Essay: So you are going to see the movie adaptation of a book you have read.

Brace yourself. What you are about to see on the screen will be different than what you read on the page. The book world is limited only by the author’s imagination, has only one puppet master (the author), and the narrative is not hemmed in by the pesky human need to go to the bathroom, thus can extend longer than two hours. Movies? They are limited by what computers and movie magic can create, have many puppet masters and must tell their story comprehensively, succinctly and briefly. They are two different animals. Here are three tips for successful viewing of your book-to-movie adaptation.

Let go of the book. Though it is rare, movies sometimes use novels as a jumping off point to tell an entirely different story. So the story you read might not be the story you watch. Movies also need to condense narratives, eliminate characters and change endings. What you read will not be what you see, so just let it go right now.

Realize that these are two mediums. A book where we mostly live in the character’s head will probably not make a very good movie. (A-hem Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) Books are a medium of “telling.” They use words to let us into their world and the words can be used in a variety of ways: jumping into various characters’ heads to capture their thoughts, giving hefty background plot using a narrator, painting elaborate portraits of families, landscapes, careers. Movies tell by showing. Sometimes we get a voice over, to varying success, but mostly movies reveal things by showing us things: through dialogue, through action, through picture or the classic montage. Remember that how you learned about things in the book might not be revealed in the same way in the movie. It can be frustrating, but it’s necessary and sometimes the movie can explain things better than the book did.

Stop keeping score. It’s hard, but the more you forget you ever read the book, the more you can lose yourself in the movie. Sure, the movie people may have eliminated several characters, including your favorite, but just let it go. What have they done in place of those characters? Were those characters necessary to the plot of the story the movie is telling? The time for comparing the book movie format is after you have watched the movie. If you are too caught up in the fact that the main character is driving the wrong car, you might miss an extra detail the movie brings out that was skimmed over in the book.

As someone who loves both books and movies, I can say that I nearly always find the book a superior method of storytelling than the movie adaptation. But consuming both the book and the movie allows for interesting contrast. It also tends to be a nice commentary about society and allows for a juicy discussion of just what is up with Hollywood that they would have made exactly the movie they did. And once in a great while a movie will elevate your book into something really marvelous. All of those are reasons to take in both the book and the movie.

3 thoughts on “Essay: So you are going to see the movie adaptation of a book you have read.”

  1. Shawn semi quoted/paraphrased you this week when someone asked us about the Hunger Games Movie versus book. We have both read the book and seen the film. He said it was changed because one is telling and one is showing. In fact the Hunger Games is a prime example of Hollywood doing well with an adaptation. I loved the books and thought the movie was pretty great as well. Of course it was missing a lot of the subtleties and emotional content, but Katniss wasn't narrating the story from her perspective any more. Eragon, on the other hand, completely stinky film-making that was TOO HUGE of a departure from the book. I know you say ti let it go, but I can't! 🙂

  2. Sometimes a movie can completely destroy the book. However, I agree with you about the Hunger Games. It was a fabulous adaptation where the "loss" of being in Katniss' head was made up for with the very interesting addition of the Gamemakers' perspectives.

  3. It's interesting to me: my friends who disliked the movie the most have never read the book. They also made the tired "Battle Royale" reference. I've never read Battle Royale, but from reading about it, I can clearly tell that there are major differences.

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