Random Thoughts: Books Into Film

Books being made into movies is not a new phenomenon. Some of the best films in the history of film have come from books. Some with great financial success and acclaim and some not so fortunate.

Today it seems that there are more and more films that are reliant on books or graphic novels versus original script ideas. Perhaps the studios don’t want to take a chance on something previously untested or it might just be simply a lack of good scripts making it into the right hands. Whatever the reason, more and more books are being immediately optioned for film and several get picked for filming almost instantaneously.

As I am not a connoisseur of the graphic novel, although I do enjoy the films, I am not adequately prepared to discuss the pros and cons. As for the classics, they’ve often translated quite well into film, sometimes becoming even more exciting than the books, and as there has been countless debate on this over the years I opt to stay out of this arena.

I choose to focus on the young adult novel, which is my passion at the moment and has been for the past several years.

Turning young adult books into film is also nothing new. Over the years, Disney alone has turned countless young adult and children’s books into movies with enormous success.

But something has changed recently. There seems to be, in Hollywood, an almost frenetic need to snatch up the rights to books or book series that may become popular, before any other studio can. And while in the past these options could sit with a studio forever, with no action taken, they are now being seriously considered for production.

This is especially true for books in a series. Like with publishing, if the first movie takes off, it is far less costly and far easier to produce the next films. As with any book being made into film, there is already an established fan base. But for the sequels, you will have those fans of the book and now the fans of the first film to carry into subsequent films.

While I can continue down this line of discussion about the cost-effectiveness, that was not the direction I wanted to head with this.

My question is whether or not the movies we are seeing do justice to the books we are reading?

Take the Harry Potter series, as it seems to be the first one that really started this trend. (And I do not want to get into the pros and cons of that other series.) While the book series has come to its conclusion the films are still being released.

As this was a longer series than any that I recall being made into film, there have been some obvious difficulties with the ages of the actors that play the characters. That aside, the films are still met with great success at the box office.

But for fans of the books, the movies, at least early on, had a simplicity that the books did not. This was my greatest disappointment in the earlier films. It was almost as if the studios thought they should reach a younger audience because no adults would go to see the movies unless they had a child that they were accompanying and therefore needed to “dumb down” the films for a much younger audience. On two fronts this is insulting – one that it assumes younger children are incapable of understanding something a bit more complex and also that the movie-makers really didn’t realize who the readers of the books were. Fortunately, as the films progressed they matured, as did the books.

Another unfortunate necessity was that due to the length of each book many elements had to be left out in order for the story to make sense on the big screen. Unless an audience can sit through a twelve hour film this is just one of the things that has to happen. With a good director and screenwriter fans of the books wouldn’t feel the loss as harshly when characters, events and dialogue are missing. But in many instances in the HP films the cuts were so severe that the loss was felt deeply. And there were instances where the film spent more time on scenes that were of less importance in the book, but just because they played well on screen they were featured.

As is also common with many films, random witty dialogue and comedic mishaps were added for the laugh factor that were not always present in the books. Some with added benefit, others felt untrue to the original story. Ron Weasley, while although funny in the books was not the completely goofy sidekick that was being portrayed in the earlier films.

Of course the biggest problems when converting from a book to a film are the characters. (And this is not just with HP but with all books made into film.) When someone reads a book (and I’ve said this before) they create the visual in their mind, sometimes with a little or a lot of help from the author. But when you’re reading, the story and characters unfold in your mind like your own personal movie and you envision just what those characters that you love or hate look like.

When an actor or actress is cast to play those characters on screen it can shatter the view you had in your mind of who they were, what they looked like. A poorly cast actor (not even going into the acting abilities, just looks) can completely ruin a book for you. Because, once you see a movie of a book you loved, it is very difficult to go back and re-read the story with the original picture you had in mind of the character. The movie actor will be indelibly engrained into your mind every time you read that characters’ name and that character will have gone from one very personal to you to one owned by the world.

Filmmakers will never be able please every reader. Sometimes there aren’t actors out there that could even remotely look the part and they just have to hire someone who approximately resembles that character. (That’s just the unfortunately reality of things, but at least they make an attempt.)

Sometimes they completely change the character just because they have a specific actor in mind. (This is my least favorite reason as they just throw away everything the author wrote and show no care whatsoever for the author or fans who made the book a success in the first place.)

And sometimes they hire someone who may be the right choice, but who is in multiple films releasing at the same time or who has been cast in more than one film based on books with the same audience. (This can be good or bad, it just depends on how good of an actor, how diverse the role from one film to the next or how different the character in each film.)

There are positives. I don’t want to make it seem that books into movies are all negatives. When a film is done right – where the actors fit, the edits make sense and the storyline flows – it can be stunning to watch. Action scenes can be amazing on the big screen with the help of movie magic. Cinematography can really make vistas breathtaking. Good direction can add tension and excitement to any scene. And a mix of good acting and directing can make your heart flutter when watching a first kiss or can make you cry when your favorite character dies or walks away from their soulmate.

There will always be those who are happy to see a book on the big screen. I know I am. I love movies almost as much as books. But I will never be able to re-read a Harry Potter book without thinking of Harry as Daniel Radcliffe. And I will always make sure to read a book before I go to see the film so that at least for a little while I will have that book all to myself.

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