film vs. book

| Friday, August 27, 2010
Today's Tune: My Time

My week, it has been so full. My brain, it is like jelly. Not literally, thankfully.

REMINDER: Emily White's Fairy Tale Blogfest is rapidly approaching. It's due Monday! Don't miss out. The stories are bound to be made of win and wonder.

So, this week my new buddy E.J. Wesley posted a little something about True Blood, and the changes they've made translating book to film.

We all know this story: a book we love, we absolutely LOVE, is made into a movie or television show. BUT THEY TOTALLY CHANGED IT. And we rebel. We balk. We go, "OMG what are they doing the dragon DID NOT CHASE HARRY AROUND HOGWARTS WTF."

Now. I don't know much about film, but I have learned over time that the mediums (film and literature) are just different. It's literally impossible to convey scenes on film the way they're conveyed in a novel. You lose the details, the nuance, the inner reflection and turmoil. As I posted on E.J.'s blog, sure, they can put in a voiced over inner monologue. But it isn't the same.

I'm definitely not saying that film cannot be nuanced or detailed, because it can. It can capture the emotion and personality of a beloved novel, and do it well. What I am saying is that we can't expect film to be a literal interpretation of a novel, because it doesn't work that way.

Films are inherently visual. They're meant to either entertain or captivate. They have to choose actors and scenery that represents the vision of the novel while accepting that there is no actor or setting that will match every reader's imagination. They have to carefully select the scenes that will actually translate well to the medium.

A scene of a character sitting alone and reflecting on their situation may be moving and poignant in a novel, but on film, it's boring. It loses its appeal because we're not inside the character's head the way a novel allows us to be. And filmmakers must account for that.

Yeah, okay, and what about character alteration? Cutting favorite characters, or inserting new scenes that were nowhere to be found in the book? Well, that's part of the medium, too. They can't include every subplot, especially for epically long stories like LOTR or Harry Potter. And new scenes? I guess you could say that's them having a bit of their own fun with the world and adding something new that even the hardcore fans won't recognize. Keeps things fresh.

For television, sometimes the book series is just a jumping-off point. The base storyline is a good one, but the characters can be altered into something new; something more suited for televised entertainment. New storylines to keep interest piqued. The television show becomes its own beast.

Anyway. What am I blathering on about? My point is just that film and literature are different worlds. Both are entertainment, and both can be artful, but they're not the same. Going into a film expecting the story from your imagination to appear on the screen is a skewed point of view. Take the film for what it's worth - a visual representation of a beloved novel. One that won't be perfect, but may be entertaining.

I definitely don't mean to say that Hollywood doesn't screw up book adaptations, because oh boy, sometimes they sure do. I only mean to point out that a film adaptation doesn't HAVE to be an exact line-by-line replica of a novel in order to be good. Sometimes the film becomes its very own living thing, and that's pretty cool.

Next time you go to see a film adaptation, try to view objectively. See if maybe you can enjoy the film in its own right, as something separate from the beloved vision in your imagination.

But hey, if it sucks, then in sucks. They can't get everything right ;)

What do you think? Does Hollywood need to "stick to the script," so to speak? Or is artistic license okay?


{ Jessica } at: August 27, 2010 at 8:23 AM said...

Overall, creative license in translating book to film doesn't bother me, though I do have undefined limits for what is "okay."

So Arwen taking Glorfindel's place in rescuing Frodo in the film version of Fellowship didn't bother me much, and keeping Layfayette alive in True Blood is kinda great, but I'm wicked bummed at some of the left-out scenes (which seem plot-necessary to me) in some of the Harry Potter movies.

I guess it boils down to: I get it. I do. Different medium = different story-telling technique. Doesn't mean I'm not miffed if it's horribly wrong. Starship Troopers comes to mind. It's just terrible, and shouldn't be associated with the Heinlein novel at all.

{ Elena Solodow } at: August 27, 2010 at 8:28 AM said...

