Discussion: Film Adaptations

Posted November 5, 2018 by Nicky in General / 4 Comments

I don’t think I’ve ever really discussed how I feel about movie adaptations in general. It’s a bit of a hot button topic among book lovers, isn’t it? “The book is always better” purists and those who just don’t trust Hollywood on principle (smart move)… Me? I don’t watch films or TV much at all, so it’s a bit of a moot point. I think comic book movies work really well: it’s a visual medium being adapted into another visual medium, so it’s not quite as tricky, and actors like Robert Downey Jr and Chris Evans have done a good job at somehow embodying the larger than life characters from comics. When it’s done well, it can even bring a new cohesiveness to disparate material — I don’t follow how the fuck most of Marvel’s comics fit together most of the time, but the Cinematic Universe has allowed a lot more interlinking.

(On the other hand, maybe too much. Civil War was billed rather awkwardly as a Captain America movie when it was clearly an Avengers movie. It was about the whole team, not Cap as such. You wouldn’t get away with that in comics; a lot of people follow particular headline characters, not teams and crossovers.)

Books, on the other hand, can be a bit trickier. They’re not a visual medium, and the translation can be harder. I think some movies have done it extremely well — Lord of the Rings, but not the Hobbit, for instance — by taking pains to be as close to the source as possible. Some have been super boring because they stuck close to a book that didn’t translate well, either through narrative voice or through much of the action being in thought rather than deed. Others have benefitted by going off at a right angle (Stardust, Howl’s Moving Castle). Some have just bombed by doing that (The Seeker).

All in all, I think adaptation is an art in itself, which you have to keep in mind as well as film-making. The same goes in the opposite direction — I’m sure a very good book can be written based on a movie, but it can’t just repeat the action word for word. It’s an act of translation to a new medium, and really you need to understand the needs of both media.

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4 responses to “Discussion: Film Adaptations

  1. I always find myself nervous when I hear about a film adaptation of a book I love. Part of me is excited to see it on screen, the other part worries it will be a mess. Most of the Harry Potters are well done except the end of Goblet of Fire (the maze was a total non event) and The Order of the Phoenix which was disappointing. I liked the book of Girl with all the gifts but it translated into one dull film, kind of like the Twilight series. LOTR was excellent and I agree that The Hobbit has a few issues. I’m still hopeful for things like Ready Player One where I loved the book and hope to see some of Matthew Reilly’s books get good films made eventually ie Contest!
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    • I remember thinking Harry Potter was very well done when I saw the first movie, though I’m not a huge fan and have never seen all the films (or read all the books). Casting can be a huge part of it, too.

  2. Just my thoughts: I would argue that books are, in fact, a visual medium, if you stop to think about it. Though we use our eyes to see a movie, we also use those same eyes to read a book, but it’s the brain that processed both sets of “visual” input. While a film’s intent is to give you the “visuals”, a book merely tells you and leaves it up to your own imagination to interpret the information. But, in the end, aren’t both visual? 😉

    • Nope! I don’t (can’t) picture anything when I read a book. There is nothing visual about the process except that that’s how the words get into my brain.

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