Films from Books, are they doomed from the beginning?
I 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?