One of the reasons I disliked the first two Harry Potter films was because it was exactly like the books in terms of scenes, but not in feel. Prisoner of Azkaban was the first film in the series where you really felt what their world was like, and where the kids at Hogwarts acted like, well, kids - who just happen to use magic wands.

So in relation to this post, I think the whole point of a film adaptation is that it's an adaptation. It should not seek to be everything the book was in terms of plot - it should adapt. And yes, film is an entirely different medium. It's always interesting to see a good book made into a good film, and the reasons why both work.

Normally when you have a good adapation it's because the director took the essence of the novel and translated it to the screen, not carbon-copied the plot. The feel is much more important than changing a character's hair color.

{ aspiring_x } at: August 27, 2010 at 8:47 AM said...

well said maybe! (never would have guessed you were slush-brained!)
i used to get really miffed (and sometimes still do) until i realized this. it helps to separate them mentally....
have you ever tried it in reverse? watched the movie- then read the book? to me, it's like taking a taste of the frosting, and then getting to eat the whole cake! goes down a LOT easier!

{ E.J. Wesley } at: August 27, 2010 at 9:15 AM said...

Great post, Steph. (And thanks for the mention!)

I think I'm cool with cosmetic changes, I just don't like it when they destroy the entire flow/theme of the books they're based upon.

Jessica, who mentioned Harry Potter, brought up a great point. On the surface, many of the changes seem like cosmetic omission, but if you've read the stories, you know how freaking big a deal it was to completely leave Quidditch out of a movie! (Still bitter ... can you tell?)

{ Emily White } at: August 27, 2010 at 9:42 AM said...

Great post and thank you very much for the linkage! :D

I do give movies a break, for the most part, as long as character development remains the same. I hate it when movies make characters weaker or less annoying, etc. because then the whole story is changed.

{ Jemi Fraser } at: August 27, 2010 at 10:06 AM said...

I always hope for the 'heart' of the story to remain steady. As you say, it's impossible to replicate a book - movies would be days long.

I want the characters to remain true to themselves and to pretty closely match the physical description in the book - I want the motivations and the dreams to be the same.

This may be why I refuse to see the movie adaptations of some of my favourite books :)

{ Steph Sinkhorn } at: August 27, 2010 at 11:51 AM said...

Jessica - You're totally still entitled to be miffed. Sometimes we just can't separate what's in our head from what's on the screen!

Elena - Completely agree :)

aspiring_x - I have! I actually find it a little weird, because I already have this idea of what the character looks like and how they're supposed to act. So it works both ways, I guess!

E.J. - Haha, as a hardcore HP fan, I totally get that. Leaving out practically ALL the Marauders' backstory? WHAT?

Emily - That is irritating. Especially when it's a female character that they weaken, but that's a whole other ball 'o wax.

Jemi - Me, too. I wouldn't go see The Time-Traveler's Wife because I had the feeling they were going to turn a sort of dark, painful and beautiful story into Nicolas Sparks. The tone didn't seem right. For me, the tone needs to be there at the very least.

{ Old Kitty } at: August 27, 2010 at 1:50 PM said...

I remember watching E.T and getting completely blown away so much that I watched it..erm *whispers* five times. Ahem. Well I was like 12!! LOL!!

Anyway cos I loved it so much I bought the book. Now I don't know which came first, the book or the film but I was really really really disappointed with the book. It wasn't charming or sweet - it was very adult and cynical - so unlike the film.

If the book came before the film I think Steven Speilberg did a bloody good job of creating something very magical out of something quite heartless. But if it were the other way round - then maybe the book was deliberately written like so to take the "saccharine" out of the film. :-)

Take care

{ french_garret } at: August 29, 2010 at 4:36 AM said...

Great post, Steph. I almost always prefer books to films, especially when I've got a picture of the character in my mind (Edward from "Twilight") and the actor doesn't even come close. Then I just tell myself, hey, I'm just watching a film that has nothing to do with a book by the same name. I'm still a movie junkie, though, so I'm happy they keep coming out.

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