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2021 marks the 20th anniversary of Moulin Rouge and the 25th anniversary of Romeo + Juliet, two absolute bangers brought to us by the visionary that is Baz Luhrmann. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more polarizing director. You can love him, or you can hate him, but you’ll never sway the other team to your side. Luhrmann’s style can generally be described as maximalist—but that wouldn’t truly do it credit. It’s maximalism at the top end of the gauge. It’s maximalism on every party drug known to man. It’s fireworks and swirling colour and dizzying camera cuts, for no other purpose than to throw you off your balance and to pitch you head-long into a world of high camp, high energy, high drama—just high, to be perfectly honest. Luhrmann looks at maximalism and says, “sure, more is more. But most is best.”
As a viewer, you either eat up the spectacle or you throw it away; you’ll notice that both positive and negative reviews use the same language to describe his work, and it’s up to you how to feel about it. Are you seduced by the “tour de force of artifice, [the] dazzling pastiche of musical and visual elements” (a positive review) or put off by the “Gorgeously decadent, massively contrived, and gloriously superficial” ones (a negative review)? One thing is for sure: you will have a strong emotional reaction either way. You don’t just watch a Baz Luhrmann film. You need to strap in and prepare for whiplash, because he is about to assault all five of your senses and maybe a sixth.
But to reduce Luhrmann’s work to artifice and superficiality would be to miss the point. Yes, his films are a love letter to excess, and bring new heights to the term “chewing the scenery”. Yes, aesthetics are front and centre. But Luhrmann uses all these tools—and, truly, every tool in his belt—to get to the truth of the matter: he can laser-focus on an emotion or a theme, and then yank on it until it’s at the surface in its most raw form. The heightened artifice brings it out. Take Moulin Rouge, for example. The film high-kicked its way into theatres in June 2001, following a decade marked by too-cool-for-you-irony (and just before the gravity of 9/11). It’s a fin de siècle burlesque jukebox musical about a penniless writer (played by Ewan McGregor) and a high-end courtesan (Nicole Kidman) who fall in love at the titular cancan venue. It’s a film whose theatrical climax features a man growling a tango version of “Roxanne” by The Police. The two main characters fall in love over the course of one mishmashed pop song—maybe two, if we’re being generous. Kylie Minogue has a cameo as “The Green Fairy”, a hallucination brought on by absinthe. The villain is simply named The Duke (but you have to say it dramatically: The Djuuke) and he performs an extended, silly version of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”.
On April 23, Netflix will debut its newest highly anticipated adaptation: Leigh Bardugo’sShadow and Bone.As a Bardugo fan, I find myself to be both excited and a little apprehensive, which is par for the course for adaptations. Will the show do the book you love justice (e.g.Normal People), or will it be completely unrecognizable(e.g. The Turn of the Screw-turned–The Haunting of Bly Manor)? Borne from a very specific, early 2010s trend in YA fantasy, this series has been a long time coming. For fans of YA literature, having your faves picked up by Netflix is like a dream come true, even if Netflix’s adaptation history is spotty (did anyone see the ending of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina? What was that?!). Netflix is not beholden to the rules of network television, so there’s less chance that the story will be tampered with in order to appease a mass American audience—which is good news for this series, which tends towards dark subject matter and generally more “adult” themes. What’s more, without bending to please middle America, Netflix adaptations are more open to showcasing diversity (see their ultra-popular To All the Boys film trilogy, which previous studios had attempted to whitewash).
Truthfully, I’m surprised the powers that be chose to adapt Shadow and Bone now—is it me, or isthis sort of trilogy-based, post-Hunger Games, one-girl-to-save-them-all narrative a bit passé? It has, after all, been about a decade since it first took off. Which is why I’m a bit miffed that, rather than simply adapt Bardugo’s (objectively!) superiorSix of Crows duology, Netflix has decided to combine the two series into one show. The two might take place in the same universe, but genre-wise and tone-wise they are drastically different:Shadow and Bone revolves around Alina Starkov, an unremarkable orphan who discovers she is actually very remarkable indeed. After the blossoming of her powers, she enters the high-society world of the powerfully magical Grisha, and attempts to take down The Fold, “a swathe of impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters that feast on human flesh”that is threatening the alt-Russia nation of Ravka. Six of Crows, meanwhile,centres on a gang of disparate criminalscalled the Dregs in the Amsterdam-esque city of Ketterdam, after the events of Alina’s story have already concluded. I think most fans would agree that between the two, Six of Crows is more worthy of an adaptation. In fact, its ingredientsseem ready-made for television: illicit gang activity, a bunch of traumatized misfits finding family with each other, heist action, slow-burn romance, a city setting so fleshed out you can almost smell the corruption. In comparison, Shadow and Bone, while still compelling, just doesn’t hit the same way.
We’ve all been privy to the book that has been made into a movie. We’ve had those long conversations about what elements the movies missed from the book and how the book is so much better. We’ve even had a few of those rare conversations about those movies that are in some ways better than the book (looking at you Children of Men).
Movies aren’t the only medium of adoption for books, there are also a handful of musical pieces that have been created. Most of the time, it’s a single song: Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights, Steve Hackett’s Narnia, Led Zeppelin’s Misty Mountain Hop are just a few to name.
What about full albums? One song is not enough time to get all the nuances of a book translated properly. There have been a handful of full length albums that have taken on the task of adapting a book, and I’ve compiled my five favourite.