Editorials,  Movies/Entertainment

Novel Adaptations: Or How I Stopped Worrying About Getting Everything On Screen…

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…


  • Damian

    After being disappointed a number of times I have come to this conclusion: a book is a book, a movie is a movie.
    And the more you can separate the two, the less disappointed you’ll be. My favorite example: remember the two raptors on the loose in the movie Jurassic Park? In the book there were more than a dozen.
    (And don’t get me started on how Ian Malcolm died in the Jurassic Park novel but all of sudden was alive in The Lost World.)

    • Lukas

      actually we are LEAD to believe he died. no line actually said “and Ian Malcom was dead.” or anything of the sort.

      • Damian

        Page 384 of the novel —
        Harding sighed. Despite all efforts, Malcolm was rapidly slipping into a terminal delirium. His fever was higher, and they were almost out of his antibiotics.
        “What don’t you care about?”
        Anything,” Malcolm said. “Because . . . everything looks different . . . on the other side.”
        And he smiled.

        Page 396 of the novel —
        Grant leaned to Muldoon, and shouted: “What about the others?”
        Muldoon shouted, “They’ve already taken off Harding and some workmen. Hammond had an accident. Found him on the hill near his bungalow. Must have fallen.
        “Is he all right?” Grant said.
        “No. Compys got him.”
        “What about Malcolm?” Grant said.
        Muldoon shook his head.

        Bottom/top Pages 397/398 of the novel —
        The government of Costa Rica felt it had been misled and deceived by John Hammond and his plans for the island. Under the circumstances, the government was not disposed to release survivors in a hurry. They did not even permit the burial of Hammond or Ian Malcolm. They simply waited.

    • Marc

      I like your “a book is a book, a movie is a movie” conclusion very much. I think I’ll start using that, but I’ll totally give the credit to you:)

  • M Page

    Film and literature are two different art forms. Unless you understand the technical and artistic nuances of both, it is impossible to appreciate why the best adaptations are usually those which do NOT slavishly follow the source text’s narrative to the letter.

    • Marc

      Well said! That also applies to so many other adaptation instances…most notably comic book films. The one line to sum it up would be Cyclops’ “What were you expecting?…yellow spandex?” quote in the first X-Men. That’s also one reason Speed Raced didn’t do that well with non-fan audiences.

  • soumya sen

    There are several instances where film-makers have tried to remain faithful to the book by keeping events the same, but they have astonished with the way they have depicted it in film. So, there’s a way around it – as long as you make it a film, not a book again, and you respect the medium you are showing it in, which is unique. cinema has nothing to do with books, other than stories.

    No Country For Old Men is superb and bleak, and it’s as minimal as its book is. However, it’s still a film – a Coen brothers film. Similarly, I think Children of Men is a reasonably good adaptation. Bela Tarr adapts the meaninglessness in the original Hungarian novels in his own cinematic way – black and white, extremely long takes and a slow, death-like pace. I would hate it if people shirk off adapting books thinking it would never be truly done. We would have missed Naked Lunch. 2001. The 25th Hour. Anyone remember that Passolini film about some novel that the insane Marquis de Sade had written in prison once? Wasn’t that fun?

    • Marc

      Since I’m no filmmaker, I wouldn’t know for sure but I imagine there’s a tremendous balancing act when making an adaptation between staying faithful and changing the source material. I have heard many people talk about how good 25th Hour is as a book and the film worked OK in my opinion. I’ve been meaning to check out as well as Children of Men. Never heard of ‘Salo’ but I’ll look into that too. Thanks for the comment!!

  • Hörnla

    The most important element in the equasion is time. Most novels would need a mini-series of 6-10, maybe even more, hours, to translate to the screen. Even an author himself (and my impression is, there are more and more cases where they novelist actually takes an active part in the development of a movie) would have to make severe cuts when turning a several-hundred-pages book into a screenplay of maybe 100 pages.

    Making a movie out of a book might be the most unthankful task due to the compromise of making a good movie in its own right without alienating viewers who want them to be as closely to the books as possible. Everybody who has read the book did so much “development” already, that it is easy to point out “where the film could have been better”. Ask the average moviegoer what to improve after he or she saw a movie based on an original script.

    • Marc

      Without a doubt, content of the book is far more dense so trying to “cherry pick” certain passages for translation can be hit or miss as it comes off as watered down and not as impacting as the novel. Steven King adaptations almost never work anywhere near as good as the book played out.

