Editor Annie Green, tackles that age old issue of book-to-film adaptations…
Often, when a book is adapted into a Hollywood blockbuster film, there are two reactions:
- Not as good as the book!
And I think we’ve all been guilty of that second opinion. The film industry is often cruel to our beloved stories: cutting out minor characters, destroying subplots, forgetting small but very important scenes, and turning every protagonist into a Jenifer Lawrence (no offence Hunger Games fans) or Ryan Gosling. I hold a personal vendetta against the directors of the Harry Potters films, simply for forgetting Peeves, Percy and scrapping Hermione’s famous frizzy hair – well they claim to have done the latter, but I certainly wouldn’t describe Emma Watson as a toothy, frizzy haired nerd.
Still, the Harry Potter films did get one thing right:
And I know I am one of their worst cynics, but the movies also have another benefit (well, only the first few) and that is the maestro named John Williams. I mean, how can you beat the classic, da duuu da da duuu da duuu duuu, duuu da da duuu da duuu!?
And on top of the riveting tunes and Alan Rickman, the film adaptation offers one more advantage:
I mean, who doesn’t dream about that image of Hogwarts looming out of the darkness? It brings a figment of our imagination into an actual sight before our eyes. It is like we ourselves are there, and that brings me to my point. We may moan and criticise, but a film can bring a story to life like no other way. We may carry on moaning by saying, “but it’s not how I imagined it!” in which case, tough luck, but sometimes you might get lucky. I may hate the way the story is told and the characters portrayed, but that still can’t diminish the grandeur of the place itself, in which I can have my own adventures. Nothing beats that.
Another example: Tolkien’s famous Lord of the Rings. The incredible world which had to be turned into not one, but three books, and similarly three amazing films (mainly because I am in love with Viggo Mortensen) which mostly live up to the original story, is one I would happily dream my days away in. I love the films and the books alike, both have their charm. Yes, I know, Tom Bombadil was one step too far when cutting out minor characters, but once again, the best part of the films for me is simply the music. I spent most of my revision sessions this summer accompanied by this soundtrack:
And again, what can beat this sight?
Which brings me to the question. Did Tolkien actually envisage it like that? Did Tolkien want his books to be office box best sellers? Well, he does leave us with some clues:
Take, for example, The Hobbit. Recently made into three films starring John Watso… I mean Martin Freeman, it was edited, changed, lengthened and featured singing Dwarves. In the book, the Dwarves are indeed very musical creatures, and in all of Tolkien’s books, the plotline is riddled with songs and folklore. For Tolkien, it is part of his rich and diverse world.
I am an aspiring writer. I attempt fantasy, have this little world of my own, and for some reason, the characters will not stop singing folk songs! Also, I don’t know if this is just me, but I do not just write the words. Each comes with its own tune simultaneously. This is what got me thinking. Surely others do the same? Part of creating a world is creating the little details. My room is full of maps, diagrams and drawings as well as music manuscripts and headphones. Lying on top are my rough drafts of writing and a red pen for corrections. For me, all of these come hand in hand. For me, this is the one reason I am prepared to tolerate the film industry.
But obviously this is open for discussion. Is the world down to our own imagination? Can only some people do it all on their own? Do they need help to fully visualise the world?
I know I’ve only been discussing fantasy and magic. But if you take a closer look, novels set in the modern day are often adapted and no one blinks an eyelid. However take something like the Hunger Games and there are critics, complaints and celebrations all at the same time. A film set here and now may receive the odd complaint for messing around with the plot, but there is much less of a big deal about it. We know what this world looks like, there is little debate.
At the moment there are two big film adaptations being released: the Percy Jackson and Mortal Instruments. Soon to follow will be the second Hobbit film and Catching Fire. As we are all avid book lovers here, is it worth seeing the story slaughtered? Is it worth having someone else’s perception of the characters relayed on the screen, even if it’s the author’s? Personally, the music and setting are what make a movie for me. But that still doesn’t make up for the new generation of acclaimed Harry Potter lovers who’ve never read the books.
Does it add or take away? Can we grin and bear it or do we genuinely love seeing our favourite story on big screen?
What do you think? Are there any in particular you’ve loved/hated? What’s your general opinion on adapting books for film?