Books into movies and back again: a reader’s tale

Nathan McMahon

      Hollywood is never one to shy away from any perceived money-making trend that can be turned into the latest, greatest and sometimes lamest blockbuster movie franchise. Heck, even intellectual properties like board games are being mined for that small nugget of profit. I’m looking at you, “Battleship”, you grotesque flimflam of a feature film. While some properties are more difficult to adapt, books have always provided a staple supply of pre-written prose and often have a built-in audience ready to experience their favorite worlds in a whole new medium.

While many literary purists, who consider themselves fans, decry the liberties taken with their special stories that apparently are only written for them, the adaptations themselves are often entertaining and fun. At the very worst, the audience is treated to something mediocre and bland, like “Twilight,” but at the very best, a truly wondrous and joy-filled epic can be put onto the screen like “the Lord of the Rings.”

The biggest mistake is to go into a movie culled from your favorite novel and expect a faithful adaptation. It is impossible. The very nature of the medium of the written word doesn’t allow for it when that transition is made.

For the most part, books have to be descriptive and often they are filled with minute details to help build the world that the author wants you to inhabit. An abundance of characters or settings are used to expand this or provide meaning, but film has the advantage of being visually superior and often leaves these details by the wayside. It results in a better film experience with concise story and flowing narrative, and the savvy audience knows this.

The recent glut of novels into films is nothing new. “Gone With the Wind,” one of the most heralded films of all time, was adapted from a popular novel written in 1936 and made into a film in 1939. “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Godfather,” “The Scarlet Letter.” The list goes on, and guaranteed, one of your favorite movies was inspired by the written word.

The advent of sci-fi and fantasy series has only helped to bolster audience’s cravings for adapted works. Harry Potter successfully took one of the most well-respected and enjoyed series of novels of the last 15 years and made a compelling and emotional journey on the screen. It helped that the author, J.K. Rowling, was so involved with her creation and it’s transition onto the big-screen. She made sure that what was left on film was true to her work and anything left on the cutting room floor was done with her approval. The result speaks for itself.

Adaptations are just that. They can’t be what everyone wants but they can be what most will enjoy, and more often than not we get some pretty good movies out of the whole written affair.