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Films from Books, are they doomed from the beginning?

Book.jpgI don't recall ever having said, you have to see the film before you read the book, it would always be a recommendation to read the book before the film, but is that right? Should a film stand on its own and be watched without instant comparison to the book it came from?

After all the book has the easier time of getting to the audience. It gets a lot longer to engage the audience than a film, readers can take it at their own pace, and it relies on the readers own imagination, an imagination which always casts the right actors.

A film, on the other hand, doesn't have that long at all. Its got around two hours to show you the story, it has cast the actors for you and even scripted the entire action, there's hardly any room for the audience imagination here. How could it possibly stand up to the book?

The only instance I can see of the film being better than the book is when a really bad book is transferred to the screen and something special is done with it, all the parts that were poor are corrected and it becomes something much stronger.

There is a second option where the film betters the book, and that's when the majority of the audience hasn't read the book and the film gets to them first to influence their understanding of the story and the characters. This then makes it very hard to read the book after seeing the film, you're preconceptions are made and your expectations tainted.

So when should you read the book that a film was based on? Should you read it beforehand and have the most expansive and imagination rich version of the story all played out before going to the film, before allowing yourself that two hours of audio\visual experience in which to have the tale shown to you through someone else's imagination?

Or should you watch the film first, see someone else's interpretation of the film and then approach the book? Surely then you're struggling with the images and plot twists that the Screenwriters and Director have given you? Yet is that easier to work through than having the film compete with the perfect image you already have of the story through the book?

Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia are perhaps two of the best examples of when it works well. These films may well have had the largest audience of people who had already read the book, and yet the films were superb successes. Is that because the books were so detailed and rich beforehand that it was a filmmakers dream, as long as they absorbed the story well and continually used the books as reference, recreating the book in film form would is then so much easier.

Special effects are so advanced now that it's easy to recreate a winged Dragon, especially when the author of the book detailed them so well. How could you go wrong? Well they could have, if they hadn't read, believed and loved the original material.

Still, could you say that these two films bettered the books? I don't think you can, a book can never be bettered on screen unless it's a weak book to begin with. Frankly I can't even think of examples of this, I can only see films that have fallen short, or just matched the book, but you could never beat the book for such a rich and immersive tale. After all, you're doing the casting, directing, make-up, costumes, effects and even acting all in your mind.

Slightly down the line are the Harry Potter film adaptations, again the films suffering from the lengthy books which detail so much about the worlds and the characters, how can they expect to compete, and yet they do. Although I've possibly heard more comments about expectations not being met about certain characters or events than I have with the previous two series.

If we were to leap down to the other end of the scale we could always discuss Stephen King adaptations, for some of these have been very poor if not dreadful. I would argue that some of the source material has been poor to being with, but as I've said that's no justification for the poor film. What makes poor King adaptations even more prominent is the fact that there are some really good ones, Dead Zone, Carrie, all the way to Green Mile.

Right now we're watching two books with very large readerships being made. One is soon to be released, The Da Vinci Code, and another currently underway, Philip Pullman's Northern Lights, or Golden Compass, depending on which country you're from.

For me Da Vinci Code will certainly fall into the category of a poor book being made into a good film. The material doesn't get too deep, and it's all a surface skim, I felt it was a simplisticly written tale. It already has fallen fowl of the casting versus readers imagination issue with people everywhere wondering why Tom Hanks is their Robert Langdon.

The Pullman story is slightly different, and one which is very common in adapting material for film. The film is going to be so far removed from the book that it might even be unrecognisable, and sport the credit of inspired by the novel rather than anything else. That is because the main thrux of the novels is religion, and all of that religious plot aspect is being removed, so what does that leave us with? It's like resetting Lord of the Rings in Roman times. A totally different film.

What do you think, should films stay faithful to the book that they are based on, or do they need to distance themselves and become something new? Surely if they don't they face direct comparison with the book they can become something new in their own right? If the film is taken from the book it will probably fail to meet expectations of the readers, that is unless it is a faithful adaptation from a rich source of material.

So when should you read the book of the movie? Before or afterwards? Should you read the source material before watching the film and have the film try to rise up to that standard, or does this help enrich the film? Do you find it always lead to disappointment? Can the world of movies and popcorn entertainment really accommodate the depth and width of a book?





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Comments


This is very interesting.

Well, first of all, most films are based on a book. So we are talking about the nature of the cinema itself. Of course, it´s almost always books we don´t know about.

