Friday, April 3, 2009

Adaptations - are they necessary?

This blog, among countless others, has previously considered the debate on whether film adaptations improve or detract from the stories told by much-loved books.

Another take on the debate, provided by Salman Rushdie in the past week, is not just whether or not a film is better than its original source material, but whether or not that source material should have been adapted in the first place.

It’s a topic recently tackled by the Booking Through Thursday meme, which asked bloggers to name the books they’d most like to see adapted to film, as well as those they never wanted to see on the big (or small) screen.

It was interesting to see the same books featuring on both sides of the argument. Some readers wanted to see an adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife (which is handy, given there’s apparently one in the works starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams) and Aravind Adiga’s White Tiger, while others were equally adamant neither should be touched by film-makers.

Many readers see a film or television adaptation as a chance to spend more time with characters they love. While this may not please those more interested in the literary and artistic value of adaptations, it’s nevertheless a valid response from the point of view of escapism, and personal attachment to particular stories and characters.

Those bloggers who expressed horror at the idea of their favourite read being turned into a film were generally convinced the essence of the story – the poetry of the language, the inner journey of a narrative character – couldn’t be given justice by sound and movement alone, no matter how good the adaptation.

Rushdie, in the Weekend Australian Review on March 28-29, doesn’t confine his comments to just books adapted into movies, but any piece of work adapted by another artist, whether in the same medium (iconic songs “re-imagined by others) or different (plays and books into films and vice versa).

He says the insatiable process to create the current flood of adaptations can sometimes seem “world-swallowing, as if we now live in a culture that endlessly cannibalises itself, so that, eventually, it will have eaten itself up completely”.

Rushdie doesn’t underplay the difficulties facing those intent on adapting a story into a new creative form. They are forced with tough choices: what to keep, what to toss out, what to change and where to draw the line.

“The question of essences remains at the heart of the adaptive act; how to make a second version of a first thing, of a book or film or poem or of yourself, that is successfully its own, new thing and yet carries with it the essence, the spirit, the soul of the first thing, the thing that you yourself, or your book or poem or film originally were.”

For me, I think any adaptation needs to have its own creative merit, while remaining as faithful as possible to the original source material – and yes, I realise this is a tough ask.

Stephen King once said something along the lines of “a crap film doesn’t make a good book bad”, which, of course is true. It’s just that a crap film tends to annoy the hell out of those who loved the book.

What do you think? Does an adaptation influence how you feel about the original work? Are there books you never want to see made into films?


BookPlease said...

I've thought a lot about this subject since I started to write my blog (and before that as well) and currently I've decided that I don't want to see any book that I've read made into a film or TV drama or series. If I've not read the book I might watch a film version, although I do like to come to a book with an open mind.

We all read our own interpretations into books anyway (the reader writes the text), but watching a film means that the most basic things such as how the characters look and sound and the locations etc have been set by the film producers and inevitably these never match my reading of a book.

The poetry of the language can be lost, characters cut or changed - even worse new characters introduced, sequences changed etc, etc.

If I could detach myself from the film version and still see the book in my mind as I did when I read it then I could watch a film as a separate creation - but I can't. I've tried and failed. Lord of the Rings has been spoiled for me because very little of the film was how I imagined the book (which I loved) and now those images are imprinted over my own and that makes me sad.

sparsely kate said...

Great post and it has me thinking - (which I like!)

I've been really let down by film adaptations after reading a wonderful book, I'm trying to think of an example but it is Sunday morning and I'm fuzzy...but certainly there have been a few that I've rushed into the cinema to see only to come out saying 'they didn't add this and they didn't say that'.
It's bound to fail.

I always think it is better to see a film before you read the original book. The other way around causes too much heartache.

Rebecca said...

I too have been thinking about this lately as I progress through the entire Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich (only three or four more books to go thanks to a buying and reading frenzy)...

I wonder how they would cast the characters and whether the humour would come across the same way on film as it does in my head.

I'd like to see it happen, maybe in the same way the Lemony Snicket movie was made, where two or three books were adapted to give an overall plot. I'm sure I'd be disappointed in the end, as I was with PS I love you, but oh well.

Linda Jacobs said...

I'm not a big movie person to begin with but I have seen some adaptations and have usually been disappointed that the movie left favorite parts out. However, I generally do enjoy watching the movies. I try to divorce the two and take the movie as a separate entity.

I'm thinking of To Kill a Mockingbird. There is no way they could capture Scout's thoughts but I did enjoy how the movie portrayed her tomboyishness. It didn't spoil the book for me. I still reread it occasionally and, yes, I picture the movie Scout as the book Scout, but her mannerisms in the movie become her mannerisms in the book and that just helps me to visualize her better.

So, basically, I don't let it bother me too much. The book is the book and the movie is the movie.

Gustav said...

Linda Jacobs comment above regarding "To Kill a Mockingbird" is a good example of a movie adaptation weaving its own magic.

Its rare but it can be done.

Bec C said...

We were only discussing this topic at my sister's place tonight! I watched the movie adaptation of 'The Kite Runner', one of my Favourite books, last week and loved the film version. This is despite an ending which leaves out a quite significant portion of the return journey from Afghanistan to the USA (sorry to be vague, don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read the book!). I think I was comfortable that the ommission didn't compromise the book overall, and I accepted that movies have things like time and length constraints that books may not have.
I love movies, and love the chance to see a book that I've enjoyed adapted for the big screen - however I also have a fairly blanket view that movies are Never as good as the book, so perhaps that allows me to not be disappointed if and when they aren't. My sister commented that she madly reread 'Lord of the Rings' before the movies started coming out, knowing that it was her last chance to imagine characters and places without having the movie image imprinted on her - and yet she went to see the movies knowing this would be the case.
I am looking forward to 'The Time Traveler's Wife' coming out on film, and was stoked to hear Eric Bana has the leading rule, I have high expectations of him doing the book justice!