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when books are turned into films. Options
prolixitysquared
Posted: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 7:50:57 PM
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Usually, with people I talk to who are book-lovers, they are fiercely annoyed with all the changes that happen when books are turned into screenplays for the movie realm.

It does often seem disingenuous to the author's original intention of how the story should look to readers, especially when there are so many changes that the original piece is significantly reshaped. Sometimes, countless important aspects or even just small details are left out, and it feels like a big rip off.

Then again, I'm guessing that most authors have some influence on the screenwriting or that they at least have to approve the final film in some sense. I wonder if authors are just happy to have their works turned into films so in turn they don't put up as much of a fight about accurately matching the storyline to the text. I'm sure it's also the case that sometimes it's just difficult to translate certain parts of books into real-life imagery.

Can you think of any examples of books that became movies and weren't insulting to the original text ?
tfrank
Posted: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 9:47:38 PM
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The Forsyte Saga was a thousand times better as a PBS miniseries than as a book series. Although John Galsworthy won the Nobel Prize for literature, it's clear that he preferred a lot more exposition in his lit than I do in mine! Show me through Soames's actions how he thinks and why he thinks the way he does - don't spend five pages filling me on the subtleties of his psyche as though you were his analyst writing a paper about him!

But the story and the characters are brilliant, and the movie is fabulous because of this.
catskincatskin
Posted: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 10:25:31 PM
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I'm definitely one to cringe when I hear about a film version of a book I liked. That said, I thought Brokeback Mountain was a wonderful expansion on what was for me a forgettable short story. I've enjoyed the Harry Potter films so far more than the books. While it's very different from the book, I thought the film version of Jelinek's The Piano Teacher was equally enthralling.

Luftmarque
Posted: Thursday, April 2, 2009 4:06:34 AM

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I think of film adaptations as a sort of translation between languages that differ radically in their grammars and expressive strengths--and while there are better and worse attempts at such a translation it is almost impossible to achieve a perfect one (as has been observed about translations before--one cannot finish one, only abandon it). Usually the closer the scriptwriter hews to the book, the worse the adaptation.

As for examples, I liked reading The Perfect Storm, but not nearly as much as watching the movie. Enjoyed watching Lawrence of Arabia and reading The Seven Pillars of Wisdom equally well. To Kill A Mockingbird and Moby Dick both seem to me to respect, honor, and expand the narratives they are based on--I wouldn't go so far as to claim that all Gregory Peck movies do that though. I found the three Lord of the Rings movies very satisfying although I was somewhat conscious of the sub-plots and details left out to avoid having to make it a triple-trilogy.


Disclosure: I am positively biased towards movies in general. I stopped referring to myself as a movie sl*t when the phrase got rejected by Facebook or MySpace--now I just make the simple and honest admission of being a movie addict.
Drew
Posted: Thursday, April 2, 2009 2:07:43 PM
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City of God is probably my favorite movie of all time. The only reason I haven't read the book that it's based on is because I've consistently heard that it isn't all that great of a read. I've read several reviews that seem to imply that this is a rare case where the screenplay was actually an improvement over the original source material. The movie is a masterpiece, so I don't find that evaluation to be a stretch at all.

On an additional note, I'm not sure how many people are familiar with the Showtime series Californication, but there is a running joke throughout the first season that does a nice job of parodying the dynamic of Hollywood completely bastardizing book adaptation projects. The show is about a washed-up writer who wrote a Catcher in the Rye-type, one-hit-wonder novel called God Hates Us All. The first season opens with the book being adapted into a romantic-comedy film called A Crazy Little Thing Called Love, starring Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. The joke is that the plot of the book has been completely contorted for the sake of the screenplay. Naturally, the film makes millions of dollars, but it's completely unrecognizable with regard to its source material. While I'm not in love with the show, I did find that storyline to be a nice piece of pop culture satire.
kaliedel
Posted: Thursday, April 2, 2009 3:13:10 PM
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Seeing Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club was the only time I thought a film succeeded its novelized origins. Beyond that, I can think of few examples where a film - no matter how good - surpasses the original, written idea. Even The Lord of the Rings adaptations, despite being excellent films, came nowhere near the detail, care, and majesty of the novels.
kaliedel
Posted: Thursday, April 2, 2009 3:15:15 PM
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Drew wrote:
City of God is probably my favorite movie of all time. The only reason I haven't read the book that it's based on is because I've consistently heard that it isn't all that great of a read. I've read several reviews that seem to imply that this is a rare case where the screenplay was actually an improvement over the original source material. The movie is a masterpiece, so I don't find that evaluation to be a stretch at all.


