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17 Nov 2015 10:49
Fungus The Bogeyman, which stars Timothy Spall, Victoria Wood and Keeley Hawes, will also air on TV.
Adaptations of children’s and young adult literature are big news right now, both in film and, increasingly, on television. Mockingjay -
Part 2, the climax of Lionsgate’s big screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ The
Hunger Games books, arrives in UK cinemas this week, the BBC has just announced
a small screen take on Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, a new series of
Jill Murphy’s much-loved Worst Witch books is in production and Christmas will
see several children’s favourites on TV, from the BBC’s version of Julia
Donaldson’s Stick Man to Sky1’s Fungus The Bogeyman, a series inspired by
Raymond Briggs’s classic tale.
Yet with this host of adaptations comes an array of
Does TV allow more time to tell the story? Does film’s bigger budget
make for a more involving tale? Are some tales intrinsically more suited to
film than TV, and vice versa?
“There’s a great deal of difference in adapting for TV
as opposed to film – and further differences for radio and stage
performances,” says Florentyna Martin, children’s buyer at Waterstones.
“Film adaptations allow for a single-sitting with a resolution at the end,
much like reading a book from cover-to-cover in one go [whereas] developing
books on TV provides an expansion of the story-world with a level of detail
that is perhaps best mirrored in books.”
Martin points to the hugely successful Harry Potter films,
which earned over $7.7bn (£5bn) at the global box office, as an obvious example
of the differences between the two genres.
“The Harry Potter films are
truly magical because not only did they appeal almost whole-heartedly to
readers of the books but they reached out to a vast new audience, which is a
rare thing to get right.
Narrowing the gapIn
other words films tend to streamline the story simply by virtue of their time
constraints. While (as with both the Potter films and The Hunger Games) this
can be hugely effective, as it steers viewers to the novels’ central themes, it
can also backfire. The Golden Compass, the 2007 film version of the first His
Dark Materials novel, jettisons much of the atmosphere and storyline of
Pullman’s book in favour of big budget effects and a hunt for lost children.
These compromises were in part down to the film’s troubled shoot but also
because of a certain awkwardness in adapting this sort of material: the
question of how dark you can go in a film or series purportedly aimed at a
young audience. Pullman himself has been outspoken about the film version’s
When the TV adaptation was announced he pointedly hailed the
way in which television allows for “depths of characterisation and heights
of suspense by taking the time for events to make their proper impact and for
consequences to unravel” adding that “the sheer talent now working in
the world of long-form television is formidable.” That last point is key.
In the past film adaptations could claim to have the edge because in addition
to possessing the larger budget they were also able to draw in A-list talent,
both in front of and behind the camera. These days that same talent is flocking
to the small screen, ensuring that the gap is narrowing.
One broadcaster making use of this is Sky, which has made a
name for itself with a series of star-studded Sky1 adaptations of children’s
classics, from last Christmas’s Moonfleet starring Ray Winstone to 2009’s
Skellig featuring Tim Roth and Kelly Macdonald. This year its Christmas
offering is a three-part version of Fungus The Bogeyman starring Timothy Spall,
Victoria Wood and Keeley Hawes. Made in conjunction with Andy Serkis’s
Imaginarium Studios, who have handled motion capture technology in blockbusters
from The Avengers to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it marks the first time
their innovative technology will be applied to television.
Collaborations are important “The thing for us is that we can’t replicate BBC, ITV
or Channel 4 because we’re a subscription service so we have to work much
harder to create something that feels unique,” says Sky Drama
commissioning editor Cameron Roach, adding that Sky’s adaptations are almost
closer to film than TV.
“We always aspire to be like a blockbuster movie
in the sense that anything we’re showing should be worth paying for like that
ticket to the Odeon. Fungus is a family show with irreverent humour, jokes for
adults and children, a great cast and some incredible technology from
Imaginarium. That feels very Sky.”
For Michael Rose, the joint managing director of Magic Light
Productions, the team behind the hugely successful BBC1 animated adaptations of
Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s picture books, the most important thing in
adaptations, both film and TV, is collaboration. Magic Light worked very
closely with Donaldson and Scheffler throughout their adaptations, the latest
of which, Stick Man, will air on BBC1 this Christmas.
“It does frustrate
me seeing people get hold of a writer’s work and then not involving them,”
he says. “Writers should be involved as much as possible because it’s
their world, they’re the people who know it best. The value of having such
brilliant material is that you’re faithful to it.” It’s an encouraging
sign that Pullman is involved in recruiting a writer to adapt His Dark
Rose agrees that there is still something of a budget gap
between television and film but adds that there are ways of getting round that.
“It’s still the case that film production trumps TV but technological
advances mean that increasingly we can bring very high production values to TV
work,” he says. “We’re not competing with film, we’re offering
something different. I would hope that when people watch Stick Man it’s because
it’s a piece of very, very high quality animation that the whole family can
watch together. It’s an event.” – © Guardian News & Media 2015
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