Wednesday, 2 July 2014

TCWT: Book-To-Movie Adaptations - Are They Worthwhile?

Today, I'm joining in the Teens Can Write Too! blog chain ... from last month. Because I'm a dingus who cannot keep track of dates from the bottom of a suitcase (which felt much bigger before I realised quite how many things I had acquired in the months before I last packed it).

However, the question is too tempting to leave unanswered - so here goes!

“What are your thoughts on book-to-movie adaptions? Would you one day want your book made into a movie, or probably not?”

There aren't many fences to sit on regarding this topic - after all, a single post stuck in the middle of a field does not constitute a "fence". That said, despite the splinters, my posterior has been happily plonked on top of this not-fence for many an age.

I like book-to-movie adaptations ... most of the time. I like adaptations on the whole ... most of the time. I would love a book of mine to be made into a film ... perhaps.

Like many of the "I've-read-the-book" brigade, I have my standard problems with adaptations, and the standard understanding of why those problems exist. Film is a very different medium to a novel, or even a novelette; there are different requirements of plot and structure, time is limited, and the vision of a director is obviously not going to encompass the exactitudes of an individual's expectations. Even if that individual is the author.

Mostly, I am happy to accept adaptations as they are, and treat them as a variant of the story next to the book, or the play, or the television series, or whatever other forms of adaptation exist beside it. I will have quibbles with some things, but then I have those with every movie - everything from plot holes to wonky camera angles. Most of the time I'll even find something to like in the movie; it's usually something like costumes, or good casting, or a really nice score, something only a film can bring to the story.

However, this is only true most of the time. I don't mean to be a Negative Nora, but let's peer at the fundamentals of my lopsided not-quite-seat of power a little more closely.

"Most of the time" - I wrote, not quite three sentences ago - "I'll even find something to like in the movie ... something only a film can bring to the story".

This is where I draw the line. A film adaptation that cannot make itself worthwhile in its own right has no right to be an adaptation at all.

If a director makes a conscious choice of source material, a conscious choice of actors, and staging, and direction, and is unable to do anything remarkable, or creative, or original, or even memorable, with the result, then they might as well not have made the film at all.

This sort of argument - as with any that is made from a position that prides itself on being neither one thing or another - may sound a little bemusingly noumental, so let's top this off with a couple of recent examples.

For an example of a worthwhile adaptation, despite its flaws, I'm going with the film adaptations of The Hobbit.

As a self-proclaimed ├╝ber-fan of Tolkien's work, I have quite a few problems with this adaptation - the length, for one (even I think three movies is a little bit excessive, especially given how much padding was added to Desolation of Smaug), as well as certain aspects of the tone, and tendency to overlook featured characters such as Beorn in favour of new characters, who in turn are not treated all that well to make upfor it (Tauriel does not deserve the hate she gets and nothing will convince me otherwise).

However, I still think the adaptation is worth it. With the increased lenght, Jackson and team take time to look outward from the story as Tolkien wrote it and show us what was going on in the world at the same time; the doings of the White Council, the return of Sauron, and the darkness in Mirkwood were all overlooked in the original story, but their addition broadens the setting and makes the readers much more aware of the stakes that rest on the reclamation of Erebor.

On the other end of the scale, an adaptation that was not worth it - The Amazing Spider-Man.

Unlike Tolkien, I have never been well-versed in the world of Spider-Man, although the recent Marvel adaptations have been some of my favourite of recent years (dementedly excited for Age of Ultron? Me? Nooooo). I wasn't terribly keen, for example, on the original Spider-Man movies, which were a little too simplistic for my taste, alongside some iffy casting choices.

The new films were certainly snazzier in terms of CGI, and some of the camera shots were cool ... but there was nothing besides those slighlty shiny treats to make the film worth seeing. It was the same story, the same stakes, almost the same dialogue to the point where I could predict whole conversations in advance. In my opinion, this seemed more like Sony making a new film to hang onto the rights to the character more than anything else - I could have watched the old films and missed nothing.

Sorry, Andrew Garfield. I think you're pretty awesome, but this wasn't your best move.

With all this in mind, you can probably tell what I'd say to the idea of one of my own books being made into a film. I'd love it. I'd be over the moon, ecstatic, bouncing off walls and celings and absolutely anything else that got in my way ... but only as long as I knew that no matter what was changed, that there would be something that would make book-readers and new fans go yes, that was awesome. That was different. That was inspired. That worth seeing.

~ Charley R


  1. I think some adaptations matter to me more than others... for example, if I am a huge fan of a certain story and they mess up one detail, I get upset. But if I merely liked the original story and wasn't /too/ invested in it, any changes in the adaptation don't bother me that much. :)

    1. I suppose that's fair enough - investment in the franchise just asks for more emotional paaaaaaain when things go wrong.