I also loved City of God, and had no idea it was actually a novel first. Considering the film's broken, documentary-like narrative, I'm not surprised it was a rather jarring read; it seems more like a group of snippets rather than an actual story.
mustabir
Posted: Thursday, April 2, 2009 5:06:00 PM
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I love the movie "The Shawshank Redemption", and I know that it was originally adapted from Stephen King's short story "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption". I did not read the book but really wonder if it would make me have the similar feelings and associations that I have when watching the movie.

And I have no idea if that famous tagline of the movie actually comes from the book or not.

Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.
Apsu
Posted: Thursday, April 2, 2009 11:15:52 PM
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prolixitysquared wrote:

Can you think of any examples of books that became movies and weren't insulting to the original text ?


I'd say Disney's Mary Poppins outshined the book.
Citiwoman
Posted: Friday, April 3, 2009 12:31:53 AM
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Little Children
Atonement
Joseph Glantz
Posted: Friday, April 3, 2009 9:50:49 AM
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While I'm sure there are plenty of Tolkein fans who would disagree I loved the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. I tried to read the book but felt like I needed a glossary and a flow chart to understand what was going on. The movies and special effects were great fun
Luftmarque
Posted: Friday, April 3, 2009 11:26:04 AM

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Citiwoman wrote:
Little Children
Atonement

Ditto. Little Children is an under-appreciated gem, in my book.
Rhondish
Posted: Friday, April 3, 2009 2:03:30 PM
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I must agree, I am often dissapointed by movies adapted from books. I think those who have not read the books miss more because it is the background information that is edited. I feel many of these movies are made with the expectation that one has read the book.

I did enjoy the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, I was floored that the characters mirrored my imagination. Surely this is a testament to the descriptive skill of Tolkien.
Drew
Posted: Friday, April 3, 2009 2:08:51 PM
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Citiwoman wrote:
Little Children
Atonement


I'm not familiar with Little Children, but I agree about Atonement. I was pleasantly surprised with that film adaptation.
Rhondish
Posted: Friday, April 3, 2009 2:34:00 PM
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mustabir wrote:
I love the movie "The Shawshank Redemption", and I know that it was originally adapted from Stephen King's short story "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption". I did not read the book but really wonder if it would make me have the similar feelings and associations that I have when watching the movie.

And I have no idea if that famous tagline of the movie actually comes from the book or not.

Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.


I have read the short story and the movie plays very true to the novella. The performances of Robbins and Freeman pull the entire piece together. It is Red who makes this statement, early in the book.
kaliedel
Posted: Friday, April 3, 2009 4:49:28 PM
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Rhondish wrote:
I did enjoy the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, I was floored that the characters mirrored my imagination. Surely this is a testament to the descriptive skill of Tolkien.


Like I said earlier, I don't think the movies come close to the books, but I still enjoyed them thoroughly, and one of the major reasons is because the characters looked exactly as I imagined them. It's probably the best job one could possibly do in adapting Tolkien's masterpiece (without making it some kind of 20-hour epic.)
arthbard
Posted: Sunday, April 5, 2009 5:08:31 PM
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A book-to-movie translation is a tricky thing to pull off. Apart from the difficulty of distilling a 300-page novel into a 2-hour film, we're speaking of two different mediums, which as Luftmarque points out, each utilize drastically different languages. Things that work in written form don't necessarily lend themselves to working well in a visual format, and vice versa. For better or worse, the simpliflication or alteration of elements from a book is more or less a necessity.

While I've often been disappointed at how specific book-to-film adaptations are handled, I also have admit that staying true to a book doesn't necessarily make a better movie. Take the original Universal adaptation of Frankenstein: It's a simply great film that has little to do with Mary Shelley.

