Written by Reena Tabita
Published October 08, 2007
Inspiration comes from many sources. For many filmmakers, the inspiration can come from the written word. Books — and in some cases, short stories — have been adapted into movies. This has been such a trend that bookstores have a section where they display books that have been made into movies, advising, "Read the book before you see the movie." People have debated which version is better. Which really is better? Is there even an answer to that question, as a general rule?
The thing that sparks these debates is that the books people choose to adapt are timeless and popular to a certain degree such as The Harry Potter series, Running with Scissors, The Green Mile, Secret Window, Atonement, and The Devil Wears Prada. A significant part of the population is familiar with these books, have read them (sometimes even multiple times), and hold opinions about the plot, characters, and much more.
Readers have formed images and ideas about how they see the book as a movie. Disappointment or excitement happens when the movie either matches or diverges from what they imagined. In discussions, they would voice their opinion on whether the book or the movie is better.
Is it fair to compare? After all, books and movies are different types of media. Everyone has their own imagination and has thought about how that scene is supposed to go, or what that character is supposed to look like. Not everybody will be pleased. Some things do get lost in the translation and transition from page to screen.
Comparison, while inevitable, is rather unfair at times. A fan will not be able to influence the actor, the director, or the animator. The only comparable things are theme and atmosphere. Did the movie capture what made the book interesting? Did the movie have the same tone and atmosphere as the book? If the answer is yes to both, then it's fair to say, in comparison, the book and movie are as good as each other.
When other aspects are brought in, however, comparisons become unfair and the question of which is better becomes unanswerable except by opinion and on a case-by-case basis. Look at Jurassic Park and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
Jurassic Park is an excellent movie and an excellent book. It helped a lot that the book's author, Michael Crichton, co-wrote the screenplay and was willing to change things around to suit the film media. He made the action of the story move faster and gave the characters more depth and emphasis on a personality trait to create better tension on the screen.
The movie version of Alan Grant wasn't too fond of children (he claimed they were "smelly"), but the book made it clear that Grant was someone who didn't mind kids and recognized a shared excitement for dinosaurs. The movie version of Grant worked well for adding some tension in the movie, as Grant got stuck with the kids, and provided a challenge for the character that was funny to watch at times.
Steven Spielberg was the perfect passionate director to channel all of these elements. He made the action and characters faster, crisper, and tighter. The flawless, careful casting for the movie contributed to its success. I am not be ashamed to admit that I hear Sam Neill's voice whenever I read Alan Grant's dialogue in the novel.
The Harry Potter movies, specifically Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, while perfectly cast as well, suffer from having had different directors. Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuaron, and Mike Newell all had their own visions. David Yates is the latest director to have his own vision about the material, and it feels like he changed the tone of some of the relationships in the fifth movie, especially between Ron and Hermione, and Harry and Ginny.
At times, the relationship and action become so manipulated, confusing, and awkward that it became hard to watch. Take Emma Watson's Hermione. The most natural performance of hers was in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (with that in mind, please bring back Alfonso Cuaron!).
In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Emma sometimes does what the fans have termed "eyebrow acting," and it makes it look like she's trying so hard to get Hermione's lines out. I think that's either due to bad direction or a conflict between the translation of the character in this particular book to how she was to come across onscreen.
Suffice it to say, the movie is a good movie, but an incredibly disappointing adaptation, but what do I know? The film won a National Movie Award, and Emma bagged the National Movie Award for female performance.
Maybe that is the case for most adaptations. By itself, a film might just be that - a good film, but as an adaptation, it might be disappointing and lackluster. It can also happen the other way - the movie might be better than the book!
Everyone has their own opinions about books and movies, but if one goes into a movie or tackles a book with a clean, open mind cleared of (most) expectations, then maybe you might just enjoy it for what is it and not mind the price.