Our Problem with Book-to-Movie Adaptations

I’ve noticed for a while that we, as book readers, have a major problem with book-to-movie adaptations. Although, this genre has existed about the same length as films have, we still aren’t 100% satisfied with the finished product. A thought does creep inside my mind is that not many of us are aware of the process that’s involved when it comes to creating a film. It is, also, unfortunate that we cannot be directors or talented screen writers to make our own movie or else a number of us would have done that before the actual Hollywood movie was made.

For instance, I know a script is usually, on average, between 90 to 125 pages long because it represents the number of minutes of screen time (this is what I learned in a screen writing class I took my junior year of college). Let’s think about this: a script may go over 125 pages by ten to twenty pages- no big deal, right? How can we expect a 300 page book to be represented in such a condensed style? Even with this knowledge we still disregard the fact that a script and movie can only be a certain length, and that movie goers won’t be too pleased to be sitting on their behinds for an extended period of time.

This is where the buzzard goes off in our heads. We feel that the book we’ve committed to reading should be respected and be rightfully represented on screen- wrong. It isn’t as if the book has been completely torn to shreds, it’s only being expressed through a different set of eyes and minds. Not everyone took the same interpretation from the certain books developed, nor was everyone fond of unimportant details that could have been thrown out. Let’s remember that most films have this phrase appear in the credits: based on the novel so & so by so & so. The keyword is based, meaning only few things of the novel, really the heart of the novel, will be featured in the final film. All things are up for interpretation and if the screen-writer and director go a different route with the book-to-movie then so be it. Let us be open to their interpretation of it.

Be warned, this may include some spoilers to those who haven’t read the novel or seen the film.

Take example the 2011 adaptation of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” directed by David Fincher. I have previously written in another post that I consider this to be a classic film, as well as David Fincher classic. Many were looking forward to this adaptation of the first installation of the Millennium trilogy by Steig Larrson- as there are many not in favor of the cast or making of the movie. True, I had some doubts when I saw Rooney Mara (still an unknown actress to me at the time) taking the lead role of my favorite lead woman in a novel, Lisbeth Salander. After the first trailer, I was convinced they chose to right person. Yes, I have seen the Swedish adaptations (note how I do not refer to them as “originals”). I thought they were decent adaptations, until I saw they left out major details. Example: The method to how Blomkvist figures out that the initials and numbers in Harriet’s diary are actually Bible verses referring to the deaths of women Harriet’s father raped and killed was significant in the book and important. Instead they wrote that the way he figured all this was because Salander was still hacked into his computer and told him how. No, no, no. No. That is not how it’s done. You cannot get rid of, what I considered to be a main contribution, in the film because you didn’t want to commit to it. No. I don’t care if the actors were Swedish (the true language of the books), you still have to be more than true. This was my problem with book-to-movie adaptations. As well as everyone else’s problem.

The truth of the matter is, is that it’s one thing to rewrite scenes to make it work on screen and to take out not important plots, which let’s be honest sometimes there are many of those in the books we read, but to actually redo a vital role in what moves the plot forward is insulting. I have no problem with scenes or characters that contribute nothing to the plot, it is when someone chooses to do something completely different for the sake of not hiring another actor to play a small but large role in the film doesn’t make sense to me. That is when I guarantee to having a problem with that adaptation. Other than this type of dilemma I’m more understanding because the bulk of the novel isn’t just the character interactions but the details of what the character is doing or where the novel takes place in.

Remember, we will never be 100% satisfied with a book-to-movie adaptation. It’s apparent that I’m not  ever happy either, but I accept it because I am more understanding with what it means when the film says “based on the novel.” Unless it says “Entirely from the novel,” then that’s another story. We’re the audience and we like to complain. It’s in our nature. Once we get over ourselves we’ll probably be able to appreciate the movie. Although I’ve spent some time explaining the book-writing-to-screen process we’ll always leave the theater whining.

