Novel Turned Movie: A Book Nerd Guide
by Shawnie Kelly (@DearShawnie)
There are several things to consider when your favorite book hits the big screen. How did they cast your favorite character? Did they stay true to the heart of the story? Some things are hit or miss, and little inaccuracies are quickly forgiven if the movie does the work justice overall. But every bookworm knows the heartache of watching the picture your brain so carefully constructed be torn to shreds by someone else’s visual interpretation of the words you know by heart. It’s not to say that one interpretation is better than the other, but the knowledge that something you love and believe to be perfect isn’t imagined the exact same way by everyone else is surprisingly tragic.
Even giving people the benefit of the doubt on personal interpretation, there have been some terrible film adaptations over the years. Just in general, they don’t convey the story well, or they focused too much about the visual and not enough on relationship complexities, or even just dialogue screw-ups. Now, book-to-screenplay is no easy task, and understandably so. This is especially true if the book is known and loved on a grand scale. People will always have high expectations, and maybe that’s unfair to some extent. But most of the time, if the movie is a terrible adaptation (and considered so by many), it has less to do with personal taste and more to do with a lack of trying.
So, book nerds! I have compiled a few tips for us to consider before diving into the sometimes dreaded/sometimes awesome book-turned-movie. The purpose of this list is to help us experience the least amount of heartbreak concerning our favorite novels being snatched from their loving homes on our bedside tables and placed into the hands of a total stranger.
Keep in mind, I wrote this list for myself to avoid sobbing uncontrollably while walking out of the theater and thought it might be nice to share. If you don’t have weird emotional issues about film adaptations, congratulations — you’re reading the words someone far less sensible.
1. Curb your enthusiasm.
I know, I know! It’s exciting. You love the book and you love awesome movies. It’s going to be amazing! What could go wrong? Besides everything, of course. Most bookworms have this natural tendency towards high expectations. It’s because we don’t understand how any version of the story we love could ever be bad or even different. Then those pesky other brains come into play, other brains that read what you read and see different things than you see. How rude! I’m not advising you to expect disaster. We just need to bring all of our hopes and dreams about the project down to a somewhat reasonable level. (I say this and will probably never ever be able to do it, but I have more faith in you).
2. Do some research.
Who wrote the screenplay? I find the best translators of books to film are the authors themselves. Many times, the book’s author will jump on the film project and do a stellar job. Other times, they are just consultants and keep a close eye on everything. Either way, it’s great when they’re involved. Nothing is more depressing than knowing the author’s insights have been disregarded, or even in some cases, that the author hates the movie versions of their work. P.L. Travers was so disappointed in what they did to Mary Poppins that she cried throughout the screening. Roald Dahl openly referred to the film version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as “crummy.” How sad! I am not an enthusiast of either book, so I wonder what fans thought when they watched for the first time. Before you see your favorite book on screen, find out the extent of the author’s involvement and plan accordingly — tissues or celebratory foghorns.
Disclaimer: your fellow movie goers may not appreciate the latter and I hereby relinquish any and all responsibility for injuries administered to you by said movie goers should a celebratory foghorn be used in any capacity.
3. Keep an open mind.
Lastly, I address those who may have the opposite instinctual reaction to those I addressed in the “curb your enthusiasm” portion of our time here together. Maybe your stomach instantly drops the moment you hear rumblings of a film project.
“NO! GET AWAY!!”
That’s what you screamed at Steven Spielberg through the television screen when you heard the news. Or maybe you didn’t fight back at all, knowing it was a battle you had already lost. All hope was gone. Don’t fret, dear ones. Be of good cheer, for some film adaptations are pulled off masterfully! However, I would encourage you to prepare for the inevitable — realistically, everything from the book cannot fit into the movie. There will be subplots missing and some depth lacking; it’s just the name of the game. But it might be better than you think possible.
All in all, adaptations are a strange and sometimes beautiful beast. I will leave you with some knowledge that blew my mind while researching: Die Hard and Rambo are both based on novels. Who knew? Hopefully not everyone but me. Sometimes the movie surpasses the book and I’m okay with that thought. After all, where would we be without Rambo and John McClane? Probably being held hostage somewhere in the eighties, you guys. In which case, we owe a lot to adaptations.