Sunday, October 5, 2014

To Read or to Watch: The Danger of Adapting Books for Film

I love books. I just love them.

Reading is one of my favorite things to do. I have to read every day, even if only for a few minutes. Whenever I need a vacation, or just a mental health day, my first instinct is to hide away in my room, or in the bath, with a good book. It can be something new or an old favorite, it doesn't matter.

I feel justified spending time with my nose between the pages of a book. Stories are powerful. They can be life changing.

But balance is everything people. You have to honor your responsibilties, but you also have to honor your mental health. Reading is one way I keep myself healthy.

Books are obviously one of my passions. So, of course, I am very passionate about how they are treated by others. Including how others acknowledge a book by turning it into a film.

Unfortunatly I have been disappointed in the past.

Orson Scott Card is a great writer. I love his series about Andrew "Ender" Higgens, a child military genius, and I was excited when I heard that Ender's Game was being made into a movie.

Unfortunately, the film did not live up to my expectations.

Maybe it was just a case of liking the book better, but I don't think so. Orson Scott Card has a large fan base. I didn't understand why the film wasn't ... well, bigger.

I wish they would have given the story another hour, or even another thirty minutes. So much was left out that I couldn't help thinking Ender was cheated.

Most of my friends, those who didn't read the book, enjoyed the movie. I'm glad they did. Ender's story is great. Hopefully watching the movie will move them to pick up the rest of the series.

I understand that the task of translating a book into the medium of film is challenging. No adaptation is perfect. But as a lover of books, I expect such films to honor the original text.

Given this recent disappointment, I was hesistant to see the film adaptation of Lois Lowry's The Giver. This young adult dystopic novel is one of my very favorite books. I don't even try to keep track of how many times I've read it. It is great. If you've never read it, go buy it right now.

I saw the film on opening night with a friend who is also a huge fan of the story. We were, in a word, thrilled.

The people responsible for the movie took a lot of creative license with the film. (That is a major understatement. The film is extremely different than the book.) The main character, Jonas looks about 16 instead of the 12 he is in the books. They also dramatically expanded the impact of two of Jonah's friends, but the result was more than I could ever have hoped for.

The Giver is not the type of book that could easily be adapted into a film. Jonas' society lack parts of real life that we take for granted. They have pushed themselves to the point of "sameness." Jonas doesn't point out these differences to the reader becasue he doesn't notice them. He wouldn't notice them. He hasn't known any other life.  

One of the many things they have lost, besides their emotions, is the ability to see color. Lowry does not use color in her descriptions for the first few chapters because this loss is not revealed until Jonas realizes that the strange flashes he sees are flashes of color. 

Think about that for a moment. How do you hide an inability to see color to a theater audience in 2014?

It's impossible. 

That revel from the book can't be a reveal in a film. 

This was only one of a dozen changes. But, unlike my disappointing experience with Ender's Game, I loved the film adaptations of The Giver.

There are a lot of possible explanations for why I approve of one adaptation and not the other. I usually come back to the opinion that the film version of The Giver stayed true to the characters and themes, even if the plot line had to be tweaked. 

What do you think? What makes a good film adaptation. 

1 comment:

  1. Great exploration of two book to film adaptations. I totally agree with you about The Giver. I think that even though the loss of color wasn't such a shock in the film, we still felt Jonas' shock when he realized it was color he started seeing.

    Honestly a good book to movie adaptation really needs to stick with THEMES. If the themes are there and the plot is followed fairly closely, then it can be a great film. Yes, The Giver was changed a bit, but the deep, thoughtful themes from the film were still there, and that made all the difference.