Recently I’ve been getting quite caught up in a frenzy of ranting about books being made into films and why certain adaptions annoy me more than others. This means that I’ve only really been discussing the films that make me annoyed, and I’m angry at myself for this. I’ve once again gotten so caught up in a state of negativity that it’s lead to me coming across as a horrible person who finds no joy in life. I would still like to think that this isn’t the case, but the evidence continues to expand.
I find that much like with most things in life, if you focus too much on the negatives you soon fail to see the positives that are right in front of you. It is all well and good me spending time discussing how much a film annoys me, but I think it’s time much better spent if I talk about the films that had a positive impact on me.
As I said before, I’ve been writing a lot about novels being adapted for the big screen and how it’s difficult to get this right. As per usual I’ve talked the hind legs off a horse about ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘The Hobbit’, but if there’s one film I know I will always appreciate as well as the book, then it’s Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece ‘There Will Be Blood’.
Based on the novel Oil! written by Upton Sinclair in the early 1920s, the film tells the story of a businessman navigating his way to the top of the oil market in early 20th century America. It shows how his greed and his lust for power control his personality and have lasting impacts for those around him, including family members. The film may not follow the book directly, but I admire that.
The book is very complex, switching from second person narrative to third person narrative and following a range of different characters as they encounter conflict, political changes and the questioning of religion. The social issues are explored in great depth and it draws an intriguing comparison to how society is nowadays to how it once was. At its core the novel has characters that are consistent to the plot, but whereas the novel focuses more on Daniel Plainview’s son and the people he interacts with, the film strips away a lot of the padding and leaves us with just Mr Plainview himself and his actions.
The book moves on quite quickly from the events surrounding Daniel Plainview and soon become focused on his son moving away and becoming tangled in conflict and political struggles, but with the film Paul Thomas Anderson stuck to the events surrounding Daniel Plainview. It might annoy others who like the book because it does detract away from the topics the book covers, but I like it because it keeps the film simplistic. Stylistically PTA keeps his films simple so that they focus on the characters, which I think he achieved perfectly with ‘There Will Be Blood’, the character of Plainview was so complex. I went from thinking he was a good business, to hating him, to feeling some sympathy for him, before hating his guts again.
There was a bold changing of the character presented in the novel, taking someone who was essentially a family man who wanted to do the best for his family and turning him to a sinister, cold hearted shell of a man. It kept the flare for business and passion for making money, but it twisted it and made it show more about what happens when greed is left to manifest itself. The film is very simplistic and does centre on one man, but that is what made it so chilling. It left us following a man we in all likelihood hate as we see his greed completely change who he was.
There’s always a popular complaint from people when a big screen adaptation is released, because people will always compare it to the book and say that the film doesn’t follow the story of the book. In some cases, such as Harry Potter, I don’t care because I wasn’t engaged enough in the books to care about what happens with the films. In the case of The Hobbit I care because it’s one of my favourite books and I care about what happens to it. In the case of Oil! I admire the changes that PTA made. I like the fact he respected the source material, but then made it something different. I think it’s so admirable that a film maker who is the writer and director can take a fine piece of literature and be inspired. That was the key thing with this film, it inspired Paul Thomas Anderson.
It’s all well and good taking a book and directly transferring it to screen, much like a lot of film makers do nowadays anyway, but it shows something special when they can be inspired by a book and use that inspiration to make it in to something different. PTA took a source that he respected, took the elements that inspired him the most and made a film that was tangential to the novel, but worked not only as a piece of cinema but as a solid narrative. He took an idea, a character, a made an entire film out of it, questioning what it is that makes us human.
As a screenplay writer as well, PTA tested how far a character can be strengthened by speech. The film takes a full nineteen minutes before speech is heard, before that it’s footage of Plainview digging and discovering oil. It was chilling to see such vast desert landscapes with just one man walking across. It was the sort of shot that made me reflect on how small my existence is, it made realise that I am such a small part of this enormous planet we live on. That was chilling.
The correlation between the film being one of my favourites and the novel being one of my favourites is not clichéd, nor is it coincidental, I appreciate both for different reasons and I will always hold them close to me. The film was the first film I saw by Paul Thomas Anderson who has grown in to my favourite screenplay writer, and the novel kept me company over a series of lunch breaks at my part time job and two days ill in bed whilst on holiday in Tunisia. It will always means something special to me and be a book I can look back on a remember how it made me feel after reading it for the first time.
As the title suggests, I believe this was a perfect example of how to turn a book into a film, and it is. It showed how a film maker can appreciate a piece of literature, be inspired by it and make a piece of film from that spark of inspiration. It showed how you don’t just have to copy and paste a book to the big screen, you don’t have to follow a book just like a rule book, and you certainly do not have to add things to influence the pace of a film. That wasn’t a dig at The Hobbit. Not in the slightest.
If you haven’t read the book then I would heavily recommend it, it’s a classic novel exploring greed and jealously and how they affect us as humans. I may dislike the character of Daniel Plainview but in the end I know he represents all of us. He is a physical representation of the deeply pitted greed that hides in all humans, and is a display of what happens when this greed is set free.