      But that’s tough to do when any novel is crammed into something like a 120 min running time. As for pleasing fans and non fans, I guess you can’t please all the people all the time. It’s just a fact of life.

  • Sugar

    My husband and I have made the statement to each other that a movie adaptation would probably not be good cause it was not what we envisioned when we read the book. We have said this about every Harry Potter movie since the first one. And I am hoping that Percy Jackson at least stays close. My 9 year old has such high hopes on that one.

  • Jason

    I no longer see films based on novels I’ve read–and if I see the film first I skip reading the book.

    I agree with everything you said in your post, and perhaps I’m being a bit immature…but this is the solution I’ve hit upon.

    Oh, and Dan Brown is a hack…and those flicks are terrible!

    • Marc

      I think you hit a good point as it’s a good way to avoid disappointment. While I admit the films were terrible, I do have to say that Angels & Demons worked better than DaVinci. I’ve only read those two by Brown but I like his work so far. Why do you call him a hack?

  • rtm

    Congrats on being on IMDb hitlist again, Marc! I remember reading this post and thought it’s definitely a “hit.” Though I’d never read/watch Dan Brown’s stuff even if someone pays me, I think books are often better than the film version largely because of our expectation after reading them. Though sometimes if I like a movie then read the book it’s based on, I can’t get the actors’ faces out of my head, which can be a good or a bad thing. Again, great post!

    • Marc

      Thanks so much Ruth!! Yes, to have made it on the “List” once was awesome, but twice?? I’m totally geeking out:) Though the distinction is gratifying, it is truly flattering when you consider something I did as a “Hit”. Thanks for the comment!

      I agree, sometimes the image of the actor and the association with the role can be tough to shake but in the case of Jurassic Park, I didn’t mind.

      • rtm

        And the fun part is seeing the blog stats shoots up, that’s always exhilarating & exciting! But I love thought-provoking post like this, so keep ’em coming!

        Back to your topic, one book I actually find tedious compared to the movie is Jane Austen’s PERSUASION. I love the movie so much I thought I’d give the book a try, but for some reason I couldn’t get into it. But I read “The Jane Austen Book Club” a year or so before the movie came out and liked it almost as much as the book! So you just never know!

        Btw, I love Jurassic Park but totally loathed the ending of ‘IT.’ I mean it was so darn terrifying up until then, that preposterous ‘thing’ really ruined it for me.

        • Marc

          Yeah, no one has ever gotten a King book properly adapted, at least in my eyes. Either his stories have so much content that to strip parts away makes the story less cohesive, or the wacky thins he writes about are forgiven because it’s a novel and so to adapt that would be pretty silly in actuality.

          • Simon

            Some of King’s books have suffered at the hands of the screenwriters. I have always hated the Shining movie (and the miniseries) mainly because of Jack Nicholson’s performance – he played Torrance as if he were crazy from the get go rather than going crazy.

            Mind you, I love Shawshank Redemption with its more hopeful ending than the one in differenct seasons novella. Also the adaption of Needful Things (Max Von Sydow as Satan was great), Stand by me, plus some of his miniseries stuff was pretty good!

  • Jacques

    Go Read Eaters of the dead by Michael Chrichton, and then go and watch the Antonio Banderas 13th Warrior. If you have a good source material thatr gives you enough to work with, it will be a good film, but if you have suorce material that gives you too much, it could become a quagmire that will swallow you whole if you do not think yourself through the process.

    But I have to agree: ‘A book is a book and a film is a film”.

  • Jacques

    Hehe. Pardon the spelling mistakes please, third language spelling is not my strong point.

  • Winston

    I’m surprised no one has mention Kubrick’s The Shining….

    I will have to say that I love going to see movies based on books I’ve read or reading the books the movie was based on. The last instance of this was Public Enemies. I saw the movie and I guess I’m one of the 10 people that actually liked it. I went out the next day, bought the book and read it in a matter of days. The book was incredible and the movie had almost nothing from the book and changed almost all the historical events. I still love the movie because it was completely entertaining and well made, and I love the book for the same reason (more so). I know a lot of people hated the movie because it did stretch so far away from the source, compounded that it is a historical source, but I can see them as completely separate.

    I guess with me, if it satisfies my curiosity and entertainment needs, that’s all I need. I’ve always been able to separate the two forms of art/media, so in general I’m never bothered by adaptations.

    • Marc

      Winston, that’s a really good stance to take on the matter…kind of wish some critics (and most fans of the novel) could feel the same and maybe some movies would get more recognition rather than being lambasted. Although that’s only if the filmmakers make a decent adaptation in the first place.

