My wife and I recently finished watching the series ‘Once Upon A Time’. Personally I think it’s one of the best things I’ve watched in a long time and would likely make it into my top 5 all time faves.
What I found most interesting though was how the writers had taken well trodden material and changed it into something that brought a new and fresh twist on the Disney fairytales and books that many of us will be familiar with (and before Im corrected I know Disney took in most cases existing stories, but let’s face it they pretty much propelled the characters to the status they are).
Now this isn’t new territory of course, there are countless films that try and put a new spin on existing material (Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman for instance) and novels such as Dean Koontz ‘Frankenstein’ series (books 1-3 were great and it should have stopped there). But in the case of Once Upon A Time it was impressive because they’d taken all the characters from classic tales and created back stories around them that were interesting and believable. Not just that but some of the changes they made had us literally sitting there open mouthed (for example, and I’m not giving anything away to anyone that hasn’t watched it, the first time we meet Cinderella’s fairy godmother).
It had us laughing, sympathising and generally engrossed which is a good thing. I believe season 2 has been commissioned so I’m quite looking forward to what they have planned (unlike Alcatraz which we enjoyed but has been cancelled) and for anyone who didn’t watch the series I’d seriously recommend it.
The way the writers of this series have taken a seriously lateral approach to the stories and made them deeper and more intricate is fascinating while still retaining in the main the underpinning of the stories we all know and love. Robert Carlyle’s portrayal of Rumplestiltskin is frankly just inspired, but his characters back story is so much more and evokes emotions that aren’t necessarily expected.
And don’t even get me started on Red Riding Hood, I’ll never look at that story the same way again.
I’m sure most of us will have sat there and looked at some film or series that was based on a book only to be disappointed that the opportunities for bringing the written word alive was squandered with sloppy storytelling or too many changes that were either unecessary, unwanted or simply didn’t work. For me that scenario is summed up perfectly in ‘The Hitchikers Guide To The Galaxy’, probably my favourite book series of all time and simply ruined by a film adaptation that just didn’t add anything and certainly didn’t make the books stand out in any way shape or form, in fact it seems to me the screenplay was designed to get as many ‘in jokes’ in as possible with scant regard for anything else (the original Marvin in the queue, the planet in the shape of Douglas Adams face etc). From my perspective it was a crime against the books and I will never allow the DVD/BluRay into my house. Yes, I seriously feel that strongly about it.
Contrast that with how carefully thought out and planned Once Upon A Time is and it’s obvious that with due care and attention a masterpiece can be created from something that’s well trodden. For an author to do this with a book or two is impressive if it keeps the attention of the reader and is believable, but to do it over 22 episodes of 45 minutes takes a lot of talent and has inspired me to wonder what interesting paths I can send established characters on that I wouldn’t have believed should be done previously.