Some of the best movie ideas come from books. Movie adaptations have been a staple for Hollywood from the start. How many times did you watch To Kill A Mockingbird in high school? Being book and movie lovers, the Bookmans staff has many opinions on which is better, the book or movie. So what is the answer? Well, it depends on which book to movie adaptation you are discussing and who you ask. This is, like all artistic criticism, a highly personal viewpoint. It often comes down to which you experienced first, the book or the movie, or which you are more loyal to. Let’s dive in to a few examples.
We’ll start with one of my personal favorites, which is also the one I have the strongest opinion on. My first selection is The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series by the incomparable Douglas Adams. This is challenging to discuss objectively. I have read the books and listened to the audio books so many times that I can recite them. Naturally, I have my towel and 42 makes perfect sense to me even though I haven’t yet enjoyed a Pangalactic Gargleblaster. I will just cut to the chase and state straight out that I was disappointed in the film. Ironically, I feel compelled to defend it rather than trash it. I read the books first, which is tricky and can work both ways, depending upon whether or not the filmmaker had the same vision as the reader. If what you saw in your mind’s eye was vastly different than the interpretation the director chose, it can leave you dissatisfied to say the least. Often times audiences are so committed to the novel that any variation in the filmmaker’s vision leaves movies goers angry, railing against changes they felt were cannon.
Casting and actors interpretations play a huge role in recreating a novel (or not). As an actor, as well as an avid reader, I feel it is essential that the actors make themselves familiar with the novel being filmed. This is a tangential debate that argues either for honoring the world of the author as is, or as was done by my favorite director Baz Lurhman, completely re-imagining it. It can be taken as ironic that I am actually arguing against what my all time favorite director did with total success. He took the basis of a written work and modernized it thoroughly, which I feel was the perfect choice for his adaptation of the Shakespeare classic Romeo and Juliet. We will set this piece of the debate aside for the moment however to try to focus on Hitchhikers Guide.
In defense of the film, the book described technology that was as yet to be portrayed as realistic on film when the movie was originally made. If the film where remade today (hint, hint Baz Lurhman) digital special effects and green screens (which I actually dislike) would make depicting futuristic alien technology easier. The characters (especially Zaphod Beeblebrox the delinquent President to the Galaxy who is also 2 headed and fitted with an extra arm) are another challenge. It certainly was not an insurmountable one though because it was successfully done with the Star Wars films (or not, which is yet another debate). The one completely successful aspect of the film was the casting of Martin Freeman as reluctant stowaway, interstellar hitchhiker and homesick earthling Arthur Dent. His portrayal of our erstwhile hero is spot on and a highlight of an otherwise lackluster film. Which leads me to two other issues: expectation and visualization. As stated from the start, the more committed audiences are to the written work, the more pressure there is on the film version. This is due to visualized scenes and characters. As any avid reader knows, a talented writer is able to engage the imagination of their readers and create a fully realized world and characters that we are certain actually exist, somewhere.
That takes me to the other title that I will only mention briefly in part one of this series, The Epic Magnum Opus, Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. Due to my disappointment in Hitchhikers Guide, I am terrified (not much of an exaggeration) of the upcoming release of the film version of The Gunslinger. The Dark Tower series is my 2nd most treasured book series and is fraught with landmines as far as film adaptations go. The first challenge facing any filmmaker is the length of the series. The only realistic choice is to copy Harry Potter and do one book at a time. This is going to be tough, because not only is each book long on it’s own, but each book is heavily tied to the others. That isn’t to say that they can’t stand alone, because they can and do. However, if the readers doesn’t read all of them in order, much of the enjoyment is lost. My next issue is super tricky: casting. Stephen King has stated outright that the lead character Roland Dechain is based upon Clint Eastwood. King’s admission was exciting for me because from the very beginning, I envisioned Eastwood as Dechain. Obviously Clint Eastwood is past the point in his life where he is interested in playing Roland, so another actor must be tasked with the role. I feel compelled to specify that I am not nervous about who does get cast, only that it won’t be Eastwood.
This is part one of this series discussing movie adaptations. We will be discussing other works and the debate in general. What is your opinion? Do you have a general preference over books or films? What are your favorite adaptations, or more interestingly, what are the movies you believe fell short of the mark? Let us know in the comments or join the debate on Twitter. Until next time, read on Bookmans fans!
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