Bending Over Backward (TCWT)

The Teens Can Write, Too! blog chain this month tackles heavy topics all the time, but this month’s is particularly difficult.  They ask:

“What are your thoughts on book-to-movie adaptions? Would you one day want your book made into a movie, or probably not?”

It’s a hard topic.  Fans are rarely happy about how any adaptation turns out, but they still buy tickets to their favorite book’s adaptation without question.  It’s difficult to tell who to side with: the literary world, or Hollywood.  However– and don’t stone me– I believe that it’s a problem created by the literary world.

I see you picking up rocks, but let me explain.  The novel has been around for centuries.  The motion picture has been around for one.  Its predecessor, the stageplay, was around long before that, but even then very few novels were put into plays.  Occasionally a narrated piece could be performed as a play, but as for novels… it wasn’t done.  Perhaps a scene here or there, but it was generally understood that a book could be enjoyed over a long period of time, with as many breaks in the middle as anyone could want.  A play, on the other hand, could only be enjoyed as long as the audience’s seats were comfortable– once someone needed a bathroom break, they lost interest in the play.  Books were for long-term enjoyment.  Plays were for a single evening.

Once the screenplay came along, however, the idea of mass entertainment was revolutionized.  Books already reached enormous audiences, and motion pictures were beginning to do the same– how about take popular books and make them motion pictures?  Great idea, except motion pictures were bound by the same restrictions stageplays were.  Although a hefty book deserved good representation, all the cinematic excellence in the world couldn’t combat the stupidity of the man who drank half the Atlantic before coming to the theater.  Thus, truncation in the name of time constraints was begun.

And yet, the literary world did not let up.  A shiny new venue to expand their influence– perfect!  Adaptations continued to appear, promoted by authors and publishers but hated by fans, until we came to the conundrum we have today.  We almost take for granted how an adaptation will not do the book justice.  To sum up in one fell swoop:

Frankly, the literary world has gotten themselves into this conundrum, then yelled at Hollywood for letting them get there.  Unfortunately, it’s not very productive.  Until bowels get a little larger, we’re stuck with these time constraints.  And until every moviegoer reads the book previous to watching the movie, movies have to keep telling the entire story instead of just little chunks.

What’s the solution?  If movies can’t be any longer or take less material, should books be shorter?  Of course not.  One of the great things about the novel is its lack of time or structural constraints.  So what’s the solution?

Easy.  Stop comparing the two.

Rather, not easy.  It’s difficult, but necessary.  Movies can never do true justice to books.  Even my favorite adaptation, Lord of the Rings, took creative license.  Yet, I am unashamed to say I love the movie just as much– or more– than the books.  Again, don’t stone me yet.  The only true solution is to stop looking at adaptations as copies of the books and to look at them as (gasp!) movies.

When you look at a movie as a movie, you begin to see the genius of fitting all that story in just an hour and a half of screen time.  Think about it.  A book cannot have moving pictures, or a soundtrack, or our favorite actors.  It requires our imagination to work, it requires the mundanity of words or frozen pictures, and you actually have to flip pages in order to advance the story, instead of sitting back and letting the scenes play out.  It’s so old-fashioned… and yet we love it, because despite its limitations, the art of the novel continues to shine.  Why can’t we look at movies the same way?  They have to fit all sorts of stories into a very small window of time; they have to convey the thoughts of the characters without annoying the audience; they have to remain within their budget on special effects.  With a novel, we can write thousands– or only a few– pages to convey whatever story we wish.  We can write the characters’ thoughts down to get the reader into their heads.  We can write all the explosions or gigantic monsters we want, limited only by our own infinite imaginations.

Is it fair, then, to treat movies the same as books?  Yes, they continue to surprise us with new ways to manipulate time, special effects, and emotion.  Yes, they continue to attempt adaptations.  But does that alone qualify them to be judged the same way we judge books?  No.  Books are not movies.  Movies are not books.  Adaptations of books are, nevertheless, still movies.

Rick Riordan’s agent or publisher or someone like that once said that adaptations are simply ninety-minute trailers for the books.  Do I agree?  No.  Movies should be able to stand alone, just as books can.  Trailers highlight the best out of the story– movies should tell a story.  Whether or not it lines up with the books doesn’t really matter, as long as it works.

A few examples.  Eragon was a well-written book (not going into the rest of the series).  Its movie adaptation was horrible.  It neither stood alone as a movie nor went along with the book, but tried to incorporate parts of the book slapdash while diverging in other places.  One undermined the other.

