Before we begin, I am not saying that all movies based on books are bad here. ‘Red Dragon’ is one of my favourite books and I thought the movie was a perfect adaptation. The Harry Potter movies worked out as well as we could have asked for, with small annoyances rather than major grievances. And the Godfather was voted the best movie of all time by Empire magazine readers, suggesting that a movie adaptation holds the title right now. No, I am just saying with this article, that when a writer or director begins the road to releasing a movie based on a book, there are three major hurdles that they need to get around before coming up with a solid adaptation.
3 – THE LENGTH
Let’s start with the obvious one. Book are usually very long, especially the ones worth making into movies (which is why I am hoping to bring the Hungry Caterpillar to the big screen one day). Even the successful ones need to trim their book down to the vital scenes. Has anyone actually read the Godfather book? It is pointlessly long, focusing on several characters in the Godfather universe. Coppola knew where he wanted the film to go and only used the chapters he felt told the story he wanted to tell. I thought he handled the book well, although some of the fans revolted when he cut out the early Don Corleone in Sicily scenes (a mistake he rectified with the sequel).
The Lord of the Rings is another book that had to tear out so much rubbish to get to the gems. The ‘Fellowship of the Ring’ has a few more scenes before the Hobbits reach Brie that involves some weird stuff. In ‘Return of the King’, the ring is destroyed at the star of Book Six, and continues for a long while afterwards. Peter Jackson decided that the ring being destroyed was a sensible ending (rightfully so), yet the fans fumed, because the ending fight with Saruman in Hobbiton was cut (when Hobbit’s over, a quick short might be a good idea). And even then, Jackson kept the most drawn-out, annoying ending of a trilogy yet.
So in short, the only way to come up with a worthy adaptation is to cut from the actual text and risk pissing the fans off. However, if the insults come from people that want you to copy the book page by page and not acknowledge the film as a stand-alone piece of work, then I personally believe their opinions aren’t worth losing sleep over. Page-by-page adaptions never work, as my next two points will cover…
2 – SO MUCH EXPOSTION
Flick through most of my reviews and you will see that many films (especially Science Fiction), fall down when it comes to exposition. Exposition is the way we summarise the film’s universe, getting the readers up to date with the action, which can be a frustrating point of the film. However, in a book, I find that the exposition is the best part.
I know, this point might not work with faster-paced novelists, like Andy McNab or Chris Ryan, but exposition is the tool that builds a good story. I like my crime novels best, so I am often enjoying the vast backstories of all of these characters, small clues for the twist ending being worked into a large chunk of expositional text. Take a ‘Bourne’ book, for example. We hang on for a powerful ending – not necessarily a twist, but a shock conclusion. Then there is usually a fight between Bourne and the baddie. Fight scenes are kind of lame in books, I find, as they’re a visual scene, rather than a descriptive one. You end up hanging on for the facts, rather than the action.
Of course, that means that directors have got to inject a new style to the book. If the book’s ending is a little thin on the action, because that is what readers ask for, then they’ve got to play around with it. They’ve got to tell the story a lot faster and also shove some more action-packed moments into the movie. This often makes the movie feel bloated and a little messy.
1 – TOO MUCH FOCUS ON THE LEAD CHARACTER
One of the bigger flaws with ‘Harry Potter’ is that it is pretty much Harry Potter’s show. The movie is always focusing on him, when the audience kind of want to see more of the powerhouse actors, like Alan Rickman and Robbie Coltrane. I am pretty sure everyone wanted Ralph Fiennes to do more than show up for a final few minutes of villainy at the end of each film.
However, in the books, almost the entire story is told through Harry. This is a good move on JK Rowling, as we get one perspective of the world, which keeps the story grounded and fixed. The universe is a big one and too many viewpoints would have got confusing. But this means that most of the time, Harry doesn’t actually bump into, for example, Snape. Snape is a big character, because he is often being talked about and that is enough for the Snape fans. But in a movie, we want to see Alan Rickman do stuff on the screen and quite frankly, there aren’t really enough scenes for him. It gets difficult to meet the demands of the fans and honour the book.
Making a good movie adaption is possible if you understand these three pitfalls and are prepared to find your way around them. This is difficult, but there lies the talent. Personally, I like to stay away from adapting books for the moment. Unless…