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:
20th – http://miriamjoywrites.com/
28th – http://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com/ – The topic for July’s blog chain will be announced.