January 6th, 2011

Defending The Dresden Files

Our next new writer is Brian Green.  He’s got some insight into The Dresden Files and why the show was handled horribly.

With Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files short story collection, Side Jobs having recently been released, and the novel Changes coming out in March, I thought I’d take the time to examine just what makes his books so bloody amazing.

But, after some thought, I realized I’d prefer to compare his Dresden series success with the abysmal failure that was the Dresden Files TV show.  This is something I’ve been longing to do for a while now, and this post only grazes the surface of my deep-rooted disappointment with the mishandling of the small screen translation.

Whenever Hollywood gets its greedy hands on the rights to a comic or novel, they begin tinkering with  it — trying to make it more palatable for the mainstream market.  And I was more than okay with them doing so, until Lionsgate & Saturn Films messed with The Dresden Files.

Back in 2005, the SciFi Channel optioned a two-hour pilot based on Butcher’s first novel, Storm Front (the book’s original title was Semi-automagic. Yeah, I’m glad they changed it, too) from Nicolas Cage and a handful of others.  Due to logistical challenges and cast changes, though, Storm Front ended up being the 8th episode out of the series’ 12 episodes.  That’s right, the counting of the episodes is 12; 11 shall you not have — 13 is right out.

Why did one of the best-written, best-selling Fantasy series of all time fail to make it on the small screen?  As always, I have an idea or two — well, more like six or seven.

Not enough of Butcher’s wit & wisdom. According to IMBD, Jim worked on all 12 episodes, but the show’s dialogue lacks any hint of the author‘s DNA.  There’s barely an ounce of Butcher’s brand of subversive humour and insight to be found — and trust me, I looked really, really hard.  Here’s one of my favourite examples from Dead Beat, my favourite Butcher novel.

“We are not going to die.”

Butters stared up at me, pale, his eyes terrified. “We’re not?”

No. And do you know why?” He shook his head. “Because Thomas is too pretty to die. And because I’m too stubborn to die.” I hauled on the shirt even harder. “And most of all because tomorrow is Oktoberfest, Butters, and polka will never die.”

This next one is from Storm Front.

“A man’s magic demonstrates what sort of person he is, what is held most deeply inside of him. There is no truer gauge of a man’s character than the way in which he employs his strength, his power. I was not a murderer. I was not like Victor Sells. I was Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. I was a wizard. Wizards control their power. They don’t let it control them. And wizards don’t use magic to kill people. They use it to discover, to protect, to mend, to help. Not to destroy.”

If the writers had actually taken the time to imbue the show with more of this kind of writing, there’s a chance it might’ve lasted longer than one miserable season.

Didn’t cast James Marsters. From what I’ve heard, the part was originally meant for him; however, as he was unwilling to move from L.A., they gave the part to Paul Blackthorne.  Now, Mr. Blackthorne may have looked the part, but he didn’t feel the part, if you get my drift.  He was simply unable to channel Butcher’s chivalrous, obstinate, sarcastic, Tolkien-reading, Burger King-eating Dresden that his fans loved.  Now, Marsters, I think, would’ve done the role justice.  And if getting him on board meant bending over backwards and kissing his ass, they should’ve done it — and liked it.

Straying way too far from Dresden canon.

I won’t get too much into this particular point, as the chances of my going off on a tangent are way too likely.  That being said, I’ll stick with one or two points of contention.

My biggest disappointment would be the decision to make Bob more than the all-knowing sex-obsessed Romance-reading talking skull I’d come to love and admire.  Giving him a British accent and making him the spirit of an 8th century wizard was not the stroke of genius others make it out to be.

In the novels, he is a spirit of wind and air, serving Harry and his previous wizard owners as a living compendium of spells and vast magickal knowledge.  He was also a horny bugger who, on one of his furloughs, caused quite a stir in the pants of  an entire sorority house.  Now that would’ve made good TV.

Toronto is not Chicago.

I love Toronto and, living not too far from it, I get out there as often as I can.  Some decent movies have been filmed there — the first X-Men, Short Circuit 2, Dracula 2000…sorry, don’t know how that last one slipped in.  Although, Jerri Ryan is in it, and her hotness factor alone makes it worth watching at least once.

Where was I?  Oh, yes…Toronto served well enough as the backdrop for these films; as a substitute for Butcher’s Chicago, however, it didn’t fair so well.  Of course,  those unfamiliar with either the T.O. or the Windy City would have an easier time buying into the deception.  But anyone with even a cursory knowledge of either town would have difficulty suspending their disbelief — and this, of course, would make it next to impossible to buy into the show as a whole.

More characters from the books.

I’d love to mention almost every single person Butcher introduced his fans to, as they’re all brilliant and incredibly developed.  But, as doing so would require me to write a novel of my own, I’m going to talk about only two of them.  The first is Michael Carpenter, Harry’s friend, family man and old school knight.  He wields Amoracchius, one of only three swords that carry out the White God‘s justice on earth.

After Michael, I like Dresden’s half-vampire half-brother, Thomas Raith.  This isn’t the sparkly emo kind of  vamp — although, he is a pretty boy.  Dresden meets Thomas at a vampire masquerade in the third novel, Grave Peril, but doesn’t discover they’re related until Blood Rites, the sixth novel in the series.  Instead of satiating his appetite with human blood, Thomas meets his needs by feeding off of lust — from both genders, equally.

And then we have the Leanansidhe (Lan-an-shee) & Lasciel (Lash-ee-el).  The former is Harry’s sex cauldron of a fairy godmother, who is bent on making him honour an agreement made when he was a teenager.; the latter is a beautiful fallen angel who takes up space inside Harry’s soul after he picks up the coin in which she’s been imprisoned.  Both spend a considerable amount of time seducing the Chicago wizard, and both ultimately fail — watching them try, though, gives us a fascinating glimpse into Dresden’s soul.

No duster, staff , blasting rod or talisman.

In the novels, Dresden carries some pretty sick gear. First, you have his leather duster — a simple matte black — that he wears pretty much all the time.  Not only is it stylin’, but Harry’s also laid it with bullet-and-blade-stopping spells.  Then you have his hand-carved staff and blasting rod.  The latter, laden with runes and sigils, resembles a wand.  It’s comes in handy when a wizard needs to quickly and efficiently focus his or her  will — in Harry’s case, he uses it to slam enemies with a lance of white-hot fire.

And finally, there’s the talisman, a gift from his dead mother who was also a wizard.  This pentacle is no simple memento, having saved Harry’s neck more than once.  Collectively, these items strengthened the Dresden character, setting him apart from your standard spell-slinger.  And, in there own way, became characters in their own right.

Stripping him of not one, but all of these, is like writing Batman without the cape and cowl — and no one would be dumb enough to do that.

Jim Butcher has defended the show, saying that it wasn’t meant to be a literal translation of his works.  And, yes, I realize how difficult in can be to turn a first-person narrative into a string of 40-minute episodes, but it seems to me that the writers and producers didn’t even try.  They simply took the names from Butcher’s world without giving a shit about maintaining each character’s integrity and origin.

Luckily, the Dabel Brothers and Dynamite Comics came along and redeemed Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, showing him to be more than the Diet Pepsi version of Angel that Nick Cage and Lionsgate would have us think he is.

So, if you’d like a taste of the real Dresden, grab yourself a copy of the Storm Front novel or comic.  You won’t regret it.

All content © 2009-2010 by Chronicles of the Nerds



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