Adaptations: Every Reader’s Dream?

By Luke Parkes

It’s every reader’s dreams to see their favourite book on the big screen, but would it leave you disappointed?

The fact is the alterations made from novel to screen can be either a huge hit or an epic failure. It really depends on how filmmakers “translate” a full-length novel to the screen and how the reader responds to it. I will delve into the reasons behind changes and how readers can interpret the film adaptation as its own entity.

Tomorrow, When the War Began

Corrie says to Ellie in the film Tomorrow, When the War Began that her book is “better than the movie,” to which Ellie comments, “Yeah, books usually are.” I have to agree with Ellie there; books are usually better than the movie. Yet you’ll be surprised how many films are based on literature.

In the article Adaptation: From Novel to Film, it was estimated by John Harrington that if you include all the literary forms—such as novels, drama and short stories—the percentage of film adaptations might well be 65% (or possibly even more). It shows that most of the films are based on literature.

Most of the classic novels have been adapted to the screen at least more than once, such as Sherlock Holmes, which has over 200 adaptations. Some of the classic novels have been adapted to both a different time and setting, such as Cruel Intentions, an adaptation of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses, which is set among wealthy teenagers in modern New York. Filmmakers decide this so the film can be more appealing toward younger and older audiences, as well as for both sexes.

Many people in the world, including myself, rave about a favourite book being adapted into a TV series or movie. I am excitedly anticipating the film Vampire Academy: Blood Sisters (out February 14, 2014), which is based on the first book in the six-part series by Richelle Mead. If the author says the movie looks great, then it’s going to be great, right?

Vampire Academy: Blood Sisters

However, many other people fear that screen adaptations won’t do the book justice. All the omitted scenes, characters, dialogue, backstories and other details are the most troubling aspects in adapting from novel to screen. Changes, though, are made for several reasons. In the case of adapting a novel, the filmmakers have to cut scenes, characters, dialogue, backstories and other details to make a two hour long movie. Also, sometimes the filmmakers will make other changes to make it slightly—or possibly a great deal—different to the novel, so they get more than just the readers on board.

Some adaptations stick closely to the novel. I have seen many adaptations that only have very minor changes from the original novel, such as the film Tomorrow, When the War Began. None of the alterations made a difference to the plotline, like the omission of Ellie’s confused feelings for Homer in the film, which is “A-OK with me, as that was my least favourite part of the book,” says Aftran from Aftran’s YA Book Reviews.

Other changes can be major. I have seen many adaptations that divert from the book, like the television series The Vampire Diaries, based upon the novels by L.J. Smith. Excluding the first few episodes, it has developed in its own way, making it seem more like its own entity. Characters’ personalities and roles are different and the storyline takes on a completely different direction. One difference that anyone would notice is that in the show Elena has brunette hair and is really “sweet and caring and tough,” says Jenny from Forever Young Adult, while in the book she is blonde and “whiny and mean and snobby,” says Talya.

Cruel Intentions

Changes can have bad effects on movies, as well. Most reviews on the film Eragon, based upon Christopher Paolini’s debut fantasy novel, talked about the lacklustre acting, dialogue, and lack of pace, with a reviewer saying, “The only solid piece of real acting comes from the voice over work of Rachel Weisz.” An alteration from the book is when Eragon and Brom kill the Ra’zac, who aren’t actually killed until Brisingr, book three. Of course, not all reviews are negative; in fact, there are plenty of positive reviews, such as “It’s still a pretty good movie though.”

Always look to the positive side. When it comes to reading, you can visualise a movie playing in your head; whoever you’d cast in the movie, however the locations would look, that power is in your hands. For an adaptation, it allows everyone to see someone else’s interpretation, which gives readers an opportunity to compare and contrast to their own.

It’s true: every reader’s dream is to see his or her favourite book on the big screen. The question is: will it leave you disappointed? Yes, there will be disappointments, I admit, but you know what? Changes are inevitable, and it depends on how filmmakers “translate” a full-length novel to the screen and how the reader responds to it. Readers, like me, should enjoy the book and film for their own qualities.

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