  • Barbara

    First of all, I agree with you wholeheartedly on your two major points – that we need to acknowledge the differences between what a book does and what a movie does, and that we collaborate in our own disappointment by insisting on applying the standards of our own imagination to other visions.

    The latter point can be particularly tricky. When the film “Ordinary People” was announced, I was stunned to hear that Donald Sutherland would play the father – he wasn’t at all what I’d imagined while reading the book. But I went with a friend, and Sutherland’s performance was extraordinary. Had I closed my mind to it, I’d have missed something special.

    Sometimes a book is altered for a film adaptation in ways that don’t square with the casting. “Kramer vs Kramer” changed the ending to make the mother more sympathetic, but Meryl Streep’s slightly remote performance didn’t ‘go’ with that for me. And in “DaVinci Code”, I missed the book’s scene near the end where the police captain visits the Bishop in the hospital. Jean Reno and Alfred Molina could have rocked that scene.

    • Marc

      Thanks for your comment Barbara. Well it has been a while since I read DaVinci but I’m pretty sure Reno’s hospital visit never happened because Reno wasn’t part of the society keeping the grail safe. I think it was written that way to give him a bigger part. But yes, he and Molina could have done better.

  • KC

    Good post, although as a reader of many books that are adapted into film, I think you are taking away from thos directors (and writiers) who are able to either make something their own or enhance on a book.

    I first noticed this years ago after I had read Sleepers (Lorenzo Carcaterra) and then saw the movie. Barry Levinson had done such a great job of putting that world on screen that I honestly couldn’t tell you which parts I had read, which I had seen, and which I had done both!

    Recently I saw this taken to another level with the Book Up In The Air (Walter Kirn). The book was… good… but the film was amazing! I wrote a bit about it on my blog http://kaseylandau.blogspot.com/2010/01/up-in-air.html

    • Marc

      I still need to see Up In the Air, but I didn’t know it was a book first. I may just check both out for comparison but I look forward to seeing the film and reading your review. Thanks for commenting!

      • KC

        I hope you enjoy it! Also check out Thank You For Smoking for another ‘Movie better than the book’ adaption

        Have you read/ seen The Road?! I’m not sure if its a brilliant adaption or the best you could do with a great book… Anyway, enjoy!

        • Marc

          I don’t remember much about ‘Smoking’ but haven’t seen ‘The Road’ yet…boy I’m striking out on seeing things you keep mentioning. I do want to see it though…just been really busy lately:(

          • rtm

            Haven’t read the book but ‘Smoking’ is a great flick indeed. That Jason Reitman’s got some real talent. I really enjoy Aaron Eckhart’s performance there, even better than Clooney’s in Up in the Air!

  • Mr Jones

    When I was younger, the early Harry Potter movies really used to p**s me off purely because things didn’t happen the right way. Because they seemed to omit awesome things and add in terrible interpretations. But as I’ve grown older and grown to appreciate the medium film far more that books (although i still read). I often enjoy reading a book of a film AFTER I’ve seen it. That way I feel I get the best of both worlds.

    • Marc

      Agreed, sometimes it does work in our favor to read the book afterwards. To me I get the satisfaction of finding out “what might have been”. But still I guess nothing says more about our tastes than how they change as we get older.

  • Alex

    For my money, the reason the movie of The Da Vinci Code sucked (and I would argue that it did) is that it was far TOO FAITHFUL to the book. Clever anagram puzzles and long-winded pseudo-historical speeches are fun to read about, but horrendously boring to watch. If the book hadn’t made oodles of money, it never would have been adapted by anyone because, frankly, its not a very filmable book.

    The best film adaptations find something in the source material that translates well to the screen, and wisely steer clear of things that don’t. For example, the Lord of the Rings books are filled with insight into the characters thoughts, extremely detailed back history, and an awful lot ofsinging and rhyming. All of which would have been terrible in the film. Instead, Peter Jackson emphasized elements that translate better to the screen, such as the action. The Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers is a few pages in the book, but a thrilling 45-minute set piece in the film. And in both cases that was the right choice given the strengths of each medium.

    • Marc

      Totally! You can read a terrific page turner but then be bored watching it on screen because some of those situations, as you said, aren’t very filmable because they lack a good amount of the dramatic element and aren’t really that dramatic. Never read Two Towers, but I get what you mean. Thanks for the comment!!

