Melville Electronic Library

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Film Adaptation

Film adaptation is crucial, modern extension of a fluid text. Moby-Dick has been adapted to film several times, beginning with John Barrymore’s 1926 silent “The Sea Beast,” later remade for sound in 1930. Orson Welles had a lifelong fascination with the book, adapted it for the stage with his 1955 “Moby Dick—Rehearsed,” and filmed readings from the novel in 1971. John Huston’s 1956 “Moby Dick,” with screenplay by Ray Bradbury and starring Gregory Peck, has become a classic interpretation. A full screen adaptation did not arise again until the 1998 television movie “Moby Dick,” starring Patrick Stewart. The 2011 television mini-series of the same title, starred William Hurt. In addition, numerous spoofs, spin-offs, and shorts, in film and animation, going back to the 1957 cartoon parody “Dopey Dick, the Pink Whale,” have been produced as well. References to Moby-Dick in film abound, and an argument can be made that works such science fiction and fantasy works as “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1986) and “The Amazing Spiderman” (2012), explicitly or implicitly follow a “Melville Meme” that combines wounding, revenge, and transformation.

In tackling the problems of tracking film versions of Melville works, editing visual media in general, and movies as an “adaptive revision” of Melville’s originating fluid text, MEL will focus our efforts on the 1956 Huston film “Moby Dick.” Film is a collaborative medium, and a range of professionals contribute to the various versions of a film as it evolves from originating text to screenplay, storyboards, scripts, and the final cut. These contributors include at the very least authors, screenwriters, directors, and producers; studio officials, distributors, and censors; art and costume designers; lighting, camera, and sound crews, and cast. At every step in this process of adaptation, a flow of energy is documented in various textual forms: there are editions of the novel annotated by the production crew, sequential, sometimes daily rewrites and versions of the screenplay, storyboards, internal memos, marketing releases, posters, contracts, and so on.

Generally speaking, our plan to create an editorial platform that will allow readers to compare different textual, production, and audiovisual versions of the Huston film with the textual versions of Melville’s original. Our initial focus will be on two versions: Ray Bradbury’s screenplay [LINK] and art director Stephen Grimes’s storyboards [LINK]. MEL researcher and George Washington University graduate student Jaime Campomar is assembling materials these materials for eventual display.