Books Magazine

Great Expectations With Movie Adaptations

By Amybg @amyspeak

There are a lot of movies based on books that are either recently released or set for release in 2013, with even more productions in the works for some of the most popular novels ever written.

These productions always bring with them a number of questions about how they will stand up to the original version and, more importantly, how audiences will respond.

Just the simple fact that a movie is “based on” a book or story could attract or repel viewers, and in some cases even both at the same time.

I know I’ve approached adaptations with hesitation in the past, or been warned off certain films based on books.

Not long ago my cousin lent me her copy of My Sister’s Keeper and told me not to go near the film (I have no compulsion to watch it after finishing the book, either), and I still have this drive to read every preceding text before the movie version comes out.

Great Expectations
Unfortunately a lot of people must have the same idea because library copies of novels like Great Expectations, The Great Gatsby, Safe Haven, Warm Bodies and a number of other books with upcoming movies are in hot demand, with reservation lists that keep you waiting for months.

Most are also sitting at the front of the few bookstores I’ve been to, or on very prominent displays inside, with those film-based movie covers I’ve never really liked.

I’ve sort of touched on that before but lately I’ve been thinking about why we make assumptions about films based on books before actually seeing them?

The most common reason I’ve heard (and given) is to do with expectations. Almost everyone who is a fan of the original text will have a vision of what the movie should be like before they go and see it, and it’s rare for a movie to be exactly the same.

Then again, it is a completely different medium, with various challenges and strengths that are often the exact opposite to those found in a written text. As a writer and actress I’ve done my fair share of work in both mediums, so I try to find things I can appreciate about the story when it takes on new forms.

But still, people can be really unforgiving. I remember when The Fellowship of the Ring came out quite a few of the people I discussed it with decided it was terrible purely because of the exclusion of Tom Bombadil (a character that fascinates many people).

I didn’t care too much about that (those books were huge) but I do remember being very disappointed that Peeves didn’t make it into the Harry Potter movies.

It’s very hard not to compare two versions of the same story, but I have come to think that the important thing is to capture some essence of the original and translate it into film.

Sometimes it is very different (Kubrick’s The Shining for instance), sometimes it feels like a visual replica of the text and at other times it could highlight themes and issues not as present in the original.

The latter is what I found with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and it made comparing Steig Larsson’s book with David Fincher’s film a lot more interesting.

More recently, I found The Hobbit film captured the fun and adventure of the book, without the lengthy descriptions I struggled to get through at the start of Tolkien’s classic (side note: I did find it easier to read than The Lord Of The Rings, though).

Maybe what it comes down to is the things that we focus on in adaptations. It’s easy to obsess over what was left out, but not nearly as interesting and exciting as looking at how filmmakers decide to translate a text from book to screen.

In a way, it’s like having a literary discussion with someone (or many people) because you get to see how they interpreted the original.

Anyone who ever enjoyed discussing books, movies, theatre, photography or even politics should be able to see the value in getting these new perspectives, regardless of whether or not you agree/like the results.

After all, what you get out of a film is never based solely on one element – such as the fact that it is a story told before – but on the combination of skills and visions that go into the production.

Filed under: Film, Literature Tagged: adaptations, books to movies, great expectations, my sister's keeper, the hobbit, the lord of the rings, tom bombadil

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