  • Keith

    some exceptions to the rule

    Manhunter: based on Red Dragon
    Silence of the Lambs
    The Last of the Mohicans (1992 version)
    Psycho (1960)
    To Kill a Mockingbird
    The Big Sleep
    LA Confidential
    The Lord of the Rings trilogy
    The Shawshank Redemption
    The Green Mile
    Blade Runner
    A Clockwork Orange
    The Princess Bride
    etc etc etc

    • Marc

      Funny I never knew The Princess Bride was a book. But I guess it was the one Peter Faulk was reading from…that makes sense;)

      • Simon

        The book is hilarious! It is mainly an adaptation of anouther book; but the real fun stuff is when William Goldman interupts the story and talks about his grandfather or about the source material. My favorite is when he finally finds the original book and finds out how his grandfather adapted the story (taking the good parts of the story and leaving out the boring parts especilally about one princess and her wigs!).

        Still waiting for the sequel…

  • Cyn

    Being an avid reader, I have come to grips with the fact that what I have read will and cannot be fully translated to screen. And reading the above entrys, I agree that getting a mood or atmosphere of the source material is important. However, there are some pieces that are just completely ruined, due to money and ego, and that is not why a book she be made into a movie (Take note “Prince Of Tides” and “Bonfire Of The Vanities”) I would like to believe that people make movies from books because they love the books, and therefore would want to stay as true to the source material as possible. I think this was done very well with Emma Thompson’s “Sense And Sensibility”

  • Josh

    The fact that you think Dan Brown’s books are good AND that the movies are even watchable (which they’re not, they’re execrable pieces of trash, just like the books) makes me despair in the human race.

    • Marc

      So based solely on my opinion alone you have chosen to lose all faith in the human race? Wow, I don’t know if that’s the best compliment I’ve ever got or an insult;)

      Brown’s novels are the literary equivalent of a cinematical popcorn escapist flick combined with smarts and a little more sophistication. I liked reading “Code” and “A&D” but so do millions of other people. What are reading lately that you think is a good read?

  • Jason

    You’ve started from unpromising source material (Angels & Demons is so preposterous that I doubt any adaptation would make sense), but I think you’ve hit on some of the major challenges in adapting a book to a film.

    The big two are undoubtedly the inevitable need to cut some of the content of a novel and the fact that you’re competing with the movie in the audience’s mind (which is more completely formed when there’s a novel to deal with – but I like the point about trailers).

    Which, as a film-maker, leaves you with some tricky choices, to which there have been some interesting answers.

    The Harry Potter films had little option but to follow the “cut liberally, portray faithfully” route – and have largely been successful. They had three big advantages: relatively straightforward source material (given effectively unlimited FX budgets), huge creative input from the author, and the fact that the films and books were interleaved so that there’s been a chance for them to feed off each other. Interesting that the first film exposed flaws in the novel: Harry is barely more than a cardboard cut-out as a character, Quidditch is exciting as setpiece, but a daft sport, Dumbledore as wise fool doesn’t work. Watchmen falls into the same category: it delighted most people who liked the graphic novel, but also exposed its weaknesses.

    Early Stephen King adaptations – The Shining, Carrie – also worked well. They stayed very true to the spirit of the books while changing the detail (Carrie is almost epistolary in format). It also helped that they had fairly short novels to work from and not the more familiar Stephen King cuboids.

    Which leads on to what I think is the largest category of successful adaptations, or at least the best hit rate. What do: Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption, Brokeback Mountain, and 2001: A Space Odyssey have in common? They’re all based on short stories. Short stories give you a head start on solving both problems: there’s less to pack in, and less baggage in your audience’s heads. In fact, the process of adapting a short story is much closer to the process of reading a short story: as a film-maker you can flesh out the story, fill in the gaps in much the same way that a reader does.

    (There’s a subcategory here of adaptations of picture books. Zathura, Meet the Robinsons and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs are among the less faithful and more successful examples).

    The other really interesting category is the “unfilmable” adaptation, a category which includes One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and, erm, Adaptation. The former succeeds by taking the plot of the book and telling it from a completely different angle. It works because it’s a good plot and the enforced change of perspective creates enough separation between book and film that the baggage get left behind. (In case you don’t know, the book is told entirely through the internal monologue of one of the more peculiar characters). There’s a play of it as well – which sits half way between book and film and, well, falls between two stools.

    As for Adaptation, it’s a commentary on adaptation. And a Charlie Kaufman script. Not sure which tells us more…

    Well, that’s been a bit of a ramble (sorry)… but I guess the conclusion I’m getting to is that the key to a successful adaptation is to capture the essence of the source – the key moments, the things that people remember – but to tell the story in a way that bypasses a lot of the baggage that an audience brings.

