Posted by: Genny Colby | April 18, 2012

Book vs Movie

It seems all the rage lately to turn best-selling books into movies.  Yes, books have always been an inspiration for movies, but it seems even more prevalent now than it did say even 20 years ago.   And even I have to admit, it is nice to see your favorite story brought to life in a movie, if it is done well.

As you may be able to tell, I am an avid reader.  I love to read.  Always have, always will.  I am also instilling (I hope) a love of books and stories into my daughter and soon to be born son.  Books are a wonderful way to escape reality, experience something new, explore new ideas, and just relax and have some fun.  Not every book has to have a purpose, it can just be Doritos for the mind sometimes!

Because I love to read, and read a lot, I am both excited and nervous when it is announced that a movie will be made from one of my books.  It can be a real challenge to bring a book to the big screen.  Not just in how to cast the characters, but in terms of what to keep in the movie from the book, what to cut out, what to change, and what needs to be added to help make the transition.

Yes, I know there are those out there who wonder why does anything ever have to be added when books already provide such a bounty of information, of characters, and of story.  But let’s think about it for a minute.  An author has great freedom in how to present the story, how to develop not only primary characters but all supporting characters as well.   The author has as much time as she needs to develop the main story and any secondary story lines that may tie in as well.  The author can elect to tell the story from first person perspective, where the reader is privy to the primary characters inner thoughts, ideas, opinions, observations, etc.  Or the author can elect a third person perspective where the reader learns through the narrative.  Either way, the author can go into as much detail about anything as she deems necessary.  We can discuss the overuse of an author’s narrative, thus dragging out a story another day.

Movies have a limited time to tell a story.  They have to bring not only the setting to life, but each of the main characters.  And they have to find a way to bring the narrative into not only the third person, but they have to rely on visuals to set a lot of the stage.  Movies also have to be able to reach everyone, even those who have not read the books.   So characters, scenes, events have to be left out.  Maybe some of the secondary characters will be merged into one, maybe instead of a long flashback one character will give a brief summary of  past event.  Either way, not everything that is in the book can end up in a movie.  Nor should it.  Sometimes scenes are added to show what is happening that maybe were part of the narrative as a whole, but the movie needs something to bring this information to the viewer without a narrative.   But anything added should be tied to the original book, present information from the book, not something that the screenwriter thought would be nice.

There are some that have done this very well.  I believe that they did a wonderful job on movies such as The Princess Bride.  They did a fairly good job on the Harry Potter series, though we will not discuss the third movie.  Of course there are the classics such as Gone with the Wind and To Kill a Mockingbird.

And then you have those that have bombed in the book to movie translation.  Not that they bombed at the box office, though some did, just that they bombed in terms of staying true to the story.  Bonfire of the Vanities is always the top of my list for this one.  Did they even read the book???  My husband would say any of the Jason Bourne movies, since he has read the books.  Other than the basic premise, there is not much tying the books to the movies.  I know I am going to anger some here…but the Twilight series is also a recent one where I think they made some serious missteps.

So how do I think the most recent attempt of book to movie for The Hunger Games went?  For the most part, pretty well.  Yes they dropped a few characters, a few settings.  They condensed some of the events together.  They added a few scenes.  But overall I think they did a really good job keeping the integrity of the story and the main characters.  They kept the feel of the books, they showed through visuals rather than dialog what life was like, how the Capital appeared, and how the games worked.  But as a book translated to screen, I think they were able to maintain the story, yet give it a visual.  They did not try to change the story, but rather worked to find ways to make it a visual presentation.  I think that having the author as one of the screen writers was key to this success.  She was able to help ensure that the characters had the right look, the right voice, and that they story did not veer off into unknown territory.

But while I will enjoy movies from books, I will always be a purist at heart.  99.9% of the time the book will be infinitely better than the movie.  I can enjoy the movie, appreciate the movie, but I will always come back to the book first.  Why?  Because the book is where all the depth of the story can be found, where the characters live in my mind, not the film makers, and where the author can create a world much deeper, much richer, much more detailed than a movie will ever be able to accomplish.  You read the book first, then see the movie.  The movie should complement the book, not replace it.



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