Wednesday, 4 March 2009

From Autum To Spring

Some context first. Like a lot of other people, I was somewhat dismayed by George R. R. Martin's Livejournal post regarding the hate mail he's been getting over his increasingly delayed fifth installment of A Song Of Ice And Fire.

Like every other right-thinking person in the world, I have no trouble believing that anyone who writes to someone purely to tell them they aren't working hard enough (unless it's to a member of Congress) is, a priori, a dick. Nevertheless, the fact that telling someone to work harder, or to point out to them that they are fat and might die and that this would be bad for us, is the action of a grade A douchebag doesn't really change the fact that the book is stupidly late at this point. In other words, just because people are scum for lambasting you for your mistakes, it doesn't mean mistakes weren't made [1].

I wrote an email to Martin himself along roughly those lines (at least I think it was along roughly those lines, I was drunk) at the time, mainly because it bothers me when people express an idea I am kind of on board with in such an aggressive and cack-handed way. I mention all this purely to demonstrate that I am not one of the frothing must have book now loonies peppering the internet; that I'd rather have a better book later, and that only the twin fact that men are mortal and writers don't stay on their game forever make time anything of an issue.


The first season of HBO's adaptation of ASoIaF will commence filming this Autumn. Assuming for the sake of argument that they film one season a year (which doesn't seem a particularly unsafe bet), then right now they will finish filming what actually currently exists in 2012. That's less than four years from now. (Edit: Jamie points out in comments that they are filming the pilot at the end of the year, not season 1, so you can probably add a year on to every date I've given here).

A Dance of Dragons has already taken more than two years longer than originally expected. Even if Martin's current completion estimate of this June turns out to be true, then it will still have taken him more than nine years to write it and its predecessor. That is to say, even if Dance... is finished by 2012 (which seems pretty likely) and then The Winds of Winter manages to materialise by 2013 (which is certainly possible, though the amount of time needed to convert it into a script format etc might be a worry), it's almost impossible to believe both Winds... and A Dream Of Spring will both be in existence by 2014.

I'm told Martin has said that should the show outpace the novels, the headsheds at HBO can come up with their own ending, with perhaps him involved steering it along.

Well, let's be clear. The show will outpace the novels. I know I can't see the future, but I will eat a particularly jaunty hat should this not occur. Well, that's maybe a bit foolish. There is obviously one way that it might not happen; the show might get cancelled before it gets to whichever season it would have to try bookless. This is hardly a preferable option, obviously. If you're going to film a serial in progress, running out of fans before you run out of material doesn't really seem like that much of an improvement.

So let's assume the show does get to the point where the writers run out of published material and decide to make shit up. The way I can see it there are three possibilities.
  1. The alternative ending doesn't live up to what came before, because whomever decides to be in charge of wrapping shit up just doesn't think along sufficiently similar lines to Martin for it not to be horribly jarring;
  2. The alternative ending kicks all kind of ass, to the point when we read Martin's own conclusion (whilst sat in our Martian living rooms during our daily robo-massage) we all think it's shit, and try not to think about the decades of investment some of us have put into this series; [2]
  3. The two endings are quite different but equally satisfactory.
Obviously, of the three, the third one is preferable. Notably, though, it still bothers me as an idea. I suspect this is my experience of adaptations talking. I don't think I can enjoy a book as much if I've already seen a film or TV adaptation of it. I spend less time immersed in the narrative and more time cataloguing the differences between the two. Maybe I'm alone on that, but at the very least the inevitable cross-pollination will blunt the experience. When Lord Whosisname gets killed by Prince Thingimy and as a result claims the Iron Throne, "Holy shit!" is a preferable reaction to "And to think it was Ser Oojimaflip in the TV show!"

The answer to all of this is pretty obvious, I guess: don't watch the TV series. Which, my basic weakness as a person aside, is probably what I'll have to do. I suppose I'm just bummed that my best case scenario for the TV adaptation of some of my favourite novels is now "Gets to the end and doesn't fuck up the last few hurdles that someone new slapped together, in a way that doesn't actually become apparent until the books themselves are done and I can get to check the show out."