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Future Classic Movies: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

[Originally posted: May 24, 2012]

A good friend of mine thought of the most cleverest idea of putting together a collection of blog’s predicting what movies could be titled as a future classic. Genius. If you’re interested in what other bloggers deem which movies will become a classic, visit: http://wp.me/p243hv-dT.

I admit that, although, not all movies do their books justice, which can be a little disappointing, I’m still a fan of books turned to movies. Especially if they’re done right. For instance, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) is my favorite book-to-movie to date. It has great character development and long takes so that you can actually experience the movie as opposed to movies with cuts every 2 seconds. The movie may have moments where the subject matter can be a bit too difficult to swallow, but the theme is one we’ve all been exposed to: mystery. Becoming the detective trying to solve the crime, faced with obstacles, such as murderers and rapists toying with you, trying to stop you from spilling the beans. Yes, David Fincher’s Dragon Tattoo can easily be shelved in your typical crime section, but it has a twist (as most crime movies do, right?).

Dragon Tattoo isn’t afraid of showing you the severity of crimes that have been committed or putting the viewer in that moment when the horrible incident occurs. It makes you uncomfortable, but also puts you in that position of wanting revenge. There’s an immediate connection and you can’t help yourself. It’s brilliant. The movie has this edginess that is so alluring to young people, because it could be them. I felt so involved with the characters when I read the book, I could easily be in that situation. The lifestyle, the environment, the people that surrounds you; it could’ve been real. Fincher beautifully made what I read from page-to-page to this grand visualization that I couldn’t fulfill beyond my imagination.

Not only was the movie about 90% accurate with the book (in my opinion, at least) it has all the elements to make it an attraction to viewers of this generation and of those to come. Technology, interaction with others, and the realities of life we have trouble handling; it’s all a part of our lives. We like the familiar. Which makes it easy for us to watch Lisbeth Salander and Mikeal Blomkvist use their Apple MacBook Pro’s to piece their investigation together. It’s easy for us to understand the situation with the help of Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross’ score enhancing the scenes that are already so intense. This movie wasn’t afraid to reveal the pain those scenes possessed. It was real. The fact that it’s mostly filmed on the location the book was set in, Sweden, we can imagine being there. That want we sometimes have to want to seek revenge, or justice, or what have you, is such a strong desire for us that it wouldn’t be hard to watch this film. I couldn’t help myself. Nor will anyone else who wants to be a detective, even if it’s only for 2 hours and a half. You want that be that girl in dark clothes and damaged boots taking names (literally) and kicking ass (literally, again).

This film has made me wonder whether it could ever be on any cable channel in later years. I’ve seen a good deal of Fincher’s movies on IFC (Independent Film Channel). Such asSe7en (1995)Fight Club (1999) (another book turned to movie), and Zodiac (2007). I’m a little bummed out that IFC is no longer a commercial free channel, but it does show all the scenes, no matter how intense and mature it can get it, and it doesn’t bleep out swearing. I get that sometimes swearing is unnecessary but Dragon Tattoo needs to keep the swearing in the conversation. Also, there’s at least one important scene that cannot be cut from the movie just to be on cable, (and if you haven’t seen it yet, I won’t spoil it for you) and because of this I highly doubt it’ll ever be on FX or USA since they bleep out practically everything and replace “Shit” with “Spit” or “Crap.” I’m sorry, but if you’re going to cut out so many bad words that actually help the film, maybe don’t air the movie. Personal opinion there. Still, I can see this on IFC in about 3 – 5 years. It’s still new and maybe it’ll take longer than that, who knows, but I feel it in my bones that you can see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on IFC. Unfortunately it’ll be with commercial breaks, but all vital scenes will be kept. However, if someone decides to create a channel with no commercial’s and that allows swearing and mature content kept, then it’ll be there (and I don’t mean HBO). Regardless, Dragon Tattoowas one of the best films of 2011 and didn’t get nearly as enough recognition it deserved. It’s opening the doors to a new genre of detective film we’ll see in the future: the woman detective.


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