Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

Hank Green of the incredibly smart Youtube duo, vlogbrothers, announced his newest project this week: "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries." Described as a "vlog-based adaptation of Pride and Prejudice," Green explains he started the project out of a desire to create something new and unique for the world of new media.

This involved taking an existing work--in this case, a work of literature--and adapting it to be suitable for online video. He chose
Pride and Prejudice because its dialogue heavy content and strong character arcs make it ideal for the immediacy and vibrancy that online media offers its audience. Further, these elements also make it possible to place less importance on elaborate sets, costumes, or scenery, and focus more on the development of character and the creation of modern dialogue that evokes the witty, quick cadence that Austen mastered.

In this very modern adaptation, Lizzie is a Mass Communications student vlogging about her family as a personal exercise and experiment. She's teamed up with her best friend Charlotte Liu, a film student, and together they create weekly videos where Lizzie gives very animated renditions of her current family drama. Short, snappy, and punctuated with a slight sardonic edge, Lizzie's three-minute "slice of life" vlogs have the quick witted friendly vibe of those infamous super-fast chats from the Gilmore Girls, but also the immediacy and depth required of both the subject matter and the medium.

The creators have opted to cut the two youngest sisters, Kitty and Mary, from the cast choosing instead to feature the more pivotal sisters, Jane and Lydia. Poor Kitty and Mary were probably deemed unnecessary to the development of the story, but having this adaptation fit the "norms" of the modern day nuclear family probably also played a role. While large families of five children (or more!) may have been commonplace in the Regency period, they are less common now (though not non-existent!).

Cutting Kitty is easy enough (no one likes the whiny, petulant child in the family), but I'm afraid cutting Mary may have robbed the adaptation of some rich material. I would have loved to see a modern version of an overly moral, straight-laced teen set alongside the "slutty" Lydia. The modern Mary could have also served as a means of a refreshing new reading--maybe her moral inclinations surface in incessant preaching about the global economy and the unfair distribution of wealth--the kind of moralist who will, with the purest of intentions, point out that the chocolate bar you're eating is made from cocoa beans that were not produced under fair-trade conditions. Mary just has so much potential.

In any case, the second episode gives us our first glimpse of Jane and oh, she's perfect. Jane appears to be a fashion intern serving countless cups of coffee and claiming that it's "the price of the industry." Ah, sweet, unassuming Jane. The casting for this production has thus far, been spotless.

I'm curious to see how the series handles the rest of the cast--will Bingley (Bing Lee) and Darcy ever appear on camera? If so, how will
that happen? Lizzie is after all, vlogging from her bedroom. I'm also really trying to figure out what the modern day equivalent of shamefully running away with a man, unmarried, will be. Nothing is really sacred anymore, so it will be interesting to see what the writers use as the Lydia-induced plot point that threatens ruin for the Bennets. Lastly, I'm especially looking forward to the dark, wretched moments where Lizzie can grieve into the camera. Confessionals are nothing new in the vlog world, but a Lizzie Bennet moment of truth is something to really savour.

While eight episodes have already been filmed, there are three episodes currently available for viewing on the LizzieBennet channel on YouTube. Creation of episodes beyond these original eight are dependent on the success of the series--a large audience makes ad revenue possible and funding available. So go on, watch!

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