Last week I was watching "War and Peace" by King Vidor. Yes, I know it´s an old film, but it´s a good example. I have seen it many times. I think it´s a model of a book adaptation.

Yet once, I did the exercise of reading the Tolstoi novel and watching the film just after. Very bad idea. The book is so vast that the film seemed to me a scheme. Yet, it captures the essence of the film perfectly, much more than Serguei Bondarchuk version, more literal and longer, equally acclaimed, but unsuccesful.

Lord of the Rings is quite a good example, and for the first time, I´m gonna say something about it. There´s Peter Jackson, and there´s Ralph Bakshi animated version. Peter Jackson did an astounding job, though he took many liberties, but forgiveable under the cirumstances.

Yet the animated version, unversally hatred by everybody who loves LOTR modern films, and by many who simply have never seen it, it´s more loyal. It captures better the spirit of Tolkien book, which I have read many times, also.

Jackson is the modern Bondarchuk. And Bakshi is the modern Vidor. This is my view on the subject.

Apart from that, a good book can lead to a good movie as well as a bad one can. It only depends on the crafts and tallents involved. Richard Brooks adapted many difficult books to the screen, quite succesfully, like Lord Jim or In cold blood. He was a fanatic of literature.

Yet, there are books which seem impossible to make into a film. Don Quixote is the most famous. I still wonder why Don Quixote fails and fails, while Shakespeare has been so well brought to the silver screen.

Richard says, "so when should you read the book of the movie? Before or afterwards? Should you read the source material before watching the film and have the film try to rise up to that standard, or does this help enrich the film? Do you find it always lead to disappointment?

I usually watch the film first if I have just come across the source material. If the book turns out to be brilliant and the film horrible, then it can at least cushion the blow of how the film was a disappointment. I have only read a few books before they were made into a film, like in this case, the upcoming Da Vinci Code, I am excited to see it for two reasons, it stars Tom Hanks and because there are a few instances in the book that I thought whilst reading it will really look good in a movie.

Peter: I have debated this very same topic with my other film friends and we are all split with the Lord of the Rings adaptations. I think Fellowship is the best and at least faithful to the novels but not so much so with the other two, saying that, the film has made a brilliant adaptation despite not being faithful to its material.

My favorite spy-thrillers written by Frederick Forsythe later being adapted to films though not excellent are also enjoyable, notably "The Odessa File" and "Day of the Jackal". I have read all the Bourne books and I was disappointed with the first film that I had to give away the DVD, it was redeemed by the sequel though, and who knows what happens to the 3rd installment. I thought the Jurassic Park sequel was also a letdown.

The most perfect adaptation without a shadow of doubt is Mario's Puzo's "The Godfather", I guess having also been hired by Copolla to write the screenplay was a great idea. I watched "Interview with the Vampire" first before reading it and I thought it was a really good adaptation. Some populat English classics have done well in the adaptation side of it, like Jane Austen's "Persuasion" but not too well with the recent "Pride and Prejudice" cutting out some of the more important characters in the story. The BBC production though was perfect in every way.

Richard says, "Can the world of movies and popcorn entertainment really accommodate the depth and width of a book?"

It will not always be possible although a number have been successful. Because of the difference of the two exercise.

1. Reading allows your imagination to create all the scenarios in your head including the characters, and every emotion felt, and if your imagination has been successful in doing this, this is how you see the story.

2. Watching something that you have read doesnt require much imagination, as it's really become more visual. It's also highly likely that what your expectations are from the book you have read might not all be delivered in the film medium as it is now somebody else's own imagination/interpretation, not yours, not the authors (perfect example, Jackson's treatment of Two Towers and Return of the King). The cast chosen for an important and pivotal role may not agree with you, scenes cut out altogether or a scene you are so familiar with in your head is all of a sudden not given the same treatment. It is somebody else's 'creative ideas', against your own and that is always very painful.

I recently re-read Lord of the Rings for the first time since about 1988 or 1989. I was 13/14 back then and frankly did not have the capacity to truly appreciate what Tolkien was trying to do. Consequently I never really liked the books, and so when the films came out I was perfectly ready to proclaim how much I liked them better than the books.

Re-reading them now, I find them a lot less formidable and hard to read than I did 18 years ago and can appreciate what Tolkien was doing. The problem is, I still don't actually like what he was doing; I still find the books ponderous, pretentious and bloated. And, perhaps paradoxically, re-reading the books has given me a much greater appreciation for Jackson's films; I can see now the sorts of things that have been done to the books, and frankly I like Jackson's handling of the narrative material better (bringing Boromir's death into the first film, displacing Shelob into the third, intercutting the separate story strands in films two and three, etc). I seem to recall the third film being criticised for dragging on too long at the end; I can only presume the people making these criticisms had forgotten just how badly Tolkien allowed the third book to do exactly the same thing. The loss of the Scouring of the Shire is not a bad thing in my opinion.