Fight Club is also a good example. The film is so visual that it's hard to imagine that the story could ever have been a book in the first place. The book, on the other hand, seems so well-suited to the written format that it's hard to imagine anyone would ever attempt to base a film on it. Yet both versions work in ways that are uniquely suited to their respective mediums
NicoleR
Posted: Monday, April 6, 2009 10:45:38 AM
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catskincatskin wrote:
I'm definitely one to cringe when I hear about a film version of a book I liked. That said, I thought Brokeback Mountain was a wonderful expansion on what was for me a forgettable short story. I've enjoyed the Harry Potter films so far more than the books. While it's very different from the book, I thought the film version of Jelinek's The Piano Teacher was equally enthralling.



I definitely have to agree about Brokeback Mountain. The movie stayed completely true to the story while expanding the story where necessary, and the expansions were as perfect as if Annie Proulx had written them herself. I was highly impressed with the adaptation.

As for other films, I usually try to avoid seeing modern films based on books, because the film usually butchers some crucial part of the story. I do enjoy the PBS and BBC movie adaptations, usually because they are able to run for 4 hours and not cut out important parts of the stories.
nxt_annawintour
Posted: Tuesday, April 7, 2009 9:20:48 AM
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I definitely think Fight Club is an excellent example of a well-translated book (even though some minor things were changed). The tone carries perfectly from one medium to the next.

I'm a huge Stephen King fan and, admittedly, most of the films based on his books are crap. I think the exceptions are The Shawshank Redemption (as many have cited) and The Mist. It was based on a novella and, while Darabont did create his own ending for the movie, the theme Stephen King focused on in the literature carried right into the movie and fit well.
MiTziGo
Posted: Tuesday, April 7, 2009 10:50:44 AM
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mustabir wrote:
I love the movie "The Shawshank Redemption", and I know that it was originally adapted from Stephen King's short story "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption". I did not read the book but really wonder if it would make me have the similar feelings and associations that I have when watching the movie.

And I have no idea if that famous tagline of the movie actually comes from the book or not.

Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.

I also have never read the book but count the film as one of my favorites. Usually, I am of the opinion that movies can never live up to their books, and so I try not to watch them. Those that I do see (i.e. Harry Potter) are inevitably disappointing. But in this case, I actually fear reading the story and worry that it could possibly ruin the movie for me. Isn't that an unusual role reversal.

I do have to give kudos, though, to the makers of the Lord of the Rings film series. True, they are not the same as the books, but as far as film adaptations go, I think they are the greatest ever made.
LiteBrite
Posted: Tuesday, April 7, 2009 11:36:04 AM
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To refer to the original post in this thread, how can anyone know the author's "intention," and, even if we have the luxury of the author telling us what s/he intended to portray, does it really matter? Once a work of art (in this case literature) has been put into the world, the artist/author relinquishes control over it. It now belongs to the world and whatever the world can make of this. However, current attitudes and laws regarding intellectual property beg to differ.

It's particularly interesting that film adaptation is where this argument suddenly seems relevant. After all, some living authors whose works get adapted actually pen the screenplays, or work in an advisory role. Others completely disengage themselves. In either case, the author will have to relinquish some control over the work, firstly b/c it's in a different medium that has different demands, secondly b/c it's most often for profit and, in the case of studio films, for mass profit. I think that if I wrote a book, even if I was happy to see it get the attention of being adapted into a film, I would be torn between wanting to retain some control, while knowing it would probably be a struggle in every change that was made, and wanting to divorce myself from it entirely.

That said, I love seeing adaptations, but I especially like to look at the differences, rather than insisting on similarities. Some things can be said just as well without words as with, and film is wonderfully complementary to both. (And, having just read the Potter series for the first time, it just makes me want to go back and watch the movies again.)

