Film Adaptations

In this day and age of Hollywood (or Sweden) making every other book into a film it’s all but impossible to be completely left to your own imagination or interpretation of the characters on the page.  While this does leave open the argument of the purity of literature and how best it is to leave a book be, we can not deny the gains to be had from such events.  But what of quality?

There are few films created from works of fiction which left me moved and grateful for the new rendering while still others leave me quite baffled, particularly when it comes to casting (Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon?  Really?!).  I am not a purist when it comes to communication of the book into a different medium, but nor am I sold that this is such a good idea.  After all, books should be written because the story needs to be told on the page, right?

This is all leading me up to the discussion of the film adaptation of “The Road”.  Eventually I might do one on “Lovely Bones” should I convince myself to see the movie, but for now I’m stuck on this one.  First:  I LOVED the book.  Like, cried my whole way through it, moved beyond words, immediately went out and bought it because it’s an important enough book that I HAD TO OWN IT kind of love.  Second:  I love Viggo Mortensen.  And the movie got a solid “meh” from me.  It wasn’t because of poor acting or a bad screenplay, but because of where the source of power in the text rested.  The book, should you not be familiar, has a startling lack of grammatical annotations.  The language was rich within its sparseness and the lack of tags like quotation marks and commas were noticed right off.  Basically, that all led to me feeling immersed in a new experience.  For all intents and purposes it was foreign and jarring in a way that left me clinging to the characters and their very heart rending plight.

The director did an admirable job in unsettling the viewer with the nuclear winter he demonstrated, but the truth is it did not disquiet me overmuch.  While discussing it with a friend I came to the conclusion this was because we’re so visually jaded now.  There are few things left to be done upon the screen (truth be told I can not even begin to guess at what’s left to do there) and so the notion of feeling jarred and thrown into something wholly new is all but impossible to convey in the same manner McCarthy’s prose managed.  The mediums are of course different, but when a quality that makes a work thoroughly unique and outstanding can not be translated to another medium I wonder at the wisdom in attempting to do so.

I will say, however, a line in the book that was delivered through narrative in the film was delivered with such aplomb and mastery that I dissolved into a puddle of tears.  A man and a boy are on a journey together, walking, foraging for food, starving and, when necessary, defening themeslves from the bands of cannibals roaming the land and this realization is shared: “”He knew only that his child was his warrant. He said: If he is not the word of God God never spoke.”

What are your thoughts on putting books into movie format?  Any favorites?  Ones that irked?


18 responses to “Film Adaptations

  • Teresa

    I have to say that most books made into movies disappoint me–with exceptions. I like Sense and Sensibility and of course Gone with the Wind, but of course the books were better. I have an old movie with Henry Fonda that was adapted from John Steinbook’s book Grapes of Wrath. I love it too. Let’s face it most of the time the book is the better story with the better actors. 🙂


  • Laura Marcella

    To me, the book is nearly always better, so if I read the book (or re-read it) before seeing the movie, I’m almost always disappointed by the movie. So if I haven’t read the book yet or read it in awhile, I wait until after seeing the movie to read it. That way I have no expectations going into the movie, and then when I read the book it’s even more enjoyable since the book is usually better!

    I’m hugely disappointed by the Harry Potter films. The screenwriters add too many scenes that are not in the books. I understand when directors can’t include every scene from a novel into the movie, but adding scenes that never happened really bugs me. With that said, I love The Lord of the Rings films. The screenwriters and directors did such a good job including the most important scenes from the books. And I actually liked the films Sense and Sensibility and Chocolat better than the books, which hardly ever happens!

    • kimberlyloomis

      Laura – I felt the same way about Chocolat! Considering I liked the book, too, speaks volumes. Of course the film did have Johnny Depp in it so that always helps. 😉 LoTR is definitely a favorite of mine as well. Love the books and love the films. Jackson did amazing work.

      The Harry Potter films I’ve waffled on. The first I thought was well done, the second was okay, but the third and fourth ranked high on my list of most disappointing. Things were added, vital parts were taken out or reordered (which changed the whole tone of the story), and the stories had less grit and suspense as a result.

  • Arlee Bird

    The movie version of The Road was excellent, but I agree that it did not capture the feeling of the book, nor do I think it could. The truly dark, introspective nature of the book made it an experience of the mind and not for the screen. Cormac McCarthy’s NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN was superbly captured for the screen. This book was more action and story that relied on visuals. I was impressed about how true to the book it was.

    One of my favorite adaptations is DELIVERENCE by James Dickey, which is probably due to the fact that Dickey also wrote the screenplay with the assistance of director Jon Boorman. The movie was so true to the book that while reading it (which I did after seeing the film) I could easily picture every page that I read.