    • Marc

      Yes, I will totally agree with you when you say that you having less source material to work with up front can make the adaptation easier to write and . It’s understandable that with a short story, there’s less content to weed through and less constraints in the writing process. Even Total Recall came from a short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” as did A.I. with “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long”. They weren’t perfect or even great movies but I didn’t hear cries from fans of the short stories when the movies hit the theaters.

      Also a story that is not too well known, or is too old for modern movie goers to be aware of, can be adapted with less “fan criticism”. But I think you hit the nail on the head with your last sentence. Thanks very much for your comment!!

  • Rowan

    What the author of the post leaves out is what element is absolutely needed to successfully adapt a book to film. The film needs to transcend the book – not be a faithful blow-by-blow enactment of the book. I know this idea ticks off purists who think that every moment of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy should have been a live action word-for-word version of the books, but then – why make the movie?

    A film needs to lift the words off the page and rise above, making a story look real enough for you to suspend your disbelief for at least 90 minutes and forget you are in a theatre. But if you go too far, you end up with terrible films with endings the studios want, rather than what the fans know. Adapting a film is more difficult than creating the story yourself, which is why so many writers view adaptations with trepidation.

    • Jason

      I agree with the sentiment – but I think your insistence on a transcendental translation is overstating the point. Slavish attempts to put the book on the screen don’t work – agreed.

      But to insist that a film absolutely must rise above the source novel suggests that you could only ever adapt potboilers where there’s no literary merit in the words themselves. A novel has a lot more options on viewpoint than a film, and it can use language in ways that suggest multiple meanings and spark whole trains of thought in the reader’s mind. Film doesn’t have so many options to do that – but it can do something different.

      To take One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest again: great film, very successful adaptation, maybe on a par with the novel but certainly doesn’t tower above it, simply because there are some things you can do in a novel that you just can’t do on film.

    • Marc

      Most days people know that the studios aren’t making the movie adaptation for the fans. They are in fact making it for the money. Some authors have stepped up and been actively participating in the film so that the fans are pleased, and the movie is a good interpretation of the beloved novel.

      But I understand your point about why adapt if it’s going to be exactly like what’s written. Think about this: If someone made an exact copy of a famous Rembrandt artwork, fans of the piece may be happy because “it’s exactly like the source material”, but others would say, “you just copied it…what’s the point?”. But if you interpret it and create something relateable that can be classified as an inspired piece, you gain the fans of new fans and fans of the old work. I think that makes sense, yet the question at the end of the day should be, “Despite the changes, does it still capture the essence of the novel, did it still work, and did you enjoy it?”

  • Mike

    I have to agree with a lot that has been posted. It is hard to adapt a novel completly or to make changes and not tick off somebody. However I think one person who never gets the blame is the author him or herself. It seems in some cases once they get the money they don’t care how filmmakers handle their work. Probably the most notable I’ve seen recently was the film version of Michael Chabon’s Mysteries of Pittsburgh where the director deleted a major character, rewrote others and reworked the basic plot that by the end you wondered why he didn’t just create his own script and left the novel alone. Yet according to all accounts Chabon approved the changes and didn’t seem to care how it turned out. So in many ways the film’s failure can be placed at Chabon as well as the director.

    • Marc

      Yes, you can’t please everyone but if something has worked and the story is successful because of it, then why change it? And to change so much, as you say, makes you wonder why they made “this” in the first place when they clearly wanted “that”. Sure things like feature length, production budget, pacing are all elements to be considered but sometimes it seems crossing mediums (and having to deal with changes from the novel in any way shape or form) can be a rough, if not doomed, venture from the start.

  • Bob

    When I was a kid there was this TV station that played a Tarzan movie every Sunday afternoon. I saw all those Johnny Weismuller, Lex Barker movies. Then when I was round thirteen I started reading Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan Novels and could not believe what the movies had done to his creation. Bastardization doesn’t begin to describe it. Pretty much since then whenever I see that a movie is being made of a book I intend to read, I’ll read the book first, even if that means the movie has to wait a while, because I prefer to be touched by the Creator before his/her creation is fussed with by a team of filmmakers. For instance, I’ve had Cold Mountain on my bookshelf for a long time but have only just started reading it. I’ll watch the movie on DVD at some point after I’ve finished.

