Monday, March 28, 2011

Let's Go To the Movies

A lot of different and unrelated events lately have gotten me thinking about movie adaptations. 1. I saw the film adaptation of Jane Eyre in theaters 2. I read the book Stardust long after seeing the movie a few years ago 3. I saw the Broadway musical, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which stars Daniel Radcliff, of Harry Potter movie fame. And then I realized these three separate experiences nearly perfectly reflect how I feel about book to film adaptations.

·      The Classic
Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights: these books are so good and dense that it’s impossible to capture the lengthy novel on screen. So I don’t expect it. I expect it to be faithful, but understand when parts are changed or omitted due to feature-film time constraints. For example, in Jane Eyre details about Adele, the gypsy scene and the familial relationship between Jane and St. John are all omitted. This worked because they’re not vital points of the novel and thus the two hour movie had to cut something; better to exclude something trivial than a major plot point that the film producers thought was nonessential. Of course, the six-hour-long BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice will ALWAYS trump the Kiera Knightly one, but it’s not fair to compare the two because they’re different lengths. Overall, these adaptations are best to give viewers visual representation of the time period in which they’re set and a decent taste of what the novel holds.

·      The Middle Road
This category is for books and movies that I like but aren’t as attached to as the group below. Stardust, Time Traveler’s Wife and Alice in Wonderland all work- they’re fantastic novels that I could also appreciate seeing how the material needed to be adapted to a different medium. The movie Stardust, for example, has a much more dramatic and, indeed, vindictive ending than the novel because that’s what would give the story a final cinematic oomph. Any changes like that intrigue me, but I am not, for the most part bothered by changes made during the adaptation process.

·      The Favorite
Sometimes a book is so good, so perfect that nothing a film director does will perfectly capture your idea of the characters/plot/setting/etc. I first experienced this difficulty when I was very young and watched Little Women with my mom and sister. My sister, who hadn’t read the book, loved the film. My mom and I, who count Louisa May Alcott’s novel among our favorites, just couldn’t get into the film. So much seemed to be missing. A more recent example for me is the Harry Potter series- I love the books so much that the movies disappointed me so greatly that I’ve only seen two of them. Sometimes it’s just better to stick with your own perfect remembrance of a novel.

These categories clearly overlap and change over time. After all my babbling I’ve realized that it really just comes down to how far I can emotionally distance myself from a novel. Sometimes no matter how good the movie is I’ll always prefer the novel to the point that I’ll hate the movie. That’s my choice, of course. And I know that adapting a book to a movie is a daunting task, one that cannot make all readers and viewers happy. I look forward to see what happens with the buzziest movie adaptation- that of The Hunger Games with Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. Do you think it will work? What are your favorite adaptations? Share!


  1. I'll be very curious to see what happens with The Hunger Games. I think Lawrence will be a great Katniss.

    My personal favorite adaptations:

    About a Boy
    Jane Eyre (2006 miniseries staring Ruth Wilson)
    The Last Unicorn

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Again, except for Jane Eyre, I havn't seen the movies you've mentioned. I'll go check them out (as soon as I've read the books first)! Thanks for the recommendations!