The Great Gatsby was a brilliant book, very poetic.  The movie adaptation was straight as an arrow along the same path as the book, and yet it didn’t work half so well.  Sure, it hit all the same plot points, had all the same characters– even had the same last words.  It didn’t work because it was treated as an adaptation, not as a movie on its own.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian was an excellent book.  I enjoyed the movie just as much or more than the book, but the two were dissimilar in so many things.  While the basics were the same, the character emotions and conflicts were completely hijacked, but for the better.  The movie outshone the book by virtue of the fact that it was written better.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy was brilliant as books and brilliant as movies.  The adaptation stuck with the basics of the book, but added and tweaked things to make it so much better.  Again, it was hijacked, but they made it work.

Movies are not books, no matter how much their titles are similar.  However, when movies are made and judged with the books heavily in mind, I think they suffer.

And to answer the second question, I’d love my books to be made into movies, but I would want people to be intelligent about it.  I would do my best to make the movie the best it could be, but that doesn’t mean it mirrors the book exactly.  And since authors don’t usually get that much say in a book’s production, it might not even matter.  However, no moviemaker tries to make a bad movie.  It only happens when they bend over backward to appease a fan group that won’t be pleased whatever they do.

Make sure to follow the rest of the blog chain:

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28th – – The topic for July’s blog chain will be announced.


52 thoughts on “Bending Over Backward (TCWT)

  1. The key, I discovered, is to pretend the book and the movie are entirely different and not at all related. Then it’s easier to appreciate the movie for what it really is. That’s the only way I was able to enjoy the second Percy Jackson movie. Doing so didn’t really help Ender’s Game seem like a better movie, though.

    On a different note, it’s kind of strange to see a movie when they’ve changed it a lot from the book. How to Train Your Dragon, for example. The book was about the complete opposite to the movie. They did have the author’s permission to do it, though, I think. In fact, I think she (I think the author’s a she…) helped…? I dunno. But it’s so different. And I’m pretty sure there is zero likeness between the second book and the second movie. Probably because the first were so different.

    I also watched a movie once where they completely changed the main character’s name. In the book, it was Ellie Harrison or something, and in the movie, it was Ally Pennington. I have no clue why it was changed, but it was kind of odd.

    Anyway, good post. Not that I’m surprised.

      1. Yup.

        Hehe, no problem.

        Half my comments are not going through for some reason… and I’m not sure if it’s because I’m having Internet issues, because Askimet decided I really am spamming, or if it’s because WordPress just doesn’t like me… Or a combination of several.

      2. Hehe, I don’t think I’ll go quite that far. But even if I do, I’m going to be on vacation for two weeks with little to no Internet, so you’ll have a break from me then.

      3. Well, if it’s my absence that causes it in the first place, I think I have a right to making plans for it. So far, my plans involve world domination, some Legos, and a lot of chocolate. Hehe. Maybe I can make up for it when I get back… See if I can beat that 300. I’m not going to even try to beat the 999 record.

      4. True. But that doesn’t mean you can’t plan for theories. And anyway, it doesn’t matter, because I did end the world. Or, my brothers and I did. See, we went to Meteor Crater in Arizona and in the little museum there, there’s this game where you make your own meteor and crash it into a planet. All fun to show how size and velocity and all that can affect the size of the crater it creates, right? So one of my brothers decided the asteroid would be pointed towards Earth (I think the options were Venus, Earth, or Mars). The other brother decided the asteroid going towards the planet was going to be 1,000 km in diameter and it was traveling at roughly 28 miles per second. I also pointed it towards planet at a 40º (so it wouldn’t hit straight on, but kind of at an angle), but with the size, it didn’t really matter. Needless to say, when I started it, it blew up the entire planet. It was awesome. *raises eyebrow skeptically* Six…hundred…posts…? Wow. I’m not sure even I have that much free time. Summer vacation or no! Hmm…gosh, now I’m really tempted to try it…

      5. Wow. I’m glad you aren’t in any position of actual power.

        Indeed. But somehow I recently got nearly 850 views in one day… I wonder who that was.

  2. I’ll admit, I used to hate it when movie adaptations didn’t follow the book. I am, however, trying to be more open-minded and start treating the movie like a movie and not an adaptation, just like you said. I used to be opposed to seeing any movie adaptation unless I read the book first, but now, I don’t care as much. I’m fine with seeing a movie without reading the book first (I did this with Divergent and Ender’s Game) because then I can judge the movie as a movie, ya know?

