Lost In Translation...

By Zee Monodee

See this little image here? That's a lot like what I've been feeling lately. Confused? Let me elaborate.

I'm a big fan of adaptations from book to screen. I've seen, and read, most of the stuff that took that road. The Devil Wears Prada, Bridget Jones' Diary, The Other Boleyn Girl, among others. Usually I'm not disappointed. Of course, there are differences. It is, after all, an adaptation.

But does this mean adaptations work from book to big screen... and not from book to small screen?

My case in point today is Dead Until Dark v/s True Blood.

I started watching the show, I'll admit, for this:

(come on, tell me you're not tempted!! Yeah, right! *cheeky grin*)

The pilot came on, and darn if I could make sense of what was happening in there. I thought it was supposed to be about Sookie Stackhouse the waitress who falls for Bill Compton the vampire (and sparking the real life romance between these two actors! That's how I 'learned' about True Blood actually).
The show was far, far from that actually. I tried to make sense how loud-mouthed Tara played in, and then Jason with his 'conquests' and the raw sex images... Uh, am I watching a vampire show or did the plot get lost somewhere in there?

Still, I plugged on (Alexander Skarsgard aka Eric hadn't come on yet) and watched Season 1. It started to make sense, somewhat, around Episode 5-6. The focus was on this killer whose been sending fang bangers to glory. Okay, I get it.
And Sookie's boss Sam has the hots for her. I get that too.
And Sookie can read minds. Sometimes it's a blessing, most times its a curse. O-kay...
And Sookie has eyes only for Bill. Finally we're getting there, I think.
And Tara happens to be the biggest biatch I've ever seen! The woman is awful and mean just for the sake of being awful and mean. Where's the characterization here???
And Tara and Sam have an agreement to be sex friends, but she gets nasty when Sam pines for Sookie. Right...
And Jason shags everything in panties under 30. I can get that.
And Jason hooks with Amy, and they kidnap a vampire and use him as their own little supplier of V (vampire blood, on which they're hooked). Now where does this subplot fit in???
And Lafayette, the gay cook at Merlotte's, is a V supplier-- Okay, fine.
By which time I'm literally screaming - Would you mind getting to the story, please?

It took me two runs of Season 1 to make sense of True Blood. And yet, at the end of the second run, I still didn't have a good grasp on the characters, who seemed bipolar at the best of times. Take Sookie - one minute she wants this, the next she doesn't want whatever she wanted before and wants something else. Oh no, wait, by the third minute, she wants what she wanted at Minute 1 again.

Still on a personal kick to enjoy Eric, I stuck with Season 2 and watched... to get lost into the myriad subplot branchings again. There was so much happening in those two seasons it was like the show was pumped on creative amphetamine! And Sookie and Bill? It would be a miracle if they get a quarter of the show's total air time to them and their story.

So I'll admit, True Blood lost me along the way. I'm not even sure I'd have gotten hooked in the first place if I wasn't stalkin-- I mean, looking for, Skarsgard in there.

Now this got me thinking - maybe the book would make more sense (anyone who's seen the LOTR trilogy and then read the books will understand what I mean here). Went scouring for a copy of Dead Until Dark at the local library and sat down to try and make sense of the True Blood world.

And wham - I breezed through that story in barely 2 days. It was remarkably easy to read, it flowed with an amazing pace, and the characters were clearly there and well-defined. Now stunner of all stunners - there is no mention of Tara anywhere in the book (I wanted to see how Ms. Harris justified her biatchy characterization. Turns out she doesn't, because Tara's not at all in Book 1). Lafayette is mentioned in passing as the gay cook with the outrageous clothes. Jason doesn't even really get with Amy and no way do they siphon a kidnapped vampire for their V. Anything related to Tara in Season 1 falls flat because she's not in Book 1, on which the show is based.
The focus was on Sookie and Bill. Theirs is a passionate but still sweet, innocent love that develops as any good love story unfolds. Sookie even makes sense as a character in the book! And sprinkle in a little thousand-year-old Eric in there too.

So, all in all, was it case of lost in translation from book to TV? Is it the fact that a TV show runs through a whole season of 12 hour-long episodes/22 40-minute deals that means a plot taken from a book is stretched and pulled wider than a Neapolitan pizza base?

Or is it that certain books work better as TV shows than others? Take, for example, a story that can be made into a police procedural show.

Case in Point: Rizzoli & Isles v/s The Surgeon & The Apprentice

I love Tess Gerritsen's books. When I first read The Surgeon, I thought it was CSI with a female kick and twist that made the story lively and interesting. Take Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles, for instance. Well-sketched and well-developed characters, each with her own quirks and individuality. Add in Rizzoli's crazy-nutty family and you also have moments of sheer laugh-out-loud humour.

