In a world filled with sequels, reboots, and remakes, it feels like the one situation where we can actually get some new material to be put on our screens really comes from adaptations of books. Which, I guess, if you’re being rather picky about it, isn’t exactly new material.
Not that film adaptations of books are in any way a new thing. We’ve been adapting books into movies for nearly as long as we’ve been making movies. And it’s makes sense, right? When you read a good book, you’re transported into a new world, filled with all sorts of visuals that you can only see inside your head, so it’s exciting when someone decides to take that book and turn it into something where you can see those visuals come to life outside of your own mind.
At the same time, this is what causes the problem of the book being better than the movie comes into play. We’re all familiar with the concept. We see a movie of a book we absolutely loved, and we feel as though the film simply didn’t do the novel justice. Honestly, I’m surprised that a ~2 hour experience could ever compare to that of a fully fleshed out novel, considering how much has to be cut out of the final product simply due to time constraints. Even if the words on the page of a book directly correlated to the idea of one page equals one minute, as it does with a script and its particular formatting, you’d be looking at a five hour movie for a three hundred page book. Even Gone with the Wind didn’t quite cross the four hour threshold.
While I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t had the kneejerk reaction to say that a certain movie wasn’t as good as a book, I’ve recently tried to take a different response to movies which don’t hold up to my expectations going in. Like, maybe, the movie just isn’t that good. For instance, the Hobbit is one of my favorite books of all time, and (I’m probably going with an unpopular opinion) I absolutely didn’t care about the films. In fact, I may have only seen the first of them. They were incredibly faithful to the source content. And beautiful. But, I just found myself bored. While this sprawling epic does an amazing job of dutifully presenting the world created by Tolkien, the reality is that the emotion of the story was lost because of that duty.
So, perhaps, instead of focusing on the films that aren’t as good as the books, we should actually be more impressed by the films which do an amazing job of letting us relive the joy of the book. Those movies that cut the books down to the most necessary items in order to make sure the story is told, while also keeping that same feeling we got when reading them. This is a true talent of any storyteller, to be able to dissect a book down to its most basic concepts and give us something which does a spectacular job of bringing that story to life in a similar manner to the book, even if it doesn’t contain all of the items the book does.
Really, it seems like movies not being as good as the book should be the norm, because of this simple concept that you can’t do the full book as a movie without overwhelming the audience. What should be more interesting, therefore, are the movies that are actually better than the books. Like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which was very loosely based on a book that was alright, but brought us a movie that truly defined a shift in filmmaking, but also was so good that the author pretended it was the first book and used that as the starting point for the sequels he wrote.
Or then there’s the movies that actually manage to mash up two books, like Julie and Julia, which actually was a combination of the Julia Child’s biography written by her husband, and a blog written by a woman who decided to try to cook her way through Julia Child’s The Art of French Cooking.
In the end, I’ve been trying to shift my focus into being more directly aware of the beauty of the filmmakers who do a good job, instead of those who have a losing battle from the start, such as Steven Spielberg, who gave us the film version of Ready Player One, which is a book that has very little substance on top of giving us every single pop culture reference from the 80s that it can, who then got blasted for giving us a movie that felt like an enormous slideshow of characters from the 80s. Like, relax, the movie actually did what the book did, it just had different characters based on what licensing they had available, and recognizing that American audiences don’t have nearly the connection with Japanese pop culture as Ernest Cline’s original book wanted to believe.
In short, not all books should be movies, and sometimes because the author does such a great job of world building, I think we don’t recognize how difficult it must be to do some books justice. But those films which manage to bring those words to life in a pleasurable way, those are the ones we need to remember, and prop up. Because those are the ones created by a true artist.