The film industry hasn’t always been a great advert for adapting novels for the screen. A brilliant book can often become a less than brilliant film – The Time Traveler’s Wife and Brideshead Revisited are recent examples that have let-down, unnecessarily modernised, and patronised their sources. It seems that even having a solid cast or the author’s backing can’t guarantee a successful page to screen translation.
However, I am opposed to the idea of writing off all film adaptations as there are countless examples of success stories for your consideration: the remarkable Joe Wright’s adaptation of Atonement near matched the emotional wrench of Ian McEwan’s novel, with exquisite cinematography as a bonus.
On another level, there are the films that seem to transcend the fact that their original literary status, and become better known on celluloid – think Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. And although To Kill a Mockingbird will always remain a magnificent novel in its own right, Gregory Peck’s perfectly measured but fiercely passionate Atticus Finch lifts the story out of the literary and ensures it becomes part of cinematic history.
Ultimately it’s essential to cut the filmmakers a little slack. If you can’t stand that your favourite book isn’t played out word for word onscreen, I’m not going to convince you. But if you don’t object to stepping away from the novel (and admitting that even though you think Fleming probably didn’t have Daniel Craig in mind as Bond, he’s doing a pretty good job), it’s far easier to accept that a film can be as good as, if even better than the book.
For years, moviemakers have strained to put society’s favourite works on the big screen, and earn big bucks from movie and literature fans alike. The question has arisen of whether filmmakers are being successful in their adapting endeavours. Answering this question is actually a fairly complicated one, I’m sure someone in the Film Studies department could write books and books on the matter, but as a layman film fan I’m going to make a bold assertion:
Now I accept that not everyone is a book fan, but for those of us that are, nothing can quite beat the joy of curling up with a good book and immersing oneself in a highly imaginative, well-written book. Whilst I am a film fan – I write about films and watch them with great pleasure – the joy one gets from reading and the joy one gets from watching a well-made movie are completely different. I may enjoy reading, for example, No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy, and watching the film of the same name, but the pleasure I derive from doing both, are incomparable.
From my recent cinematic experiences I am forced to conclude that film adaptations of much loved books generally never live up to expectations. Take Jodi Picoult’s ‘My Sister’s Keeper’. Granted her books are becoming repetitive clichés but as this was my first dip into the American author’s plethora of angst-ridden literature, I was utterly gripped by the book.
Thus, imagine my outrage when Nick Cassavetes took it upon himself to completely alter the turn of events. For one, Cassavetes allows Kate to lose her battle with leukemia, transforming the film into an entirely predictable weepie. Kate’s death is obviously tragic, but lacked impact without the crucial plot twist.
I’m not alone in my criticism, with Picoult stating “Yes, I know the ending is different. Yes, I know some of you are very upset. I didn’t change it. The author has no control over the movie, and it was hard for me to accept too.”
Similarly the 2007 adaptation of Pullman’s Northern Lights (no, the alethiometer is not a bloody compass) completely massacred a brilliant book. Though aimed at children it was also enjoyed by adults, and included hard-hitting moral and philosophical questions that took it far beyond a standard children’s book.
In the film, however, the significant points of the book are skimmed over and the ending is cut out. The criticism of religion is massively diluted, yet was still boycotted by religious groups in America despite there being no indication that this film is from the first in a trilogy of books in which the child heroes eventually kill God. The effects were rather good, but that hardly makes up for missing out the main point of the story.
I’m not arguing against all adaptations of books. But if the producers decide that the plot runs the risk of being a little too interesting, then they should leave it alone and let it remain as an untainted good book.
Hattie Hamilton and Lucy Hayes