Have you ever wondered why movie adaptations are so popular? I have. And oftentimes, the movie is no where in the realm of good, at least not when compared to the original book. But that is, of course, when the movie is at least trying to portray the plot of the book. And then, there are those cases where it seems like the only thing the two have in common is the title. Characters act different, major scenes are deleted and you’re left wondering why you wasted two hours of your life watching this catastrophe. However, there are some jewels, some movies that are superb. This can be because they keep the important scenes and characteristics but often it is just as tantalizing as the novel without adding ridiculous scenes to make it more dramatic. So below, I have proposed two cases, one for the book purists and one for those who enjoy movie adaptations.
A Case for Books
As a reader, books will always be first. I find more enjoyment from reading and envisioning the world myself than from seeing everything given to me on a screen. This is especially true when it comes to awful casting, but I will touch on that a bit more later on in this case.
Books are the first form in this example therefore, they are the purist. They show the authors will and intent, how they imagined the characters, the world, the plot. And as a writer, I will be the first to tell you that world building is a very time-consuming task, even if the prep work is never seen or appreciated by the majority of the audience. This is especially true when a movie is made after the author is deceased and they are simply dealing with the estate. How can an estate truly know what the writer wanted if they have been dead for a century?
When it comes to book-to-movie adaptations, it is imperative to read the book first. For one, it is the closest to the author’s intentions. Secondly, it is for your benefit. You may not understand how reading can be for your benefit but it definitely is. I won’t get into the way reading impacts your memory or anything like that but reading the book before viewing the film will save you a lot of heartache. Anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock knows that movie adaptations often vary greatly from the original novel or memoir or whatever. This is for a variety of reasons but when directors and screenwriters come together, they often delete or change scenes that are extremely important in the original work. (Mind you, this is also true for stage to movie adaptations.) I could not wait to watch the Hunger Games series as I adored the novels. Yet, when I began watching the third installment, I realized that my favorite line from the book had been gutted. Sad face. And in J.K Rowlings Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Dumbledore approached Harry in anger when he finds that his name has been placed and chosen. In the books overall, Dumbledore was more level-headed.
Everyone knows that some adaptations are just plain awful. If you don’t believe me, think about the Twilight series. Although the books weren’t anything to write home about, they were a lot better than the movies for a number of reasons. Reason number one: trying too hard. It was obvious that the movies were trying too hard to fit the target audience. I first read Twilight in seventh grade and Stephanie Meyer did a good job of making a book that ages with the reader. But the movie seemed to be almost too mainstream, as though all that mattered was making sure the most people liked it. However, this plan backfired causing very few people to enjoy the movies that had previously read the series. And let us not forget the casting. All I could do was sigh when I realized it was going to become another Speak-like cast.
Another tragic adaptation is Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. There is no series that I enjoyed more as a child than the tales of the Baudelaire orphans. So, when it was announced that a movie was in the works, I was overjoyed. And I have always loved Jim Carrey so I looked forward to the day I could see it play out in theaters. After the end credits rolled, I was sad and upset. They had tried to force three books into a movie that was under two hours and it showed. Important plot points were missing, things felt rushed and no matter how good the actors were, it was awful. Yet, I do believe that if they had taken their time with the film and kept to one book at a time, it would have been a hit.
My final example in this case would be the 2013 adaptation of The Great Gatsby. Gatsby is required reading for most so I will assume that those of you reading this post have also read the strangely brilliant work by F. Scott Fitzgerald. A story about a man who changed himself all for a woman who did not love him more than she loved the stability of a rich man and his tragic end. Many people like this adaptation, what with Toby and Leo’s talents adding to the story line. Personally, that is not what bothered me about the film. The cast was well-thought out and there weren’t any large deductions from the original book that would change the feel or the style of the movie. My issue is mainly with the soundtrack. The soundtrack? Yes, the soundtrack. Soundtracks play a large part in the way a scene feels or how the audience responds to it. The inclusion of the wrong soundtrack can also take a viewer out of the plot or set the wrong tone for a film. This movie that was set in the roaring 20s included music that was popular in the 21st century and it didn’t feel right, it took my attention away from a story that I loved. And if you don’t believe that soundtracks are just as crucial to a film as casting or the screenplay, consider the last scary movie you watched. Better yet, go and watch The Usual Suspects, a suspenseful thriller with an amazing soundtrack.
Even the well-intended plans for movie adaptations often go awry. But does that mean studios should stop adapting books?
A Case for Adaptations
Some are actually very good. I know that it is hard to believe but there is the occasional adaptation that does the original work proud, such as Roald Dahl’s The BFG. That was one amazing movie.
Another reason that adaptations are a good thing is that they sometimes cause people to read the actual book i.e. the Harry Potter series. Most fans probably did not read the books until the movies came out which is why, in my opinion, no one loves Snape even though he was my second favorite character. As a lover of the written word, I am all for more people reading even if it is only because they have already seen a movie adaptation. It sparks general interest, book clubs and more. It also helps to support the author and his or her estate.
Additionally, with the classics, adaptations can bring the book into the 21st century i.e. A Wrinkle in Time. This year’s adaptation of the classic novel was rather interesting. And although there were some things I did not like about it, it modernized the novel. A mixed family, characters of all races, tones that any audience today can understand. That is why I think it was so popular. And if you are curious as to what my biggest pet peeve of this Disney adaptation was, please comment below or contact me through the contact page.
Furthermore, as awful as some adaptations can be, there are others that are almost too good. Even if they stray from the text, they are wonderful in their own right such as when it comes to The Princess Bride. I know that many will argue with me on this point but both the original text and the movie were good. Yes, there are some things taken out of the movie as well as places that over-dramatize but taken by themselves they are wonderful classics. They may not mirror each other exactly but they also work well in tandem.
Lastly, there are many adaptations that revive a text that was thought to be too canonical or too old. Film adaptations engage a new generation and allow for the young and old to have one more thing in common. Your grandfather may have read the original Tarzan series and you’ve seen every movie and television adaptation. You know who Boy is and can discuss it with your grandfather. Isn’t that a lovely gift?
So, what do you prefer, the book or the movie? Or does it depend? In the comments, please let me know your favorite book-to-movie adaptation. I am looking forward to it!
Happy reading and happy watching!