As an avid consumer of books and films, I’ve always been naturally drawn to film adaptations of books. But I have found many viewers do not realize just how involved and common the practice of translating a book to the screen is. If a novel or short story is popular enough, someone probably will make (or has made) it into a movie.
To film producers — who have the job of minimizing spending while maximizing profit — adaptations are safer than a completely original work. Films adapted from popular written works already have a dedicated audience and allow for publicity in the literary sector in addition to traditional mass markets.
The Harry Potter series, the Twilight saga and The Chronicles of Narnia have all proved to be intensely profitable for studios. Subsequently, more people have started reading the books, actors in the films have become celebrities and movie merchandise has set record profits.
Okay, so the eight Harry Potter films have benefited Daniel Radcliffe and Warner Bros. — but how do fans feel about these translations?
Usually hardcore fanatics read (or reread) the books before they see the films and are already profoundly invested in the story. Therefore studios, while guaranteed an initial audience, must deliver a quality product to gain the extra revenue that comes from fans hearing that the movie is worth watching. Many times for the producers, this means staying true to the original incarnation of the story.
Like many hardcore popular culture enthusiasts, I used to consider myself a purist when it came to adaptations. If a film had changed details or left out important characters, I would refuse to acknowledge its existence. After being completely engrossed by the complex characters and confusing timelines in the novel The Time Traveler’s Wife, I could not wait for the film. But not even good actors could save the terribly forced plot progression and one-dimensional characters — I didn’t even cry in the theater.
Even with good films, I have left the cinema feeling unsatisfied. For me, Atonement was such a distinct book because of its unusual narration style: the chapters are divided by narrator, taking an essential plot event and allowing the reader to view it from the perspective of each character. While the film was beautifully shot and acted, it could never have told the story in the same way.
Like many, my group of friends and I recently devoured The Hunger Games trilogy. When I heard there would be a film version, I was concerned for its authenticity, but I still attended the midnight screening in Melbourne, Australia, where I am currently studying abroad (and Melbourne is a day ahead of the U.S., so technically I saw it first!).
Maybe it was because I didn’t dress up in a District-themed outfit and don’t publicly rep a couple from the books (“Pee-niss” for life!), but I wasn’t disappointed in the adaptation. In fact, I did notice many small discrepancies between the film and the novel, but thoroughly enjoyed the movie all the same.
My opinion on adaptations has changed after viewing “The Hunger Games.” I know that a replication cannot compare to an original, especially when judging a two-hour film against hundreds of written pages. But I also think that a replication shouldn’t have to. Films and books that tell the same story should be seen as separate entities and judged independently. How could we compare a narrative on the vastly dissimilar written and visual mediums?
No matter how good the screenwriting, directing or acting, images cannot delve into back-story or provide instense character-driven accounts like books can. So much is revealed through inner thoughts and feelings in writing that are near impossible to show visually.
Conversely, an eight-page action scene can be depicted in one minute of screen time, with the atmospheric addition of sound effects, music and detailed visuals. Actors can laugh and cry with so much authenticity that they feel like real people. Each medium’s strength allows it to highlight a specific part of the story.
In The Hunger Games, the reader knows Katniss’ every thought and feeling through the novel’s first person narration. However, in the film, the audience’s point of view is not as limited, and we get access to private meetings with President Snow, the gamemakers’ operations room and the reactions of those watching the games.
Entertainment media has massive power in shaping how the audience interacts with a narrative. But when it comes to a good story, I’m just as happy powering up my Kindle as I am popping in a DVD.