Novel into Film
- Although the film is generally faithful to the novel, the opening scenes of the book and those of the film are quite different. Have students compare and contrast Chapter One of The Hound of the Baskervilles with the beginning of the film (until Holmes is introduced). Ask, Why might a contemporary director have chosen to open the film this way? Which opening do you find more effective? Why? (Note: The very first scene briefly shows an autopsy. Preview the film to make sure it is appropriate for your class.)
- How do you build suspense in different mediums? Create two columns on the board, one labeled "novel," the other "film/television." Without referring to The Hound of the Baskervilles specifically at first, have students list the ways in which suspense is commonly created in these very different storytelling media. Then look at both the film and novel version of The Hound of the Baskervilles to compile a specific list of what worked especially well to build excitement, uncertainty, fear, or foreboding. These could include lines of dialogue or description from the novel, and camerawork, acting, lighting, music, etc., that did the same in the film. Ask, Which elicits the greater response in you? Why?
- A great detective needs a worthy nemesis. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, Stapleton plays this role -- although in the film he is even more diabolical than in Conan Doyle's novel. As Holmes tells Watson, "We have never had a foeman more worthy of our steel." Ask students, When did you begin to suspect Stapleton? What clues told you he was the criminal? As a class, watch the intense interplay between Holmes and Stapleton in their first meeting at the Christmas party and in their final scene together. Ask, In what ways are the two similar? How does that heighten their con▀ict? To further explore the villain in Holmes stories, have students read The Final Problem, the story in which Holmes is killed by his enemy, Professor Moriarty. Then compare Moriarty and Stapleton. Who is the more worthy adversary for Holmes?
- Have students reverse the screenwriting process by taking a scene from the film and rewriting it as narrative description. (You may want students to re-read a few pages or so of The Hound of the Baskervilles before they start in order to steep themselves in Conan Doyle's voice.) Have them watch again the most dramatic part of the film: the moment where we finally hear, then see, the "gigantic hound." Then have them try to depict the scene in writing. Finally, have students compare their written version with the original. (Begin halfway through Chapter Fourteen of The Hound of the Baskervilles with "A sound of quick steps broke the silence of the moor.") Ask, Which of the three versions do you think does the job best? Why?
- In fiction, a narrator can give the reader information about what a character is really thinking, even if he or she is saying something entirely different. In a film, the actors must usually make these emotions clear to the viewer without the help of any "asides." Have students read the scene in Chapter Seven of The Hound of the Baskervilles in which Watson meets Miss Stapleton for the first time. (Begin with the paragraph, "I could not doubt that this was the Miss Stapleton of whom I had been told..." and read until she says to Watson, "But you will come on, will you not, to see Merripit House?") Then have students try acting this scene out with a partner: How will they show the audience the things they are feeling but not saying? Finally, have them watch how the actors in the film brought the same scene to life.
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