Archive for June, 2010

Movie Vs. Book

Blame it on a recent disappointing experience, but I wish to weigh in on the common debate between a great book and it’s movie counterpart.

After reading a number of comparisons between books and movies, one idea stands out. The phrase oft repeated is something like, “I didn’t think the movie was true to the book.” or, “They did a great job. They really stayed true to the book.” The concept of ‘staying true’ seams to not be about exact duplication. The key is to recreate the heart of the story contained in the book. It’s not enough for a movie to imitate events. A movie must maintain the same intensity and quality in relationships, character development, tension, suspense, and all other facets of the story. But the how seams to be less important.

For proof, check out Jane Auten’s Sense and Sensibility. Emma Thompson–who wrote the screenplay– said that the dialogue in the book would not give depth to the characters in live action. The character development in the book is found mostly in the narrative sections. In order to ‘stay true’ to the characters of the book, Emma Thompson invented most of the dialogue of the movie. But she did it so well that even avid Jane Austen fans bought it.

Eric Van Lustbader’s trilogy about Jason Bourne offers a more dramatic example of this point. Both the book and the movie appeal to the same audience, and many comparisons claim that the movies remained true to the ideas in the books, but the story lines and events are not at all the same. I believe this is as it should be. Because the books were written several decades ago, simply recreating them–with their outdated technology and politics–would have been futile. The heart of the Jason Bourne story lies in his ability to use modern technology and his cutting edge knowledge to fight corrupt politics. So even though the events are very different, most reviewers are happy with both.

So if a movie is so different from the book, why keep same name? Why not acknowledge it as an entirely different story? The answer is to draw the crowd. The largest initial movie audience will be readers of book. That’s also why it’s so important to appeal to that group!

In my view, Ella Enchanted conversion to the screen was a colossal failure on this point. Gail Carson Levine’s novel is a charming YA fantasy novel about a adolescent girl who must dig deep for the inner strength she didn’t know she possessed. Tommy O’Haver’s movie is also charming, but it’s a spoof on fairy tales centered around a sassy but lovable teenager. Two cute stories, but as a fan of the book, the movie was a total let down. This movie might have done well if it had been marketed as its own product. But as the movie version of the book I loved so well, it didn’t stay ‘true.’

Where do you weigh in? Should a movie stick with the storyline of the book, or is it okay to go another direction? What books-turned-movies do you like/hate?