I caught Rizzoli & Isles right after coming off the True Blood bandwagon. Went in expecting to be completely let down by the show and the acting. But, lo and behold, that was not the case at all! First of all, this is what Jane Rizzoli under Angie Harmon's acting is like. Yup - she's Rizzoli, full stop. I even love the way she has the frazzled hair on most episodes of the show. The TV character is as real as the book woman! And her crazy family? Spot on! Her over-concerned mum in the first episode itself made me want to run for cover.

Maura Isles lives up to her book namesake too. She's classy, rich, has a definite shoe fetish and her clothes are designer and to die for. Not to mention her slight OCD tendencies and the stick-up-the-backside attitude at times. Sasha Alexander is perfect in this character.
The interaction between the two women? As good as the friendship in the books.
The procedural aspect and CSI vibe? It's all there (minus a lot of the details Ms. Gerritsen writes into her books)
Something else - the pilot made sense! Even if you've never read a Rizzoli & Isles book, you would've figured out who was who and what was what in Episode 1 itself.

How come Rizzoli & Isles worked itself up so well on the small screen, while True Blood left a bitter aftertaste in the mouth?
Is it all a game of what's lost in translation...?

Or should we stick to movie adaptations? The latest of which pitches this:

against this:

What's your take?

From Mauritius with love,



  1. I think that adaptations, essentially, either lose something from the work on which they're based, or else acquire something totally different and unexpected. To some, this can be a plus, to others, a disappointment. I like to quote Dan Brown's books for example. The Da Vinci Code was a trifle long winded, yet, so comfortably familiar. I felt like I was reading the book all over again. Then Angels & Demons came out, and I was lost almost at the get go. What happened then? With the first one they were so faithful to the book, but with the second, it felt like someone lacked the patience to see it through. Then again, I canm't say it was a terrible movie, just a little disappointing to me. And yes, perhaps what you say is accurate - it was lost in translation, and quite deliberately at that. Really loved reading this...and thanks for the eye candy :)

  2. Zee, True Blood is actually one of my favorite shows. Though I will admit I don't care for Tara's character; she does seem a little pointless. And sometimes the plot can get confusing. But I've never read the books, so maybe that's why I like the show so much. And I'm afraid to go back and read the books for fear it'll ruin the show for me. But I do love me some Eric! He's one of my favorite characters. I'm still pulling for him and Sookie to hook up.

  3. Hey Angela/Nat

    I have read Angels & Demons but didn't see the movie.

    Agree though - translation can mean it loses something, or it morphs into something else. Take True Blood, for instance. It's supposed to be the same thing as the Sookie Stackhouse series but both are very different products at the end.

    Glad you liked the eye candy! Thought we could all do with some 'good' sightings. :)


  4. Hey Erin

    That's exactly what I meant - Tara's character is rather pointless, like she was parachute-dropped into the story and is out of place there.

    The books are much 'simpler', maybe because it is only Sookie's POV. I haven't read Dead In Dallas, which is what Season 2 is based on.

    Hmmm, Eric... I think we're pretty much on Team Eric here atm. :) Love his character, and Skarsgard plays him in a flawless manner.
    I was also intrigued by Godric too - he had such a small air time in Season 2 but he stole the show, imo.

    Thanks for the comment! Hugs

  5. I've enjoyed some adaptations more than the book, i.e. True Blood... but then I couldn't read the book! :(

    I'm thinking about this scenario right now because Friday Atlas Shrugged comes out and it is my all time favorite, number 1, best book in the world, well, for me anyway! I'm so afraid of what they're doing to my story!!!

    Now, on to Eric. Z, I'd watch this man in anything, absolutely anything! Just look at him would ya! *big BIG grin* Thanks for the morning eye candy.

  6. Hey Joann

    Yup, some adaptations are better than the books. If it weren't for Tara, I'd have said the same for True Blood. She kinda killed the vibe for me.

    But Eric... Hmmm, yum! Now we're talking! Nope, can't get enough of looking either. :)


  7. I loved the Sookie Stackhouse books and frankly I'm beyond angry with the TV version "True Blood" - though I will admit that I watch it just for Eric(Alexander really is yummy).

    I think that the problem with adaptations comes in when you have tv or movie writers who either can't or don't get the vision the works original writer had or because they have their own vision or agenda of what they want to write and don't care if it doesn't follow what the book/series is based on - perhaps a case of professional jealousy?

    I love Rizzoli & Isles- it's a great adaptation of the books.
    I'm hoping that HBO does a good job with Game of Thrones this coming weekend.

  8. Hey Maria

    I would've been totally annoyed and angry too if I had read the books before watching the show. True Blood is not at all like the Sookie Stackhouse books.

    I think you nailed it - the show's writers don't have the same vision as the book author. Whether through their own agenda or because they thought they could make it better, or because TV needs 'kicks' - whatever - sometimes they don't care either, just seeing an opportunity to cash in maybe. Sad, but unfortunately true.

    Now Eric - he's the one huge redemption spot of True Blood. :)

    But Rizzoli & Isles was good, innit? Will have to check out Game of Thrones later.

    Thanks for the comment! Hugs


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