Saturday, June 7, 2014

Nothing Like the Book

Last year we read The Tempest in English class. A few weeks after we finished the school had a group of actors come preform it. When my teacher asked the class what we thought, a few kids said, "It was nothing like the book."
Book? The Tempest is a play. What we read was a script. I realize that most people only read books and don't know the difference. But it has stage directions and everything. They should've been able to figure it out. We called it "the play" often enough during our study.
The actors followed it. Oh, I'm sure they ad-libbed here and there, as actors do. They tossed in a few of their own touches. Several of the actors were female and the characters are mostly male, so that altered things a bit. But they didn't "change" it. No scenes were cut out. No characters combined. No plot threads twisted in bizarre new ways.
And yet my class found things to complain about.

The adaptation of Catching Fire follows the book more closely than most movies. Because of that, I got a little nit-picky in the theater. In the scene where Effie draws Katniss' name, I muttered, "She had her hand in the jar longer than that!" The amount of time Effie's hand spends in the jar does not affect the course of the story. But I felt as if I had to find something wrong.

Yesterday I went to see The Fault in Our Stars with two friends. The author himself called the movie "amazingly faithful" to the book. As I watched, I almost felt it was too faithful. All my favorite scenes were in there, along with my second favorite scenes, and tertiary favorite scenes, and some scenes I didn't really care to see at all. Yes, I enjoyed hearing the conversations I loved spoken aloud. Yes, I liked seeing characters who only existed in my head breathing and moving on screen. But at the same time, I knew exactly what was going to happen. When you go into an original movie, it's "What happens next?" that keeps you watching. Go into a book adaptation and it's "What are they going to leave in?"
From wikipedia: Erich von Stroheim attempted a literal adaptation of Frank Norris's novel McTeague in 1924 with his film, Greed. The resulting film was 9½ hours long. It was cut, at studio insistence to four hours, then without von Stroheim's input, to around two hours. The end result was a film that was largely incoherent. Since that time, few directors have attempted to put everything in a novel into a film. Therefore, elision is nearly mandatory
So, in other words, we worked out ninety years ago that it's not possible to cram every part of a book into a movie. And still we complain.
No movie can be exactly like a book. Unless you want a sixteen hour movie about a guy who sits in a chair and reads to the audience. We should look at movies not as a visual, audible version of a book, but as a representation of the story. And maybe that's a good thing, because however close a movie gets, we'll find something to complain about anyways. 

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