  • Rachel

    I am so glad I’ve stopped comparing books to movies. and I normally make sure not to read the book if I’m planning on watching the movie, because it is then much more enjoyable as it’s own thing because i don’t even remember what happened when. The first time I was really able to do this was with Ella Enchanted, where the book is completely different from the movie. I’ve actually come to like movies being a bit different from the books because then it’s not just exactly like you remembered it being and can be a bit more interesting at times.

    • Marc

      True, some elements need to be enhanced or modified so it makes it more dramatic on screen. But when major plot points are stripped away or changed completely then that is both defeating to fans of the story and almost insulting to the author when some studio exec or screenwriter, “Sorry but even though your book is great and has sold millions of copies, we don’t think this works and we’re going to change it”

  • Annie

    There’s a difference between “adapting” a book to make a movie, and “raping” a book. Case in point, the latest “Sherlock Holmes” vs the latest “Dorian Gray”. The first was an adaptation, the later a rape and murder.

    A movie will never be as rich as a book, and it’s clear right from the start that it cannot cater to everyone’s tastes. It cannot make the book look and feel like it did in my head (okay, Peter Jackson did it, as far as what was in my head is concerned, with “The Lord of the Rings”, but that’s not the point). What a movie CAN do, is respect the spirit of the book. When a movie has very little to do with the book (with the possible exception of character names and rough plot), then that’s rape, and NOT adaptation. Actually, come to think of it, it’s sanctioned plagiarism too. :/

    Not wanting a movie – or even not expecting it – to be as profound (or, even as good) as the book it was supposedly based on is lazy. It lets film-makers off the hook, and we end up paying to see crap movies, plagiarized from, more often than not, perfectly decent material. Am I a pretentious book-snob for wanting to see a GOOD based on a GOOD book?

    • Marc

      No I’d say that you’re in the right. But here’s my problem: If a movie pales in comparison or, worse yet, is stripped of the elements that made that story unique in the book, then whats the point? It’s almost like when a movie is “based on a true story” where the filmmakers will take what parts they believe are important (or will be believable) and put them on screen. It’s an unfortunate but unavoidable fact that something’s going to be changed/omitted/different, but as one commenter pointed out, if it is exactly the same as the book then why cross mediums in the first place if it’s an exact translation. Then in that case some things from the source material just don’t translate well and the movie may be criticized for it’s missteps.

  • Emily H

    I think you make some very valid points here Marc and it is good advice to follow. I believe that the first two Harry Potter Movies was the first time I didn’t walk out of the theatre dissappointed. I read a lot so I usually end up skipping movies based on books I have read because I just can’t seem to shake the “that’s not what happened in the book” feeling. You are dead on with the whole visualizing your own movie while you read. Good post!

    • Marc

      Oh boy, I get the thumbs up from master book reader Em herself! I feel my ego boosting:) Checked out your site too…so when can I schedule your fine culinary services? I’m getting hungry looking at all your photos:)

  • GoShawdy

    This one is eating away at me:
    How about novelizations of films based on novels. Isn’t that just further shaving down the original work.
    Come to think of it, I think I actually had a film novelization like that once, it was either for Yellow Dog or Tom and Huck.

    • Marc

      You know that’s something I always wondered about but never thought about it for a few seconds.
      True though…why if it came from a good, great or even classic novel, why reverse engineer it? Seems unnecessary, and I bet even that “novelization” isn’t going to be totally faithful to the movie’s “source material”:P

  • Barbara

    As a rule, I don’t like ‘novelizations of films that are adapted from novels’. I remember, when Richard Lester’s film version of “Three Musketeers” came out. I took my younger brother to see it, and then the second film that finished the story. He enjoyed them and I thought, what a great opportunity to introduce him to one of my favorite adventure novels! So I went to the bookstore and very nearly bought a paperback – nicely ‘tied-in’ with a colorful cover – until I noticed that it was a ‘novelization’, not the Dumas novel. That seemed counter-productive to me, and I have seen it many times since, though not so often recently. While novelizations of original screenplays are often very fine, the second or third generation versions are generally bastardizations, without style or resonance.

    • Marc

      I suddenly recall Michael Keaton’s character “Doug Kinney” from Multiplicity when they find out that “a copy of a copy isn’t as sharp as the original”. Bastardization is probably the best way to put it Barbara and counter-productive is spot on as well.

      What I’d maybe like to see (and maybe it’s just me) is a novelization of one of the screenplays they decided not to use for the film, to get another view of what might have been…or maybe just get my hands on the original unused screenplay and take out the middle man i.e.publishers:P