• 10 Popular Book Series That Didn’t Make It Past The First Film

    21 July 2021

    There was an article in The Nation (a Sri Lankan weekly newspaper) recently entitled: 10 Popular Book Series That Didn’t Make It Past The First Film. It includes the usual rogue's gallery of popular book series that didn't quite translate into celluloid success stories, such as His Dark Materials (before it was resurrected by the BBC), Eragon... and, of course, Cirque Du Freak.




    Often with articles like this, the compilers do little more than list some financial flops, provide a brief summary, and leave it at that. But in this one they tried to quickly explain why each adaptation failed, and they made a pretty good point when discussing the Cirque Du Freak film:


    "A key problem with making the first film of a franchise is the balance between the ability for it to work as a standalone film and setting it up for a sequel. If you look at Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone or Twilight, if for some reason the production of their follow up films were discontinued, they would still work (and make sense) on their own. Where Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant fails is the introduction of several characters that have no purpose in the film except to set it up for a sequel."


    Now, as I've said many times before (and will no doubt say many times again), I enjoyed the Cirque Du Freak film on its own terms. I was able to separate it from the books and treat it as its own entity, and it was a weird, quirky little film that did some interesting, amusing things. But there's no denying it had its problems (hence its underwhelming box office return and the lack of any sequels). It wasn't sure how dark it should go, and introduced far too much comedy. It cut out or made unwise changes to some key heart-wrenching moments from the books (e.g. having Darren play on a Gameboy while his family was grieving during his burial, and cutting out the character of Sam Grest and what happened to him). And it was definitely, as the article states, overly focused on being the first of a franchise and setting up its intended sequels.


    I never had one eye on the Big Picture when I wrote the first three books of the series, because I didn't know there WAS a big picture. I wrote Cirque Du Freak as a standalone novel. I knew, given the way it ended, that there would be room to take the story further if I wished, and ended up doing that with The Vampire's Assistant and Tunnels of Blood. But even then, I was carefully feeling my way into the story, not trying to set up big pay-offs further down the line. I think that's part of the reason the story worked so well -- if you only read the first two or three books, you could walk away without feeling that you'd been left with a load of loose ends.


    The film, on the other hand, coming along several years after I'd finished the series, was all too aware of that bigger picture. Its makers knew about Vampire Mountain, and how the mythology developed and deepened from book 4 onwards. They knew about the War of the Scars, and how central a character Mr Tiny would become. And I think that knowledge steered them astray. It didn't help that the writer/director decided to change a lot of that mythology and supplement it with his own ideas, but even if he'd stayed more faithful to the atmosphere of the books, I think the story would have struggled with its basic structure, because it was asking viewers to buy into the concept of a Big Picture when it should really, like the books, have only been concerned with how Darren's life had been turned upside down and how he slowly began to piece together a new life for himself -- i.e. it should have focused on the micro, not the macro. The bigger, wilder, more exciting stuff should really have been left to the later movies.


    Hopefully, if the books ever get rebooted, the makers will learn from the mistakes of the series' first adapters, and take a more gradual approach to the later storylines, and as with His Dark Materials and A Series of Unfortunate Events, the story will be allowed to flow and build in a similar way that it did in the novels, and this time we WILL get to the "good stuff" and see the journey all the way to its end.


    But, hey, I wouldn't bet on it!!!!! :-) :-) :-)




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