The Great Film Debate, Mk 2.


Adapting Words To Film

Is it ever a good idea to change the medium of a story to retell said story? How much of the tale gets lost and is there an optimum format to digest the initial tale through?

Now our first example, for want of a better adaption in the last 100 years since celluloid has been around, I give ‘The Lord Of The Rings’.

(Totally not just an excuse to insert marvellous pictures of some of the most awesome characters ever)

This, I feel, was a successful slide from book to film: I read the book(s) years ago, after ‘The Fellowship Of The Ring’ appeared, and I’m not going to lie – I did not enjoy them. At all. Tolkien takes so long to say anything he might as well have been one of the Ents he was writing about. And boring! So very dull and boring. Who thinks they can get away with writing a 60 page chapter about some people sitting around talking? Fair enough, it was deciding the Ring’s fate (Council of Elrond, another hideously dull character), but he could have made things just a little more exciting.

There was such little motivation to find out what happened that it took me ages to finish the books, and I was rather unimpressed by this hefty slice of Tolkien’s work. It is a good thing, then, that the film is actually amazing. Top Ten easily, an absolute feat of film-making, direction, costuming, acting, stunt-creating… Really it baffles me how the operation took place. But I am exceptionally glad it did, or else I wouldn’t know about this marvellous world that Tolkien had created. So the world I love, but his initial medium and story telling abilities have a lot to be desired (in my opinion – bear in mind I really don’t like Shakespeare). But the films are incredible and in this case, I feel, that method of story telling was more appropriate as Tolkien’s work needed bringing to life. Which is easier – so much easier – with visuals, when you are missing the words.

For our second example, we are featuring ‘American Psycho’, another film I can watch again and again and again. And again. Lots really, I find it hilarious most of the time. More so than the book actually. Now I think this is a case where  both mediums are well-chosen – the book is brilliantly written, and it’s one of those rare ones that I’ve actually really enjoyed (much like ‘The Road’ and ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’), but similarly I don’t think the film does the book any injustices. I saw the film first – which obviously has the potential to sway my ideas – but the book gives you everything, it leaves nothing out and you don’t have to use your imagination for it. It’s all there for you to read, and so readable it is too! The film, however, is more one of those “films for intelligent souls” (other than something like ‘Love Actually’ or ‘Bring It On’. I cannot believe I just mentioned the latter…), in that it hints at various things, and the more times you watch it, the better it gets. Had I read the book first then seen the film, I would have felt a little cheated, and to the film’s disparagement, it is irritating and pointless when screen writers change names and situations for, what feels like, the sake of it. I think the film relies (or rather utilises extensively) a lot on its medium – it uses the visuals for all they are worth but this is good. I’m not sure if I could cope with a 180 minute epic about a serial killer who may or may not actually BE a serial killer.

(This picture comes from one of my favourite scenes in the film, where Christian Bale is about to take an axe to Jared Leto’s face but insists on discussing the merits and demerits of Huey Lewis And The News before hand. It’s genius!)

Our next example features (dare I say it) HARRY POTTER. Mainly because these really were written for children (or adults with no sense of decent literature), and it is a prime example that if the story is terrible to begin with, the film direction awful with cringe-worthy acting and a sickening script, the book so badly written it literally is like “wading through treacle” (thank you Mr Fry), then there is nothing you can do and you end up with a massive franchise that was based on TALENTLESS DRIVEL. Oh wait, that’s what happens nowadays anyway. One does really feel like it is a poor man’s Lord Of The Rings, and what’s the point in making a film that big if you’re not going to do a proper job? Also, to be fair to every film director that’s lent their name to the HP world, it’s not like you’re starting off with an epic book that is actually well-respected in the world of words so it’s not like they have the easiest job. But as we have proven above, there is an awful lot to be gained out of film adaptations, and you can attract a great many people who are just not interested in books: but they completely failed to do this and the films are on the same very low-level as the books. On the plus side, at least they kept a decent trend going. If it was not so clear that JK Rowling had pilfered everything from every fantasy novel ever written before hand, she may have got on better… Obviously everyone learns from what has come before them but you don’t need to be so blindly crude about it.

In essence, a lot depends on how good the author is at story telling, as I feel unless the film has a terrible script and many other things besides, then it is so much easier to sit absently mindedly in front of a screen for a few hours. So the author needs to grab your attention as it is so very easy to throw a book down in frustration (has been done frequently). I also feel the art of reading is being lost, or at least has been on the decline, so it is difficult to appeal to the average person – going to the cinema makes for a pleasant evening out, reading seems to be more something to do if there is not much else to do. It is a time filler more than the premiere of a new film is. I am of the opinion that film makers have it easier than authors, but they could still miss out so much detail from the book. They have the power to make a story much more exciting though, and that is an encouraging thought.

To Watch:

‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ (1962)

‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’ (I sincerely hope the film is an improvement: how can it not be with James Mason!)

To Read then Watch:

‘Moby Dick’

All Thomas Hardy novels I’ve missed out (the only decent ‘classic’ around, clearly)

‘Brighton Rock’

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One Response

  1. Oh dear Jesus, how did you manage to mention Brighton Rock, one of my all time favourite films, and it’s a decent book too!

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