9 February 2010

Somebody's Inferno.

A while back I mentioned that a company was developing a video game based on Dante's Inferno.  Now they've come out with a Superbowl ad.

I wasn't going to embed it, but it has Bill Withers' singing "Ain't no Sunshine", and that makes it worthwhile.

I knew they would be tweaking the poem to make a game, but this is getting somewhat out of hand.  Beatrice was supposed to be beautiful.  They've made her a smokin' babe.  If Dante mentioned a pair of breasts like that in his poem, I missed it.  In the earlier ads I had seen for the game, I thought Dante was wearing a surcoat with the cross on it.  Here I can see that he's actually bare chested with a red cross tatooed or something onto his chest.  I'm trying to think of something witty and flippant to say about that.  Nothing's coming to mind.  I believe the word is "speechless".

The best moment in the ad comes around 16 seconds or so, when tiny, barely visible writing appears to say
"Images not representative of actual gameplay."  Slick.  The ad may as well say:  "On February 9th, you can buy a game that is really nothing like this!" 
The story line isn't really anything like that of the Divine Comedy, although I will admit they've done some work with the setting.  The story is more along the lines of Orpheus and Eurydice, except Orpheus goes to the netherworld armed only with his lyre.  I really can't wait until students start handing in essays on the Inferno based on what the remember from playing the game.

It does raise some interesting questions, though.  My main question, and I won't even pretend to have an answer on this one, is: at what point can we say a work (be it a movie, a play, a game, and so on) based on a work of literature, no longer has anything to do with the original work?  Let me use a few examples from Shakespeare.

My personal favourite adaptation of Shakespeare onto the screen is Akira Kurosawa's Ran.  Based on the King Lear story, it resets it in samurai Japan, and tells the story of a feudal Lord and his three sons.  Although not a single word in the movie was written by Shakespeare, it remains in my opinion the best of the movies I have seen.

I compare this to some of the stage versions of Hamlet I have seen.  Some years ago, some director decided to update the setting of the play, and therefore made Hamlet a drug addict, (he actually delivered the 'to be or not to be' speech while shooting up), Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern were Siamese twins (no, really) one of whom was a woman (again, really), and whole lot of other weirdness went on.  The Ghost of Hamlet's father appeared to Hamlet on Hamlet's computer screen, which I actually thought was cool. 

Mind, this was high art compared to a Hamlet put on by the Graduate Theatre Department at my university.  That one really had to be seen to be believed, and I would rather not inflict seeing that play on anyone.  Despite having only eight actors in the entire cast, a decision was made to cast three of them as Hamlet (no, really), each one representing a different aspect of the Dane's  personality (again, really), and one of whom was a woman to represent Hamlet's feminine side (I'd say really again, but I imagine you readers saw that one coming.)  The fact that these were supposed to be the best and brightest of our theatre department made me despair the future of theatre.  They couldn't act.   I once had a few drinks with a theatre prof, and he told me these words:  "On stage, there are two ways you can make the audience pay close attention.  You can lower your voice, or you can lower your pants."  The graduate students were incredibly loud.  That was their way of emoting: volume.  So, being incapable of lowering their voices, you can guess how they tried to get our attentions.  That's right: naked Hamlets.  I went home quickly to bleach my eyeballs.

The point of this is that although these two plays both used Shakespeare's words throughout, neither of them had anything to do with Shakespeare.  The director may as well have come up with new plays in both cases, except he didn't. because no one would have come to see their plays, but they would come to see Hamlet.  Except they didn't, because in no way was that Hamlet.

One of the ideas that used to get bandied about during my time at the university was the notion of infinite interpretations, or the possibility of plenitude in interpreting a text.  I believe this to be true, but with a caveat, which I used to tell my students:  Saying a text can have any number of interpretations does not mean that they can have just any interpretation.  Sometimes the interpretations break completely from the text, leaving only a title and a slandered name.

Now back to the Bill Withers' song:  "Ain't no sushine when she's gone.  Ain't no warmth when she's gone away."

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