I see a lot of posters bitching about how filmmakers have “ruined” the book with their films. The recent pit thread about Arwen’s expanded role in the upcoming Fellowship of the Ring film is one example.
I say this is not so, and I refer to ANY book and ANY movie.
Filmmakers and dramatists have always looked to literature to provide material. Would we say that the Iliad was ruined by plays like The Trojan Women or Iphegenia et Aulis? What if a really shitty actor, cast only because he was sleeping with the director, played the part of Agamemmnon or Hecuba? Is Homer’s work any less because of this one interpretation of the stories he told?
When you see a film based on a book, you are seeing ONE interpretation of how that story could be told visually, with actors and dialogue. The film version came into being because someone (screenwriter, director, producer) loved the story enough to gather millions of dollars, a cast and crew, and shepherd it through the years-long production process. When you see a film version of a book you love, you hope that the filmmakers loved the book as much as you do, and that they loved the same characters and moments that you do. But if they loved different characters, or a different interpretation of the event, it doesn’t take away your love of the book, does it? You are still gonna love the book when you get home.
The most common complaints I see are that the filmmakers left a certain character or incident out of the movie. Well, duh. They have two hours or less to tell a story in a completely different medium. So they focus on the most important characters. They marry together two lesser characters into one. They show you things instead of telling you. They try to preserve the spine of the story, the thing that made them love it in the first place. Some things that “work” in a book don’t “work” in a film.
Again, SOME THINGS THAT WORK IN A BOOK DON’T WORK ON SCREEN.
Example #1: L.A. Confidential. The author of the book, James Ellroy, laughed his ass off when he heard that the book had been optioned. The movie leaves out the entire child-murdering Disney plot, numerous plot twists, Jack Vincennes’s marriage and personal history, among other things. In the book, you know who at least some of the bad guys are from page one. In the film it’s a huge surprise, you unravel it only when White, Vincennes, and Exley do. If you tried to make a movie that was faithful and true to the book in every respect, you’d have a 6-hour monstrosity. Ellroy, according to interviews, LOVED the film, and marveled at how faithful it was to the L.A. he recreated and his “Three Guys.” The book and film stand on their own as pieces of art.
Example #2: The English Patient. Great book, great film. The book concentrates on the four characters in the villa equally - Kip, Caravaggio, Hana, and Almasy each have their own histories and inner worlds revealed. Kip is a much more major character in the book, since in his character Ondaatje manages to show the fall of the British Empire in his loss of faith. Well, “inner worlds” are pretty damn hard to portray on screen. So Minghella went through the book and found the story that could be best told visually (Almasy’s love affair in Egypt and how he came to be burned) and fit the other characters around it.
Both the books mentioned were previously considered “unfilmable”, and both became great films simply because the filmmakers ruthlessly cut away anything that didn’t “work” onscreen.
Example #3: Bladerunner. Book and film encompass many of the same events and characters, but are COMPLETELY different in many respects. Yet when Phillip Dick saw the film, he said to Ridley Scott “How did you get inside my head like that?”
Really, think of all the times it’s gone well. The A&E Nero Wolfe series captures the style of the books perfectly. The PBS Sherlock Holmes series from years ago, with Jeremy Brett, was breathtaking in both casting and execution. So too, I hope, will be The Lord of the Rings.
I too panic sometimes when I hear a book I love is being turned into what sounds like, in the advance Entertainment Weekly reports, a celebrity shiteburger. Like when Nicholas Cage announced that he wanted to remake Superman, with an emphasis on the character’s “dark side.” Superman doesn’t HAVE A DARK SIDE, numbskull! Or Kevin Costner’s version of (shudder) The Postman, which trust me, is a decent novel. There have certainly been abysmally bad movie versions of beloved books, and when I hear a director has got hold of something I love I do hold my breath and pray that he or she got it “right.”
I think filmmakers who undertake to put well-loved material on the screen have a responsibility to love the material themselves - which by all reports is the attitude of Peter Jackson, director of Lord of the Rings. But if and when they get it wrong, it doesn’t change anything about the splendor of the original story.
Read the book as the book, watch the film as the film.
Thoughts? Discussion? Vehement disagreement?