So I suppose yes, I actually would claim Jackson's LotR films are better than the books.

It may be because my memory is hazy with the time that passed between reading 'The English Patient', and seeing the film, but I actually thought that the film was better than the book. It's well known that the plot was changed for the film and for me the plot of the film stands up better than it does in the novel.

I struggle with films that change the endings from books and completely miss the point. Not wanting to spoil it for anyone who has not seen/read them - but to change the ending of 'The Horse Whisperer' and 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin' was sacrilegous in both cases. The films completely lose the tragedy and pathos and, I suspect, play into Hollywood's need for a happy ending.

Also not sure where I stand with modernised versions of classic texts. I don't mind films like Bax Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet that still manage to retain the central theme - tragic love, pressure from society etc. If anything I think they serve to show how some topics are as valid today as they were years ago.

However, recent version of Pride and Predjudice presented us with a tomboy version of Elizabeth Bennett that was nowhere near Jane Austen's character in the book. Ang Lee's version of Sense and Sensibility was far better. Much truer to the book and this meant it didn't disappoint.

I'm arguing myself round in circles here - so I guess my conclusion is that it really does depend on the quality of both the individual book and the individual film.


That´s what happens with youth traumas. They can damage you forever LOL

Comparing Jackson with Tolkien (if there is a possible comparison) is like comparing Dante to Dan Brown.

I can hear someone saying "Hey, I liked Da Vinci Code and I couldn´t stand the Divine Commedy! Why did Dante write it in such a complicated way? Why does he give so many references to obscure classics? Dan Brown is more entertaining and hence, BETTER! Fuck Dante!"

And many people would agree. But come on! Demmanding books are not bad... just demmanding.

I have recently dabbled on Umberto Eco's works, I started with "Foucault's Pendulum"- I have never worked that hard to read a book, I dont think there is a film adaptation yet but please, whoever is contemplating on it make it more interesting.

Not very impressed with that, I decided to buy "The Name of the Rose" which I heard had a film version which I have yet to see. Now this is far more impressive than Foucault's, and I can actually see Sean Connery as Bro William, and Christian Slater as Adso. Once I have seen the film, I will revisit the thread.

As for James last comment re LotR, I couldnt say Jackson's films were better, yes, he brought life to this fictional world of Middleearth quite well, but it was Tolkien's idea, still Tolkien's world. At the end of the day the purists will always contest Jackson's deviations to the adaptation. I loved both the books and the films and agree that some scenes just wouldnt work on film, my main problem with Jackson and his team of co-writers, is the additions they had to make to the material which totally confuses; that to me is unforgivable, nevertheless, it was a good adaptation, but not faithful.

Peter, leave Dan Brown alone, it's insulting enough to even mention his name in the same breath as Dante. ;-)

The thing to remember is that films and books are very different media: what works well in one will probably not work in the other.

The reason I try very hard to read the book before watching the film is that I want my own pictures of the characters - I want my imagination to work for me, and if I see the film first I am lazy: the actor becomes the character for me. This removes some of the joy of reading for me, so I read the book first.

I think it is also symptomatic of film production that the studios rely so heavily of other sources for their ideas - be it old movies or books. Genuinely new scripts can be magical - Citizen Kane, for example. (Please don't tell me Kane was a book first!)

Adapting a book for a film should require something new to be added - a further dimension that the book can't manage. This could be by special effects - something movies excel at, of course - or bringing added depth (for instance, fleshing out Heart of Darkness with Michael Herr's Dispatches to create Apocalypse Now).

As a largely non-reader I don't have much of an issue with this. The only time I've been compelled to buy the book after seeing a film was Alive. The film concentrates exclusively on the crash and the survival of the passengers, and once off the mountain the choppers appear. Which was quite different to the book, which had a balance of family, before the flight, after they got home, what happened when they walked off the mountain in search of help (or rather what DIDN'T happen).

I don't think any of the off-mountain stuff would have worked on film, to appreciate a couple of months with nothing to eat but your mates it had to leave you there. But the book was all-encompassing, which it could be.

Horses for courses.

COMIC BOOKS vs. the Films made from them

Neil Gaiman on the Subject

I don't often read a book before a movie comes out and one reason is because the movies often ruin the books.