[1] To be absolutely fair, it appears the vast majority of the complaints weren't along such comparatively reasonable lines. Having said that, you're never going to get anywhere if you only address those who didn't have a point and ignore those who did.

[2] Full disclosure; I started reading this series in late 2002, so there are people out there who will be way more pissed than me.


jamie said...

First, a brief correction: the pilot for HBO's adaptation of ASoiaF will commence filming in October. A full season hasn't been ordered yet. If it is, I doubt we'll know until late this year, and I would think that it will still be a while before we see the final product; I'm guessing this adds at least a year to your current estimates (as the Winter is Coming blog points out, we're probably not going to see the show until the autumn of 2010 at the earliest).

In addition, HBO seem to be somewhat looser in their adhering to timetables for their series than would perhaps be expected for the networks; it's not unknown, or even particularly rare, for up to two years to pass between seasons.

At any rate, I can see why you might be concerned about this, but I'm pretty much assuming that this series won't last beyond its second season. The nearest analogous show that HBO have tackled was Rome, and that got cancelled after two seasons due to its vast expense; and that was while the economy appeared fairly robust. Factor in that they'll apparently be filming in Ireland as the euro is in ascendancy over the dollar (admittedly, economics is a bunch of contradictory mumbo-jumbo to me, so clearly things could turn around drastically in the interim for all I know), and I'm extremely sceptical of its long-term prospects.

I think that the post on the SFX forum is pretty speculative about alternative endings. I keep fairly close tabs on the situation, and I can't recall Martin ever mentioning this. I might be wrong, but I'd like it if someone could provide a link.

Anyway, you're right; the best solution should HBO not put on the brakes before they hit the wall built by Martin's faithless muse is to not watch the whole thing until the last book has been consumed. Which, since I've got so damn much to watch in the interim as it is, should not be too much of a problem (hell, I'm behind by two and a bit seasons of Doctor Who as it is...)

SpaceSquid said...

As regards the passing of time between seasons, I'd be surprised if AsoIaF could get away with such. With a large cast of characters, trying to corral so many actors into such flexible contracts would be supremely difficult. I'd be interested to know what other shows you're thinking of.

You are of course right that the chances of the show getting to the point I'm describing is fairly low. I'm just pointing out that even the absolute best case scenario is, well, a wee bit rubbish.

I wouldn't worry about missing Who, most of it is shit.

jamie said...

I didn't say I was worried about it :-)

I was thinking of shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, Rome, Big Love, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Flight of the Conchords, etc.

I acknowledge that the main problem with such an approach would be the rapidly advancing ages of the child and teenage characters, but the realities of such a complicated production may mean that they have little choice in terms of the time needed to create an entire season.

I think the actors are going to have to have pretty flexible contracts anyway, if they're intending to use the same actors for a minimum of seven years, with an unclear end in sight...

SpaceSquid said...

Curb and Flight are a bit different though, since they have a tiny main cast, including one or two people who are also on the writing team.

The Wire I'm not sure about either, mainly because a) it was serialised, but wasn't exactly building to anything beyond each season's finale (which always left things open because, hey, that's life), and b) the way it rotated people in and out of the spotlight may have made actor committment less on an issue. I'm not sure how The Sopranos and Rome worked (to the extent the latter ever did, I saw a couple of episodes and really didn't like it) but I seem to remember the former also being of the same ilk as The Wire, ongoing plots but no years-long build-up.

I'd be much more concerned about the problems inherent in a series that has to take a year off and come back with the exact same main characters (of which, again, there will be many) in order to not have entire strands disappear.

jamie said...

Oh, I agree that intermittent seasons will cause issues with regards to the consistency and pacing of the series; and I hope that they compensate for it. I'm just not terribly optimistic that they will.

But then, since I'm all but convinced it won't last beyond two seasons anyway, it doesn't worry me too much.

BigHead said...

I would imagine that anyone who both reads the series and watches the adaptation will, by 2012, be overcome by how unrelentingly depressing it is, and committed ritual suicide.

SpaceSquid said...

Unrelentingly depressing? Some of the vicious killings are downright hilarious!