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I'm surprised at how many changes were made, including a new external motive, and the novel's author was STILL HAPPY. 

I find this extremely instructive. Keep the book's structure, if you can.

Lost Horizon (1937)
By Robert Riskin
Adapted from the novel by James Hilton

* Amazingly, the author approved as he "knew the rules of the game": "Of course, he had to change several things; he asked me about them all. They were none of them important. If you wrote them all down I suppose it would sound as though they'd made a lot of changes. That wouldn't be fair. None of the changes are structural. They don't affect the theme or the central story."  p. XVI. 

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