Tuesday, February 07, 2012

One Final Post on Birdsong

Yeah, go read the book.

The second part of "Birdsong" is pretty much just as good as the first - it's well made, it's decently acted, and it's really quite surprising what they can do on a TV budget these days. I don't really have any complaints, mostly. But...

The book is just better.

Right, I'm now about to delve into spoilers. So, if you haven't seen the show or read the book, and don't want to know, skip the rest of the post. Other than noting another completed book, there's nothing more here for you.

The big problem with "Birdsong" on TV comes close to the end. See, one of the key points in the story is that Stephen, our hero, is noted as being scared of being underground, scared of birds, and yet he finds himself forced underground by the circumstances of the war. And, near the end of the book he finds himself trapped deep underground by an explosion.

Now, as I mentioned in an earlier post, the key feature of being underground that most of us don't truly appreciate, is that it is not dark down there; it is DARK down there. And, in the specific context in the novel it is also cramped, and narrow, and deeply scary and unsettling.

But TV and films have real problems with representing darkness. This is hardly surprising, since they're visual media, and if you can't show something, you have problems.

And so, in the second part of "Birdsong", when Stephen finds himself trapped underground, everything is strangely lit up with an ambient grey light. He has no problems moving around, and although the actor tries really hard, there's just no sense that he's trapped, and terrified, and desperate. "What larks!" as a character from another book would say.

I also take a little exception that they short-changed the ending a little. In both the book and the adaptation, Stephen finds himself trapped and decides to set off another explosion to try to win his freedom. Fair enough - desperate situations sometimes require desperate measures.

In the adaptation, this desperate plan works. Stephen is able to climb his way to freedom, comes out in a pit, and nearly picks a fight with some Germans before learning that the war is over.

In the novel, on the other hand, his plan doesn't work. Instead, he neatly brings the tunnel down on himself even further, trapping him for several more hours, almost completely immobilised. All he can do is make some small, feeble noise...

Noise which is heard by a squad of German tunnellers who think it may be being made by one of their own (actually, the brother of one of the tunnellers, and a man Stephen has actually shot dead some pages earlier). They dig through, and rescue him. It's a deeper level of desperation than the adaptation manages.

Anyway, that's "Birdsong". Definitely the best of the three adaptations I watched this winter, but still lacking when compared with the book. And, seriously, go read the book. It's good.

#6: "Mutants & Masterminds 2nd Edition", by Steve Kenson

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