Literary visionary – why does fiction fail on screen?

So, I finally got around to watching the one and only season of The Dresden Files. It was no Firefly, but how many short run shows are capable of generating that level of post-run success? I doubt fans rallied around the interwebs raising metaphorical hockey sticks over the Dresden cancellation. I think Jim Butcher’s books featuring the wizard are popular enough, so why did the show flop?

Nutshell rundown of book’s character for those unfamiliar – Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden (conjure by it at your own risk) is a wizard in Chicago. He’s very successful as a consultant for the Chicago P.D. helping Lt. Karrin Murphy close the strange and bizarre cases that cross her desk in the Special Investigations department. He has a cat named Mister, drives a battered blue Beetle he can barely afford to keep running, has an on/off relationship with a paranormal tabloid reporter named Susan, and holds the “living knowledge” of his craft in a skull that contains the spirit of a great sorcerer.

The skull was once in the possession of his master, Justin, and nobody knows that Harry escaped with Bob the Skull after killing Justin in a duel. It was self-defense but he still has to try and figure out these crimes while staying under the White Council’s radar. If they ever suspect he’s going black, his number’s up for execution. Morgan, one of Council’s Wardens, seems to take perverse pleasure in the possibility that it’ll be his sword doing the beheading, and reminds Harry of that fact every time they cross paths. Harry’s just as keen to not see that happen. Later books explore his past, bind him to agreements with some pretty dark and disturbing characters, and set him on a path that makes him question his purpose, threatens his future, and risks the futures of those he loves as well.

The premise must have had promise as a show and done differently it might have succeeded. It didn’t have to become an Angel clone or silly mock-up of new age belief systems or anything. I think one of the major failings here was simply breaking canon. Yes, I know my inner geek is showing here, but they made some very questionable choices for cast and costume and other bizarre changes that added nothing useful and dumped things that could have added value and appeal.

Lt. Murphy. Why did they change her first name and give her a daughter we never meet? They also selected Valerie Cruz to play this character who’s described in the first book as blond and stocky with short curly blonde hair. I get Meg Ryan circa City of Angels in mind when I think of her, not Brazilian bombshell (Cruz is actually from New Jersey). Rather than let her be more of a trusted ally for Harry, they created a Murphy that was somewhat clueless of Dresden’s abilities, someone who would call him in, even if she didn’t believe he was capable of real magic.

No Mister, but odd Bob. Okay, cats are probably hard for television as they don’t listen to directors so I can give that a pass. In the books, though, Bob uses Mister as his body when Harry needs someone to do some supernatural yet surreptitious poking around. For the show they decided to give Bob a body instead. That took some getting used to, but Terrance Mann did what he could with it, and I think he succeeded in making Bob very likable and someone we could sympathize with, given his great knowledge and forced limitations. Some of his lines were quite droll.

No VW Bug. I don’t know why it was necessary to give Harry a Jeep in the show instead. Are they cooler? Harry drives a smashed up wreck in the books because it’s doomed to get smashed and wrecked a lot, given the nature of his job. In one of the books a giant plant monster (yes really) drives its fist through the boot, which would have destroyed an ordinary car but not one with the engine in the back. Hah! Full speed ahead over that Chlorofiend, go!

Accoutrements. The show uses a hockey stick for his staff and a drum stick for a wand and I don’t understand why they did that. What he carries in the books is a staff he carved out of rowan, I think, with added protective sigils and signs. He also has a blasting rod which he uses to refine his otherwise overpowering abilities. Plus, Harry is almost always dressed in a long canvas or leather duster, specially treated with spells to be better protection than a flak jacket. Murphy’s often making fun of him for wearing it on warm days. No enchanted kinetically powered ring, either. That thing packs a good whallop when he uses it in the books. They utilized his shield bracelet, though, and his pentacle too, so it’s not a total loss on that count.

Home and office. Like Mister, I get why this changed. Book Dresden has a dingy dank office on the 7th floor of an office building and lives in the basement of an old house with a narrow subbasement for his lab. That kind of space would have been way too confining for a set. Dark, too.

Susan Rodreguez. She was only used as a bit of fluff in the pilot, which never aired. Instead, Harry had a revolving door of women admirers, each one more beautiful than the last. Kind of creepy, actually, how many beautiful women were in this show. The chick who played the vampire Bianca was delicious to gaze upon and I’m not even gay. I think it was her lipstick that did it. Mighty fine lips.

Powers. The spells could have used a little more special effects work but their budget was probably limited. I think they did better than Whedon for illustrating just how freakishly fast a vampire can move, though. That was pretty cool to watch. They also had some neat disjointed editing methods for displaying the effects a spell might have on one’s ability to focus. One power that was sadly absent was the soul gaze, though. In the books if Harry locks eyes with anyone, he can glimpse who they really are inside, and they can see him, and the knowledge remains with both of them forever. Also, there wasn’t much mention of the Never Never as the fairy realm, no fairy godmother (she’s not one of the nice ones) and the magical villains weren’t believably threatening. I don’t know if that’s the fault of actors, directors or scripts though.

I don’t know if it needs to be said, but Dexter is based on a great series of books by Jeff Lindsay. What’s that show doing right for why it’s into its third season already? Dexter solves crimes too, but maybe he’s more interesting as the dark anti-hero with even darker secrets. Or people just love to see blood and guts on screen. I’ve only watched season one so far (I like to wait for the DVDs) and was unprepared for the level of gore. Yes, I’ve read the books, but it never occurred to me how far the television show might go to capture the bloody nature of the storyline. I almost miss the days when violence was more implied and less visual, though. Little gets left to the imagination these days.

About 1minionsopinion

Canadian Atheist Basically ordinary Library employee Avid book lover Ditto for movies Wanna-be writer Procrastinator
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