Friday, August 05, 2011

Book to TV Series: The Colorado Kid/Haven

I do a lot of comparisons of books to movies because it's like a writing exercise to me -- seeing what a screenwriter does to adapt a novelist's work for another medium can sometimes point out things that maybe should have been there all along. In the best adaptations, it's like seeing the result of a really good editor working on a manuscript. Some of the changes are made because of the shift from one medium to another. A book can include internal things like thoughts while a movie must be solely external. On the other hand, a movie can show in a split second things that take pages to describe in a book. In a movie, lots of dialogue slows the pace, and it's preferable to convey as much of the story as possible through action, while in a book, dialogue speeds the pace and too much narration -- even if the narration is describing action -- slows things down. But I've found that a lot of times in good adaptations the screenwriter will raise the stakes in a way that would have made the novel better, or the screenplay will find ways to make things from the novel into events with actions.

Then there's the book-to-TV series transition, which is trickier because a book usually has a beginning, middle and end, while a series is usually ongoing. There are a lot of ways to do this. There's the relatively faithful dramatization of the book, which seems to be what they've done with A Game of Thrones, where I was able to practically follow along in the book. With True Blood, the first season was mostly based on the first book, and apparently the TV series is more or less following the books, but veers away from the books along the way to tell its own story. Then there's using the book to provide the situation for a TV series, but not really basing the plot on the book, like they did with the series based on The Dead Zone. In that case, the book's initiating incident kicked off the series, and they used incidents in the book as the basis for some episode plots. Ultimately, the series did use the book's main plot as the basis for an ongoing arc. The series was very faithful to the book while not being a direct dramatization of the book.

I found a copy of The Colorado Kid by Stephen King, which is the basis for the series Haven, at the library, and it may be the most unique book-to-series transition I've seen. For one thing, the book is a straight mystery without any of the elements we usually associate with Stephen King, while the series is paranormal/supernatural, with those elements seemingly inspired by other King works. For another, the book mostly serves as the backstory for the series.

The book has a framing story set in the present (in 2005, which was "present" when the book was published) in which a big-city newspaper reporter has come to a small town in Maine to talk to the local newspaper editors about any unsolved mysteries in the area, for a book he's working on. Once the reporter is gone, the two old men who run the local newspaper tell their intern that there was one mystery they didn't tell him about because it was theirs. It's truly unsolved, with no real hope for resolution, and a reporter like that would try to tie it up into a neat bow and make sense of it all, when the point of it is that it's a mystery. Then the rest of the book is mostly one long conversation between the newspapermen and the intern as they tell the story of a mysterious death that happened in 1980 and what they did to try to solve the case. A man was found dead on a beach, and while his death seemed to be what I guess you'd call a natural accident (not really natural causes, but no foul play), who he was and how he got there and what the various clues meant were the real mysteries, and some of those clues hinted that his death might not have been an accident, after all, though they can't figure out how it could have been murder.

On TV, the series itself would be the equivalent of the book's framing story, but with an FBI agent who comes to town on a case and ends up staying and joining the local police department so she can investigate this old case instead of a newspaper intern. This old case that has remained unsolved is shrouded in a lot more mystery in the series, and it seems to be a major clue for other strange things going on in the town. For instance, the newspaper photo from when the body was found has in it a woman who looks almost exactly like the FBI agent the age she is now, even though the photo was taken 27 years ago. Most of the people in the photo don't remember the events of that day. And the death happened during a phase the town goes through that locals call the Troubles, which is when many of the town's residents start manifesting strange abilities or qualities (none of that is in the book). And now the Troubles are back.

In the book, the town is on an island instead of being a coastal town, and it has a different name. The main characters are the two newspaper guys, Vince and Dave, who are in the TV series (and they really capture their voices in the series because I could hear them in my head as I read). But in the book they're older and they're not brothers, the way they are on TV. The local bar/restaurant is called the Grey Gull in both book and series. The local cop who investigates the death is named Wournos (I think they spell it differently in the series), though he has a different first name, and he barely appears in the book, so we don't know if he's a widower with a young son (who'll grow up to be a detective). They have built an episode around one of those local unsolved mysteries the newspapermen are willing to share with the reporter, and now I'm wondering if we'll see any of the others. It looks like tonight's episode draws somewhat from another one, or at least includes some of that imagery.

The book is a short read, which is good because it's impossible to put down. I think I got through it in about an hour and a half. I must say, though, that never in a million years would I have read this book and thought, "You know, this would make a great basis for a paranormal TV series." There is an afterword to the book written by King and explaining that it was actually based on a real case, which makes it even more chilling. But I think the bit that probably has a lot to do with the idea of the series is where King talks about what he calls the "contrasting yet oddly complementary atmospheres of community and solitariness. There are few places in America where the line between the little world Inside and all the great world Outside is so firmly and deeply drawn. Islanders are full of warmth for those who belong, but they keep their secrets well from those who do not." And that seems to be the series in a nutshell, that there is a town with that many huge secrets that just about everyone in town is aware of but that they can keep hidden from outsiders. I noticed that the book's editor gets credited in the book, and he also gets screen credit on the series as a consulting producer.

And now to brave the world outside before they turn on the broiler for the afternoon.

1 comment:

Hannah A, said...

Hi, I'm looking for a book that's a lot like the tv series. If you know of a book that's like it besides The Colorado Kid I'd really appreciate it .
thank you :)