Friday, July 15, 2011

Movie Talk: Adaption

It's been a thought on my mind lately, adaptions.

The word means different things for novelists and filmmakers. Mind if I briefly discuss what that word means for filmmakers, and really, the very different views on adapting books to screen?

Because I think something that a lot of book-lovers end up saying after watching an adapted film, is:

"What on earth were they thinking?!?"

And being a filmmaker and a novelist, and an avid book-lover and movie-lover, I thought I might enlighten the book-lovers as to where the filmmakers are coming from. May not make you guys any happier, but at least you might understand their mindset :]

**NOTE: I will reference a few films below, some of which I have not even seen. So, I do not endorse all the films mentioned in the following. Just so you know ;)**

Allow me to compare four different directors and adapted films:

Director of the film Jumper, Doug Liman, said that they took only one scene directly from the book it was based on- mainly because it was a flashback scene and helped explain his teleportation- and the rest was Steven Gould's Jumper story re-imagined into a film.

They didn't take the plot from the book and translate it onto the screen. They completely re-imagined the story.

(Of course, Liman likes working with an unlocked script so that might be why.....)

Anyway I thought it was interesting, because maybe, someone who had read the book and then watched the movie would just say that they had ruined it, instead of remarking on how it was re-imagined. But what they did was take the premise of the book, and make it a movie.

Peter Jackson, director of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, wanted to keep the films as accurate to the books  as possible, as far as I know. The screenplays were written keeping as close to the books as possible. Every time they tried to steer away form the books and write out something new, they found themselves having to come back to the book, because Tolkien was a genius and he knew what he was doing. So, the films were made to, literally, bring the books to life on the screen. And I don't think there's a fan of the book out there that can watch the movies and not commend them.

Director of Master and Commader: The Far Side of the World, Peter Weir said that what happens when one adapts a book to a screenplay is that, figuratively, you shake out the book, and all the words fall out onto the table. And all that's left is a bare outline of the characters and the plot, and you have to replace all those shaken out words with images.

Peter Weir kept very closely with the heart of the books, and while the storyline may have been changed slightly, that change pales when you look at what an amazing movie it is. Honestly. I have never heard anyone rant about how they changed the story from the book. (Partly because there are so many books, and one itty bitty changed plotline doesn't really matter that much... but anyway.)

Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg are making Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn right now, and it comes out in December. (W00T! And actually, Herge actually said that if anyone was to make a movie out of Tintin, he wanted that person to be Spielberg. His wish has been fulfilled!)

Anyway, I was watching several interviews, and Jamie Bell, who plays Tintin, said that he's a very big Tintin fan, and so are Pete and Steven. And they've kept extremely close to the books and to Herge, which of course, any fan of any book/series is glad to hear about an upcoming film.

Here I have to chuckle. 

See, of course, Tintin hasn't been released yet, so we have yet to see what they all mean when they say they keep very close to the books. And I don't mean that in a derogatory or sarcastic way: it's just that when filmmakers say "accurate," it's not always with the same meaning that the book fans are thinking when they hear the word, "accurate."

(I, personally, hold great faith in Spielberg, Pete, Jamie, Daniel Craig and everybody else involved in this film. The utmost confidence, I have. For the record, you know?)

See, no book fan can ever anticipate seeing the film as a carbon-copy of the book it was based off of. It just doesn't happen that way. The book fans expect to see the book on the screen, you see. They aren't thinking the way the filmmakers are.

Of course, sometimes it depends on the book. The Lord of the Rings was one of those stories that had to stick to the books, as massive and well-thought-out as they are. Jumper or Master and Commander, on the other hand, could be dealt with a little looser than LOTR.

Despite the different approaches, the mindset of the filmmaker is always to find a way to re-invent, re-imagine, or re-tell the story on the screen.

And sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't.

I don't suppose I have a real "moral-to-the-story" here. It's just interesting to compare the views of the bookies and the film-folk. (Wow, new terminology here!)

But personally, I think if the filmmakers have enough respect for the book, and try to keep the essence of the story, the adaption will be a success.

And some adaptions are great movies, but fail in the actual representation of the book. Others, however, are nearly perfect adaptions, but fail in winning over the movie-goers who aren't familiar with the book.

It's a fine line the filmmakers walk: they have the task of pleasing two worlds- the book fans and the moviegoers.

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

True, true... I do know that film makers kind of like to add their own touches. But as a booklover, it's nice when the movies stick pretty close to the plots of the books I love. Like you said, the Lord of the Rings were pretty good with following the books. And "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1" followed the book BEAUTIFULLY! So I see where you're coming from, but I still like it when movies follow books. ;)

Jenna Blake Morris said...

Thanks for posting this -- it was really interesting! Taking the one scene and then rewriting the story around that scene isn't something I've ever heard of, but I actually like it in concept. Admittedly, if I'd read that book and was a major fan, I probably wouldn't be so open to it...I think the main thing is to separate the book and the movie adaptation in your mind. They aren't the same thing (though sometimes they're close). And they weren't *made* to be the same thing. It helps me to remember that.

Hannah Joy said...

Glad you wrote this!

I'm always disappointed when a movie strays horribly from the book, but I totally see where you are coming from.

When I watched LOTR, yes, it was slightly different from the book, but the changes were needed, because, well, we don't want, for instance, and hour long council. Movies are movies and books are books. There's a HUGE difference.

Of course, LOTR's not a very good example because they are very close to the book. So...ok, I was disappointed in Narnia. At least, the first one was good, but the second lost its Narnianess in the whole conflict between Peter and Caspian, and then the love story that was completely out of place. The third one...while entertaining, and I absolutely LOVE Eustace, it did stray a lot from the book. BUT it would be really hard for a movie to be made out of that book, seeing as its plot is rather small, with different episodical adventures.

The old movies are a sticker to the books of Narnia, and, well, to tell the truth, the don't make as good movies moviewise. Because, again, books are books and movies are movies.

Lastly, the TV series Hornblower is loosely based on the books, but I don't care! Mostly because, I suppose, I haven't read the books, but I did start one, and it...well, Horatio is WAY better in the movie.

So...yeah. I think for a book-lover going to watch a movie, usually my hopes are low for the accuracy to the book. If it is close to the book...well, surprise surprise!

But personally, I like a book to be a book, and a movie to be a movie. And though I'd like most of it to be close to the book, it can't all.

Sorry for the long comment...

Kayla said...

Great post.

As a filmmaker I can understand wanting to change a book a little bit to make it something new or to give my own twist. But on the other hand as a normal person, (a innocent movie watcher, you know) if it's Hollywood that's making the book into a film it seems like they most often change it for the worst. They add more offensive things that weren't in the original. So to me it depends, I enjoy seeing a book turned into a movie either way, original or changed a bit. Just so long as the changes aren't morally offensive.