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?