    The thing that really bugs me about some adaptations is when they take a completely different turn on the plot (The Lightning Thief did this, for example). I get the impression with those movies that Hollywood isn’t smart enough to come up with an original storyline so they have to steal one from someone else and twist it the way they want. To me, that’s just lazy.

    Anyway, excellent post!

  3. Excellent points. The problem is that comparison comes so naturally to me. I say “so which do you like better?” about practically everything before I realize what I’m doing. My conversations with my siblings mostly go like that. But now that I’m aware of it, hopefully, things are changing.

  4. I like your response. However, I usually go by the ‘read-then-watch’ rule, so it’s hard to watch the movie without being disappointed a little or a lot. Maybe I should just watch the movie first. That’s what I did with Percy Jackson and The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, and I ended up loving both book and movie.

  5. I really dislike that people always compare books to the adaptations. I do so myself, but just for comparing. There are a whole lot of constraints that come with making the movie, and you really can’t fit every detail into the 3 hours at the most you might have.
    It isn’t fair to treat the movies like books, because they really are different.
    I really cracked up at the image. 😀

  6. Very good post and good points.
    I personally love the Inkheart movie and book, even though the movie makers took creative liberty. And I don’t mind the second Percy Jackson movie so much, either. I think you’re right. It’s not fair for book and film to be compared and they probably shouldn’t be. But I don’t think that’ll stop me entirely.

    By the way, the blog is up:

  7. Wow. It seems like you put a lot of thought into this–not that you don’t put thought into your other posts, just…I don’t know. Never mind.

    That makes sense. I haven’t watched many movie adaptions, so I don’t really have this problem, but you’re right. We do have to give the movie people a break. I’ve noticed that lately, how in books you can do anything and it doesn’t cost a cent. The people who make movies have this annoying little thing called a budget.

    So, good point. I’ll try to keep this in mind, should I watch more such adaptions.

  8. Ditto Amanda about this being a thoughtful post. I admit, I tend to be one of those grumbling fans who watches movie adaptations to see how bad they are, but this is a better method of movie watching. The end of Beautiful Creatures was much less vexing when I realized they changed it so it stood on its own, rather than being the first of a trilogy like a book was. Good point about books and moves being different art forms with different limitations and capabilities.

    1. I’m glad to see you stopped by, and I have commented on your post, but the best way to glean comments from other bloggers is to comment on their blogs. It’s counterintuitive, but it works— go through the blog chain and comment on every post (thoughtfully, in response to their posts), and you’ll find all those bloggers commenting on yours.

      1. You got it! It was just that sometimes people don’t post a blog chain on the day they’re supposed to, and I was running a bit later than I liked! 🙂

  9. Wow, this is a really brilliant take on it. I never thought much about the book world’s role in these adaptions, but I think that’s a great point. We kind of set ourselves up for disappointment by expecting that the movie could somehow not “ruin” the book. Of course it’s going to be worse than the book if your medium of comparison is how much of the book the movie retains since movies are, like, you said, much shorter, and lots (especially internal dialogue) has to be cut. But I think when you do away with the comparisons, the movie can be great. Like the HG movies series may not be as good as the books if I give them a hard look, but when I was in the theater for the first and second, I totally forgot about the book and just got wrapped up. That was an amazing experience for me.

    And yes, Eragon was such a disappointment for me on so many levels. It was my favorite series back when the movie released, and then it fell very flat.

    1. Thank you! There are some books that are cinematic in nature, with which you can almost taste the adaptation. But others just need tweaking, and that’s where the book world gets really whiny.

      Thanks for the comment.

  10. Whew! I finally got around to reading this…
    Great points. I think that you kind of have to separate your movie-watching experience from the book… For instance, I’m certain that there are numerous fans of the BBC show Sherlock around here. And yet the Sherlock on the show and the Sherlock Conan Doyle originally wrote are very different; they live in different times. And yet the characters read the same. I think that’s part of what movie makers should strive for. Even if they are playing extremely loose with the book (*cough cough* The Hounds of Baskerville was brilliant *cough*), they still have to make it shine on its own and yet hold onto the same characters…..
    LotR is one of my favorite adaptions, too. 😀 I also like the Hornblower movie adaptions and the more-recent Scarlet Pimpernel ones. (I love BBC shows. Don’t sue me.)

    1. Indeed. A strict adaptation of Sherlock Holmes runs into trouble when you bring it into modern times. Nevertheless, they made the transition very smooth.

      Agreed. Thanks for the comment!

      1. It was awesome, and sweet, and whatever other adjectives are on fire right now. 😛
        Have you seen the show Merlin? Of course, it’s over now… but it was great while it lasted. Stupid Kilgarrah.

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