    Tossing It Out

    • kimberlyloomis

      Lee – I’m going to have to read that one. I had never read a work by McCarthy prior to “The Road” and so am fascinated by picking up other works by him. I have to admit that Deliverance is going to stay safely away from my television and my bookshelves as I scare quite easily. [I watched a trailer for “Paranormal Activity 2” in the theater and I’m still haunted by it.] It’s really cool to hear how many directors held the original with such respect that the medium shift enhanced more than it changed anything.

  • Jemi Fraser

    I’m always nervous when they turn a book into a movie. It’s impossible to get all the nuances on screen. LotR did a good job. The Anne of GG series was well done (with Megan Follows). Some I won’t even see (James and the Giant Peach) because I’m worried they’ll destroy the magic.

    • kimberlyloomis

      Jemi – Humorously, I feel the same way about most of Roald Dahl’s works being brought to the big screen. I did see “Matilda” and, while it was done okay, I still can’t say I liked it. Needless to say I never bothered seeing “Witches” or “James” either.

  • Bethany

    I’m a writer but not of one, set medium – which is to say it’s not all novels. For me, film is an entirely different beast. It’s like when people see a movie based on a play and they are disappointed that it’s different. It HAS to be different. They’re not just trying to make a book on film or they’d simply read the book on film (which would be awesome and I can’t wait until some indie director does exactly that).

    Just a few examples of books I think transitioned beautifully: White Oleander (though to be fair I wasn’t impressed by the book in the least); LoTR (this is one of those things where I envy the director his life’s work); Anne of Green Gables; Little Women (most of them, actually). But to appreciate them, I think you must step away from the page and see what the writer/director has created, their interpretation.

    • kimberlyloomis

      Bethany – Those truly were all great adaptations. I currently have White Oleander sitting on my piano for when I’m done with the current read so I’ll have to write about that one when the time comes. 🙂 Changing things from medium to medium I expect on some level but when pieces of story are rearranged it aggravates me on some level. Ignoring some parts of the story I can understand due to the constraints of the film, but the rearranging isn’t something I can quite grasp. The ones you mentioned, to the best of my recollection, don’t do this so much as just leaving parts out. Would I liked to have seen Tom Bombadil? Sure. Did the film suffer for having left him out? No. 🙂

  • Jan

    When I read a book, the characters not only come alive in my mind, but I visualize them along with the scenery, etc. No movie can possibly compete with that because all my imaginative characters, scenes, and the nuisances of how they interact (as taken from the book) come from my own life experiences. I truly believe we are drawn to the books that we need to read. Every time I have had something eventful in my life a book appeared to help me make sense of it. Some of the books were non-fiction, most were fiction. But each was a friend calling to me and teaching me something. The only way to learn is to build upon what you already know, right? So I build my visualizations out of what I know.

    • kimberlyloomis

      Jan – Makes complete sense. I think, perhaps, the biggest divide in books brought to the big screen and their successes might come down to the purpose of the book. When a book is written commercially then translation of it into film becomes easier; if the book’s prose warrants being called art then the language becomes medium specific. Either way it’s always a battle of the imaginations of the individuals who read the works versus the one the director/screen writer had.

  • Corra McFeydon

    I don’t mind the book-to-film thing at all. It has the potential to motivate a person that normally doesn’t read–to purchase a great piece of literature.

    Also, it’s (as you say) a completely different medium. So it has the potential to recreate a story from a new angle. Sometimes the attempt is successful and sometimes not, but this creativity thing is all trial and error, yes? And quite subjective. I like the idea that stories can be told and retold. I think it’s inspiring.

    I think it’s important to see the film as its own piece, not to try to compare it to the original. It should stand alone. If it can, IMO, it’s a success, however it compares to the book.

    • kimberlyloomis

      Corra- You bring up some excellent points. I think that’s why I get so frustrated with the adaptations. It’s hard to let go of how my mind latched on to the story and make room for someone else’s interpretation of it.

  • Lua

    I didn’t watch the movie version of The Road but after your review, I think I will give it a try… The thing is, for me, the book is almost always better than the movie. That said, I like how Hollywood is turning books into movies, it’s far better than watching those romantic comedies… 🙂

    • kimberlyloomis

      Lua – Haha! Such a good point! Those romantic comedies have gotten a bit, errr, campy. Love Actually was the last one I adored and I have the sneaking suspicion it might actually be classified as a drama.

  • Mae

    Adaptations will always cause problems but I have an ambivalent attitude towards them because I’m always sure I’ll be let down and expect to. But if it encourages a new audience to the books then that’s great. Stand out adaptations for me are always the BBC versions of the classics. They’re always so well done. And the Agatha Christie novels. The LOTR adaptations was also near perfection.

    • kimberlyloomis

      Mae – I totally agree with you. LOTR is especially one of my favorite adaptations – particularly the extended versions. There are some little issues I have with it, but for bringing a beloved tale to the big screen I thought it was remarkably rendered with an obvious reverence for the original work.

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