In the world of books, complaining about the adaptations to movies seems to be the language of the realm. The sentiment has become memed and mainstreamed. Do you get excited about a book you read becoming a movie or do you cringe? I don’t really do either, and I’ll tell you why.
First of all, it’s important to understand a movie is not a book and a book is not a movie. Clearly. That’s obvious. But, the fact of the matter is that many people forget that the mediums are completely different and make use of completely different tools. Absolutely, there is a relationship, but it’s more akin to two different languages.
Books and movies are both forms of media art. They share a common root to their language: culture, the human condition–a shared commonality with language itself. Here is also where much of the confusion and outrage arises in the viewing of adaptations. Much of a book is lost in translation when it becomes a film. The reason it’s lost is because the average viewer isn’t taught how to watch a movie beyond passive consumption. Film has a language and culture; one that is separate from that of books. It requires an understanding to fully unpack what is on the screen.
You might want to tell me to hold up a moment, because you recall that films are first written. The architecture of a movie is often written down, but not all movies are created by that means. The script helps to keep the team focused on the same plan. That too, is a clue as to the differences one should expect between books and films. Books are generally a creation of a solitary effort, whereas a film is generally the creation of a team effort.
The vision of a solitary artist doesn’t bend to the will of other visions. It may be influenced or informed from various inspirations, but it remains thoroughly signature of the author. In film, that is a bit more difficult to maintain. Sometimes a director will be called an auteur. That means that the director’s influence was strong enough to control the project through completion and put their stamp on it. Not every director is willing or able to have that kind of leadership over their crew. Sometimes, synergy serves them. Picking your team members is thus highly important.
Another aspect to consider is time constraints. Film has, for a very long time, been relegated to the realm of 90 minutes. When it first started, the running time of any one film would vary greatly. It depended upon the project. Many features were more than two hours in length, on par with theatrical productions (plays). Books, on the other hand, can take their time. In more recent decades, the preference of publishers is to have a shorter work with terse prose. The reason is that they are more adaptable to other mediums, and thus more profitable. Traditionally, prose art should be of the length and breadth appropriate for the story. Good writing is not pointlessly extended (a lesson all writers learn as they grow).
All of what I have explained above has led me to not complain about book adaptations. Certainly I can be underwhelmed by a film, but I understand that the two projects are two different works co-existing in an intertext and nothing more. There are, however, people who find fault regardless of what I have illuminated above, and probably for the sake of leaving an impression of themselves as edgy or too cool for school, if you will. But, that’s not really the end result. They’ve simply aligned themselves with their view of a book (no not the author’s view) and probably also appear to be a bit of a crank.
When watching an adaptation, it’s wise to remember that much of the written description is shown in visuals and actions. You’ll need to pay closer attention, and suss out how the language of the book was translated into the language of the film. Also, remember, brevity dictates that some things are thinned, combined, dropped, or truncated. When I adapt a book, I take it line by line until the entire work is in the format of a screenplay. Then I gradually massage the descriptions to the fewest words possible. My job is also to take some description and make them direction. However, the majority of that will be managed by the director, once they take the script on. If they haven’t reviewed the book, or disregard the author’s vision, deviations will occur. So, too, with the screenwriter. But, this is not a bad thing. Sometimes disregarding portions is necessary for translation. Sometimes they are inadvertent.
In the end, the most important takeaway is accepting that a book is not a movie, and movie is not a book. View the adaptation as homage, and if you can’t, then see it as a super fancy book trailer. Whatever you do, don’t be basic and trash every film that is made from a book. You’ll never like any movies, and that’s just a waste of a fabulous medium.
When a book I have liked is adapted into a movie, I am cautiously optimistic. I reserve my cringing for those who judge oranges and apples as the same things, and focus on faults. Hopefully, understanding the differences between films and books a little better (or being reminded) will help bridge this gap dug by nitpicking purists.
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