I guess one's attitude toward adaptations depends on if they value fidelity over creative deviation. That and the quality of the filmmaker's vision and production. (And I stress creative deviation, b/c so many adaptations will deviate from their "originals" for sensationalism...which, for me at least, isn't as much creative as formulaic.)
tfrank
Posted: Tuesday, April 7, 2009 2:01:29 PM
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I think I'm definitely in the minority here - I definitely did NOT enjoy the film adaptations of the Harry Potter books as much as the books themselves. I loved the scenic designs and the cinematography, but characterization got sacrificed for supersized adventure scenes. The books were pretty darn adventurous; if the directors had stuck to those adventure scenes only, there still would have been loads of adventure in the movies.
Pratik
Posted: Tuesday, April 7, 2009 2:34:26 PM
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I was quite disappointed by movies, The Rainmaker and The Da Vinci Code. I feel, somehow the characters (Rudy Baylor & Robert Langdon) portrayed in films couldn't justice the novels despite having the finest actors and directors and despite having the authors of the books associated with film making.
wordnerd
Posted: Tuesday, April 7, 2009 3:36:33 PM
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I am not a fan of film adaptations of books. I don't object to the idea in theory, but the execution is often so poor that it makes adaption seem like a bad idea in general.

Reading a book and seeing a movie are wildly different experiences, and I don't expect to have the same experience reading a book and seeing a film based on the book. The most jarring experience in this regard for me is when I've read something and have formed a visual image of a person or place and the film version deviates widely from my mental picture. It's terribly distracting. For instance, I like reading the Elizabeth George detective series with Inspector Linley. The casting in the BBC episodes is SO far off, I can't watch it.

One book I LOVED to read was The Shipping News because I think Annie Proulx has a beautiful way with language. I also thoroughly enjoyed the movie, not because of the pleasure the language offered but because I thought Kevin Spacey in particular did a spectacular job with the character. That example makes me think it's possible to have excellent experiences with the same story in different media, but it's a judgment I make case by case.
prolixitysquared
Posted: Tuesday, April 7, 2009 3:46:01 PM
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wordnerd wrote:
I am not a fan of film adaptations of books. I don't object to the idea in theory, but the execution is often so poor that it makes adaption seem like a bad idea in general.

Reading a book and seeing a movie are wildly different experiences, and I don't expect to have the same experience reading a book and seeing a film based on the book. The most jarring experience in this regard for me is when I've read something and have formed a visual image of a person or place and the film version deviates widely from my mental picture. It's terribly distracting. For instance, I like reading the Elizabeth George detective series with Inspector Linley. The casting in the BBC episodes is SO far off, I can't watch it.

One book I LOVED to read was The Shipping News because I think Annie Proulx has a beautiful way with language. I also thoroughly enjoyed the movie, not because of the pleasure the language offered but because I thought Kevin Spacey in particular did a spectacular job with the character. That example makes me think it's possible to have excellent experiences with the same story in different media, but it's a judgment I make case by case.


I also really enjoyed The Shipping News as a film, but I can't say I've read the book.

I do have a great fascination with Kevin Spacey's acting though. There's something just alluring about how he portrays all characters he plays.
kaliedel
Posted: Wednesday, April 8, 2009 2:51:15 PM
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Another that I have to commend is No Country for Old Men, which became an excellent film in its own right. My fear is that its success will lead to a Hollywood bum-rush of McCarthy's novels, inevitably ending in some kind of clunker (I believe they're already making The Road.)
elevatingshoes
Posted: Saturday, April 11, 2009 9:28:21 AM
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Don't know foreign culture very well. Now I just know Chinese films more than foreign films
Ian Pean
Posted: Friday, April 24, 2009 10:35:22 AM
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I prefer books more than movies because books give you a chance to let yuor mind follow a b-b-e-autiful piece of literature but thats just me
fayalso
Posted: Friday, May 1, 2009 10:32:28 PM

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Ian Pean wrote:
I prefer books more than movies because books give you a chance to let yuor mind follow a b-b-e-autiful piece of literature but thats just me


I agree. There's no better movie than the one that you create in your own mind from a wonderful story.
That said, I enjoy watching films too. While they aren't the same as books, they can be worthwhile in their own right. Wizard of Oz was a great movie, very different from the book -- not better, not worse, but still fantastic.
kaliedel
Posted: Friday, May 1, 2009 11:46:33 PM
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The trend here seems to be that films based on books succeed when they do their own thing - or, rather, when they have the freedom to be films, rather than simple avenues for a book-based adaptation. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is the perfect example: they are successful movies in their own right, though not entirely faithful to the source material.
risadr
Posted: Saturday, May 2, 2009 9:06:48 PM
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Citiwoman wrote:
Little Children
Atonement


I have to disagree that Little Children the movie was better than Little Children the novel. I, personally, believe that the latter far out-shined the former -- although I did love Kate Winslet as Sarah.

