I just picked up Angels & Demons on Blu Ray yesterday and reminded me of my experience reading this fascinating page turner and then seeing the movie some months later. The movie was a much better adaptation than The DaVinci Code, but it still left me wanting. This post goes out to all the fans of the “novel” out there – I sympathize with your plight. Just like both of Dan Brown’s brilliant novels, there are countless cases where, for instance, movies based on books suffer the unavoidable fate of having their source material, namely key elements, omitted or worse changed and in the end the fans can be pretty upset with the adaptation. Well, regardless of what gets put in the film, no two people can imagine something exactly the same way, so it goes without saying that films adapted from books will never play out as the reader thought it would, even if they accomplished the monumental task of putting everything in. Sure it may be close but unless that reader is making the film, there will be differences, and more than likely, negative opinions.
This is all pretty common knowledge to most of you reading this and you’re probably wondering why I’m writing about something so obvious. Well here’s where I’m headed. There isn’t enough money in the world to get everything in a book on screen, so producers, directors and screenwriters try to get as much as they can (more likely as much as the can which is estimated to turn a profit). So until money just falls out of the sky letting the creative team saturate the film with every element of the book, we fans must sit back and just take what we’re given. Secondly, some things just don’t translate from the literary world to the cinema world so changing things is almost an imperative step in producing a film adaptation. Again, we have to take what we’re given an make the best of it. Once we can accept that, we can move on…though I am still having trouble following the advice I’ve just written.Now I’ve always thought (probably because my parents put a heavy influence on me to read when I was younger) that the greatest movie theater in the world is your imagination. I’ve read many books that have become movies and I, just like most fans, perceptively point out…”that wasn’t in the book“, or “they changed that part“. Well for all the hundreds of pages we read to get through a story, our mind makes what we’re reading into a movie. We have our own idea of what Jurassic Park looks like, who Jason Bourne really is and how truly evil the clown in IT really is. But when we see it on screen it seems diluted, foreign, and well, to most of us readers, wrong because it’s not our idea of what we envisioned playing out on screen.
However the problem persists when we just can’t accept the changes/omissions the studio has created because even though it’s a movie based on a character we know and love, it still may be foreign because it’s not our interpretation of that character. When you see a trailer, much like reading a book, you get glimpses of “the feel” of the plot and when the 2 minutes and 30 seconds are finished, your brain starts to formulate what the finished product will look like and how the 90-120 minutes of the film will play out on screen. It is not solely the director, production designer, actors etc that ruin a movie because it doesn’t translate to what we perceive as good or what we want to see. No, it (and this is giving the studios a major benefit of the doubt or too much credit) is sometimes we the audience who get our imaginations going and then gripe when what we see isn’t what we imagined.
Now I’ve never really heard anyone proclaim that’s the reason they didn’t like the movie, it’s more because of plot, casting, pacing, performance, etc. However, I still think it’s worth stating that ever since the news of a film’s development our minds race and conjure ideas of what we think the film might be before it is set in stone on screen. With each bit of news released, director, cast, production stills we find out how our imagination stacked up to what we’ll actually get. Perfect example was The DaVinci code…when the trailer came out, I saw in those 90 seconds what I’ had been reading about for the past 2 months. That was actually the first time that I felt a movie was really going to capture what I had imagined in the book…but then the movie came out and smashed that all to pieces with plot changes/omissions and just bad acting.
But once we hardcore purist fans are able to swallow one hard pill of a film that fell flat in comparison to the book, we must try to accept that a film will never be perfect or have it all. I don’t think that is lowering our expectations or excusing the studios for making a poor adaptation but we can’t cry forever about how some film destroyed this image we’ve held in our heads for so long. Believe me, no one sets out to make a bad film or a horrible adaptation but sometimes it just happens. There are so many hands at work in a film’s development we can’t even begin to understand the process, so we really have to stop “armchair quarterbacking” a movie that fails in our eyes and sadly, take what we’re given.
Anyway, for all those devoted and possibly stubborn film fans (myself included), we’ll still claim to be proud fans and as paying movie goers, we’ll venture again into the darkness that is the theater and await the film adaptation of the novel we love. We hope that our optimism will pay off and the fates will reward us as we think “this time will be different” from the many times we’ve been let down before (kind of like the horrible video game and comic book films). In summation I would just suggest that we stop building up hope for a great adaptation and that way we’ll be more surprised when it is a success and less heart broken when it is an utter failure…that’s the best plan I’ve got to avoid the disappointment. Or further (this is a more bold and hard-up stance), just avoid the movie all together and simply savor the magic the novel induced by reading it again and let our imaginations play out the movie we would enjoy seeing. Sounds lame but it works…