Raise your hand if a great film or television adaptation of a novel has ever come up in conversation and someone has immediately jumped in with, "The book is so much better." Well, guess what? Book adaptations are big business right now in Hollywood, from the upcoming Ender's Game to , from The Great Gatsby to As I Lay Dying.
One of my beloved friends had this to say about it when this same issue was, coincidentally enough, brought up in conversation among a few other friends last week:
I think I'm at the point where I just want to hit anyone who says -about any movie or show- "The books are so much better!" With a brick. Maybe even an old brick, covered with slimy moss and pigeon sh-t. It's apples and god---n oranges.
After spitting my drink out with laughter, I realized something. She was right. Absolutely. As an unabashed bookworm, I am constantly reading, almost as much as I write. I am a huge advocate of reading the books upon which movies and television shows are based. But there are times, many times, actually, in which the medium of film takes a good book and transforms it into something better than the source material, or takes a great book and becomes something entirely different. Not worse, just different. Too often, fans view movies and television adaptations as a colossal failure if they are not exactly the same as the source material, rather than appreciating them on their own merit, as a wholly different medium and method of storytelling that requires a completely unique set of devices to bring the story to life.
So what do the writers themselves tend to think of their source material being adapted? An author that has been in the news often recently is , as the big screen adaptation of his book, Ender's Game, is facing a possibe uphill battle in the PR department due to the author's extreme anti-gay views. And at the recently-held Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Card cautioned fans against falling into the trap of thinking the movie would be exactly the same as the book, and why it had to be changed:
If you go there expecting that, please don't be angry that it's not just like the book. Ender's Game is an 'unfilmable' book, not because it's too much violence but because everything takes place in Ender's head. The biggest problem is that if you don't know what's going on inside Ender's head, then it's just the story of an incredibly violent little kid. Why would you like him? Why would you care? Only when you know what he's thinking does it become a story that matters.
I became a problem in that we could not sign any deal unless I agreed to certain conditions about [the movie] being true to the story.
And finally, a script came along that Card felt would remain true to the essence of the story without compromising its integrity, even if a few things had to be changed for the sake of making it filmable:
It’s the story of Ender as someone you would follow into battle and give your life for, and if you don't feel that way, there's no movie. That's when I realized the story is about the relationship between Ender and the other kids.
And that, ultimately, is what authors want. They just want to work with good people who care about the source material and are willing to remain true to the ideas and ideals of the stories they tell, even if it means modifications.
George R. R. Martin, the author of the Song of Ice and Fire series upon which the incredible Game of Thrones is based, has also recently been in the news for his positive ravings about the adaptation of his books. In fact, he has been so taken by a few of the portrayals of the characters in the TV show that it has actually influenced him in his writing, expanding roles for certain characters that had initially just been small parts.
He, for one, loves HBO's take on his novels, and can't imagine why fans wouldn't feel the same:
Well, if my own reaction is any key, I think the vast majority of my fans are going to be thrilled and delighted by what they see. I think 95% will be very happy. They may have a quibble, here and there, where they say, 'You left out my favorite scene,' or 'You left out this great line.' But, their overall reaction will be very positive. I'm sure it will just be a small minority that will not like it, for various reasons. Some won't like it just because they don't like a particular actor, or they don't like the story. I admire the passion, and there are some people who are very passionate and know these books, inside and out, and know every detail, but they are not going to be able to get over the fact that things are changed and that there are omissions. As I watched the first two episodes, I thought all the scenes that were taken from the books and adapted seemed to work wonderfully for me, and I was very pleased with the new scenes as well...
For the material that was never shot at all, it's there in the books, so maybe the people who like the show will go pick up my books and they'll find a director's cut, right there in prose of all the material that wasn't in there. It is two different mediums, and they operate under different constraints.
If there ever were an author whose writing was adapted for the screen with clockwork regularity, it's . Through various bits of writing, interviews, and author Tony Magistrale's incredible book, Hollywood's Stephen King, the author has never shied away from talking about his feelings regarding adaptations of his work.
In some cases, he hated what the directors did to his stories, softening the horror, pulling punches or oversimplifying things: completely changed the ending of the violent The Body to the nostalgic, sentimental ending in Stand By Me. first eviscerated, then oversimplified, the experimental narrative of Carrie. He has famously, famously hated 's adaptation of The Shining, decrying it as "too artistic to operate effectively as a horror film". And oh my, is he ever not happy (in as polite a way possible), at the plans to write a script for a The Shining prequel that have nothing to do with him or the actual, King-penned sequel being released later this year titled Doctor Sleep.
That being said, while King can sometimes seem cranky about film adaptations of his work, he is more often than not delighted by them. He has high praise for The Shawshank Redemption, Misery, Dolores Claiborne, The Green Mile, and, yes, even Stand By Me, despite the audience-friendly ending. In fact, according to regular collaborator, , King has an open policy of granting the rights to his short stories to young filmmakers.
King even acknowledged as much himself:
I have a tendency to let people develop things. I'm always curious to see what will happen.
He's certainly stated on numerous occasions that he is 100% behind 's long-delayed adaptation of King's magnum opus, The Dark Tower, and is confident and comfortable with what is arguably his life's work being in the director's hands.
And sometimes, he loves the adaptations of his works so much that he feels they turned out even better than what he originally wrote, such as was the case with Darabont's wildly-underappreciated The Mist, the ending of which was more complete and heartbreaking than King's ambiguous ending. Said Darabont:
Well, I didn't really change it so much as add to it. What I did was add something that was conclusive. Even Stephen King recognized that, for purposes of a film, a more conclusive approach might be best. He would ask me time to time through the years if I came up with an ending yet or not. Actually, I came up with this ending based on something that's actually in Stephen King's story. It felt like a natural extension of what he was doing.
I wanted him to read the script once I was done with it. My big question to him was, 'What do you think of the ending, Stephen?' He was really delighted with it. His response to me was that he loved the ending and wished he'd thought of it, which felt like it put me on some pretty solid ground. Obviously when adapting somebody like King, somebody who's work you really admire, you don't want to do something that doesn't please the author. Just on a personal level, that meant a lot to me.
Ultimately, it seems as if most authors are thrilled when their work is adapted, provided they can have some sort of creative input and the filmmakers stay true to the heart of the story. They understand that the visual and auditory art of filmmaking is a completely different process than writing a story with text on a page, and that certain concessions will naturally have to be made in order for their work to translate to the screen and connect with audiences. And that is okay, because it doesn't mean that one is necessarily better or worse than the other, just that each is telling the same story in a different way.
My only question is: Why can't fans understand this?