Recently I had this problem with Memoirs of a Geshia. I adored this book and the movie was simply the book in fast forward. There almost no focus on the tradition or building of relationships as a Geshia. I bought the movie instead of renting it, so now I am considering selling the DVD off. I might, however give it another veiwing now that I know what to expect.

As mentioned above, the recent Pride and Prejudice movie not being all too wonderful, I have to completely agree. I do not in anyway understand all the hype the movie got. I found the latest version bland and Keria Knightly completely unsuited to portray Elizabeth. My favorite version is still the 1930s version even though it's not altogether true to the book. As for the BBC version of the book I found it enjoyable, but I didn't care for the casting choices of Elizabeth or Jane. I found both bland, a bit grating and uninteresting. The mini series may have told the book, but I think there were parts that drudged on a bit too long, which made the film feel as if it was loosing it's focus.

Sense and Sensibility is still my favorite Jane Austen movie. Emma Thompson and Ange Lee did a wonderful job bringing the book to life.

Emma and Mansfield Park are fun and fair adaptations.

Harry Potter is a series that suffers when you compare the books to the movies. While I feel the movies are wonderful, especially the last one, I do regret that so much from the books has to be left out. You can't add it all, but I think there have been some key scenes cut that shouldn't have been.

I think it's probably harder to adapt a film into a movie than to create an original script. The books are rarely done justice. I feel part of the reason is because a book can paint feelings and emotions that a movie won't generaly succeed at doing. That's not to say a movie can't, but it rarely happens.

Interesting post...I think since most films are based off books it's clear that good books can make good movies...

although...

(1) good books are not always chosen
(2) not all good books make good films
(3) not all films transition the book to film well

Personally, I enjoy movies that are based on short stories (take the Nick Hornby stuff or Memento).

--RC

If a book(author) creates his own culture/planet/language/species etc and does so over 800 pages or more its never going to be fairly represented in a movie.

Most movies follow a simple formula(a few are):
1. have to appeal to a mass audience to get the punters in
2. can't be too complicated
3. usually have a hollywood ending

Some books should or just can't be made into movies.

take the dune series as an example. so much of the book is politics and none of that was really put into the movie(there just isn't enough time). Some may think thats a good thing, but NOT having an essential part of book in a film and dumbing down of the material ruins it for me.

If you want to make a stupid movie, then use a stupid book. simple.

Non

I guess everything depends on the script..if the writer decides to be faithful on the novel, it'll be same as the novel as possible, and if not, it'll turn out to be a different matter. I've recently read 'Spider' by Patrick Mcgrath, and I was surprised to find out that it was different from the movie. But I wans't unpleasantly surprised because I've seen the movie first, and the movie itself was a creative interpretion of the novel. The novel was written in the aspect of the main character, but the movie was different in that the director tried to 'observe' the main character very objectively. So it was a different kind of interpretion and I find it very convincing.

So it depends on how people adapt the book itself- so there are some which are very faithful to the novel itself, but they can't be perfectly faitful to it. The script itself reflects how the script writer thinks of the novel, and I guess that's the spirit of adapted novels.

I'm not that much of an reader myself, and I often find the 'book' after the 'movie'. But I enjoy reading them after it, to find out how the book was adapted, and what part of the novel was focused at the movie.

So I tend to watch the movie on the premise that the movie itself is an interpretion of the novel. And also, we might only think that we know what kind of movie should be made when the movie is faithful to the book, but actually we don't know because that perception itself is an interpretion of the book by ourselves.

The movie "Brokeback Mountain" is vastly better than the short story. The wonderful acting, script and direction make the characters come alive and seem like complete people, including the non-leads. The short story has no characterization at all. It reads like a skeletal outline for a novel, punctuated by dreadfully arty purple-prose descriptions.

Well, I saw Eragon last night, and from what I've heard, the book was quite good, not as great as Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia, but the film adaptation was a waste of time, save for the special effects from ILM.

Now I wasnt expecting it to be like either LotR or Narnia in terms of grandness but at least give us something to be in awe with especially with dragons as a main character! Saying that the dragon Saphira (voiced by Rachel Weisz) was a revelation. No offense to the director (Stefen Fangmeier) but what were the studios thinking giving it to someone who is directing for the first time? Yes, this is his first film. Sure he's got a good CV on visual effects, he's on the ILM payroll as supervisor) but there is more required than just that. If this had been given to a more seasoned director, Eragon would have been a much better film. I pity Jeremy Irons, he tried really hard, but not enough.

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