I believe that the Star Wars saga was far better in its film versions than the novels, but that may have something to do with the fact that George Lucas is a filmmaker, not a novelist.

The Harry Potter movies have all been major let-downs for me. The books were so much richer. Same with LOTR -- although I must admit to an admiration for Peter Jackson's visionary directing technique.

One book-to-film that I enjoyed immensely was Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (by John Berendt; film starring Kevin Spacey and John Cusack). I was impressed with exactly how much of the original text they were able to incorporate into the film. (Then again, my assessment of this particular book-to-film may be a bit biased, because I absolutely adore true crime stories.)

I was also impressed with Becoming Jane. While it wasn't an adaptation of any of Jane Austen's novels, per se, it was a very well told story which followed a similar thread to Pride and Prejudice.

I've also been impressed by at least two film adaptations of The Great Gatsby.
GeorgeV
Posted: Sunday, May 3, 2009 12:48:39 PM
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risadr wrote:
Citiwoman wrote:
Little Children
Atonement


I have to disagree that Little Children the movie was better than Little Children the novel. I, personally, believe that the latter far out-shined the former -- although I did love Kate Winslet as Sarah.

I believe that the Star Wars saga was far better in its film versions than the novels, but that may have something to do with the fact that George Lucas is a filmmaker, not a novelist.

The Harry Potter movies have all been major let-downs for me. The books were so much richer. Same with LOTR -- although I must admit to an admiration for Peter Jackson's visionary directing technique.

One book-to-film that I enjoyed immensely was Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (by John Berendt; film starring Kevin Spacey and John Cusack). I was impressed with exactly how much of the original text they were able to incorporate into the film. (Then again, my assessment of this particular book-to-film may be a bit biased, because I absolutely adore true crime stories.)

I was also impressed with Becoming Jane. While it wasn't an adaptation of any of Jane Austen's novels, per se, it was a very well told story which followed a similar thread to Pride and Prejudice.

I've also been impressed by at least two film adaptations of The Great Gatsby.


For me the film version of "Midnight in the Garden..." remains the greatest disappointment of all - because of the grimacing journalist.
sj
Posted: Thursday, May 7, 2009 10:38:59 PM
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P.S.I LOVE YOU is one in my opinion. i'm not gonna say that the movie version is better than the original novel, but i do love it in the movie that holly runs into gerry when she gets lost instead of the two having been known each other since high school in the novel.
Demonrob
Posted: Monday, May 11, 2009 6:53:23 PM
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Pratik wrote:
I was quite disappointed by movies, The Rainmaker and The Da Vinci Code. I feel, somehow the characters (Rudy Baylor & Robert Langdon) portrayed in films couldn't justice the novels despite having the finest actors and directors and despite having the authors of the books associated with film making.



I'm totally agree with you, I never pictured Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon or Jean Reno as Bezu Fache and the adaptation as a whole I didn't liked it.


I haven't seen Angels and Demons but i don't know if I want to see it and be disappointed.

early_apex
Posted: Tuesday, May 12, 2009 3:17:59 PM
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Demonrob wrote:

I'm totally agree with you, I never pictured Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon or Jean Reno as Bezu Fache and the adaptation as a whole I didn't liked it.


Tom Hanks is a great actor, but the story just did not seem right with him in that role.

Another casting-against-type was Paul Newman in Nobody's Fool. Someone with Newman's looks and charm could never have been that character.

Back to the original topic, there are several pitfalls turning a novel into a screenplay. The main one is the translation into a different medium, and the other is casting. On top of that, the pressures to be financially successful will force the production to resemble the last previous movie that had good box office receipts.
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