My husband recently bought me Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 DVD. I have been a Harry Potter fan for ten years, and I diligently waited in midnight release lines for the books. When the movies came out, they one after another disappointed me, but the two Deathly Hallows movies were near perfect for me. The others I could honestly do without. It was mostly movies four, five, and six that made me feel like they were dealing with completely different stories.
I know I shouldn’t be so hard on them. The novel and the film are two completely different art forms. When I was fifteen, I was the fan who was upset they left this scene out or messed that scene up or gave this line to that character. Today I realize that we’re dealing with two media forms that are nearly opposites.
When an author writes a book, it is generally a solo effort. Sure, the author has support and beta readers and critique groups and editors, but all the ideas came from her head. She made the last decisions. She created these characters, put them into action, created the settings, and made the story move from point A to point B.
The book is completely mental, too. It conjures images in the mind for both the author and the reader. We have cover art and occasional supplemental images, but it’s our imagination that does most of the work.
Making the switch to a visual and auditory format—film—takes a lot of work. It’s also not a solo effort anymore. Screenwriters, directors, executive producers, art directors, casting directors, the prop crew, make-up and costume, and the host of other people who work on a film set—they all work together to bring a creation that was chiefly words that spurred the imagination into something we can watch and hear.
I’ve written a few blog posts about film adaptations of novels and I think it’s fascinating to think of the two art forms sharing the same story. Obviously they both have their strengths and weaknesses.
For example, there are some books that, in my humble opinion, wouldn’t be the same as movies. One of these is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The story itself would make a neat movie, sure. But so much of what I love about the book is the language itself. The way Death tells the story. The little inserts he puts in. The jokes he makes.
Another book along the same lines is The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. The stories in this book are about the same characters, but they’re disconnected in time and place. There’s no one narrative that follows the film’s organization of inciting incident, rising action, climax, and falling action. There is also so much beautiful language that film cannot put into moving pictures.
At the same time, film can add so much to a story. One book that I didn’t enjoy as much as I wanted to was The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. For me, it just ran a little too long. I loved the movie, though! It took the most important parts of the story and condensed it into two hours. It also had beautiful imagery in Susie’s afterlife. Those parts were amazing—the rose growing under the ice, the ships breaking on the shore.
There are some movies that go with a different ending than the books. This can be infuriating for some fans and rewarding for others. Personally, I liked the movie ending for My Sister’s Keeper much more than the book ending by Jodi Picoult. I’d tell you about it, but there are pretty big spoilers. On the other hand, I didn’t like the movie ending for Everything Is Illuminated as much as the book by Jonathan Safran Foer. There were no huge differences like My Sister’s Keeper, but it changes the mood of the whole movie.
There’s something satisfying about seeing your favorite characters on-screen, isn’t there? Yes, it was very real in your head, but when you watch the movie and see your favorite couple kiss or see the hero finally defeat the bad guy, you just want to clap and cheer. Sometimes when you read a great battle scene, you can’t help but think, ‘This would make a great movie!’
I thought this with The Talent Chronicles by Susan Bischoff, a YA novel about kids with talents (superpowers)—some of those fight scenes with superpowers would be great to see on the big screen! Another thing that’s neat to imagine as a movie—fantastical scenery and landscapes. I also think Solstice by PJ Hoover would be neat as a movie. Based loosely on Greek mythology, the author shows us Hades, which isn’t as horrible as we think it might be, and I thought it would be really cool to see that on film.
Of course, there’s always the risk that you and the movie crew will have a different interpretation of the books. For example, when Jennifer Lawrence was cast as the main character Katniss, many fans complained that she was too white to be Katniss, who is described with olive-colored skin and black hair. Conversely, people didn’t like Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, Katniss’ fashion designer. Some people outright admitted it was because he was black, others just said “he’s not what I pictured.” Of course not! We all are going to have a different picture of a fictional character that’s only described to us by words.
I am super excited to see The Hunger Games, by the way. It’s so fast-paced and action-packed that I know I’ll be on the edge of my seat for the movie. I’m also looking forward to seeing the Capitol fashions and the muttations.
I’m a huge fan of books. I like books more than movies. But I will always enjoy seeing movies of the books I’ve enjoyed, even if it’s not a word for word retelling of the book. How could they be, right? Books have so many little details and character intricacies, and most movies aren’t longer than two hours! I try to watch a movie as a separate product. I will analyze it as a product from the book, but I recognize that it might go in a completely different direction.
They have similar building blocks, but different executions. Yet they’re always related, based on the same story that moved readers enough to make movie executives wonder if they could move filmgoers, too. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but it usually does. Just in a different way.
Emily Ann Ward is the author of Passages, Finding Fiona, and The Protectors series. One of her first stories featured a young girl whose doll came to life. The rest is history. She spent years writing mainly fanfiction (thank you, J.K. Rowling!), but has since ventured into originality. When it comes to fiction, she writes mainly young adult, contemporary, and fantasy. She also writes nonfiction, ranging from stories of my travels to thoughts on the Bible. Aside from writing, she loves reading, traveling, learning about God, sociology, religion, and Reeses sticks. Currently, she lives in Salem, Oregon with her husband Chris and their cats. Visit her website at http://emilyannward.com.