What People Severely Misunderstand about Book to Movie Adaptations

50ShadesHobbitHungerIt has become quite clear there are increasingly common misconceptions about how books are adapted into movies. First and foremost I want to clarify that yes, everyone is entitled to their own opinions. I’m in no way trying to knock anyone. However I feel a lot of arguments made by fans of books are unfairly expressed towards the movie counterparts.

As an avid movie fan, I’m constantly reading up on the latest releases, box office, reviews and upcoming information on sites like facebook and online news articles. Wherever you will find one of these sites, there is always a comment section for the world to agree or disagree as fast and hard as their fingers can type. The term “everyone’s a critic” couldn’t be more true in these sections. Some understand the art and have legit arguments while others have apparently brought back the ancient method of simply sticking their hand and thumb out, turning it up or down and shouting incoherent obscenities. Unfortunately when it comes to movies based on books people seem to have a much more critical response than usual. But way too often am I seeing it because of misunderstandings of how movie adapting translates. This leads to too many unjustly angry people spreading unfair criticisms. Let me explain…

It Is Impossible To Translate a Movie Into a Book Word for Word

Some may think this is obvious but to a lot of people this surprisingly isn’t. People judge the length of a book and then when they see the movie counterpart, don’t understand why it wasn’t an exact replica of what they had read. This is a real quote from the internet where someone was complaining about material additions/subtractions in reference to The Hobbit:

“You made one book into three movies and didn’t really follow the book. Please do one that follows the original book text – leave out nothing and add nothing.”

I’ll ask this: How long did it take you to read that book? Let’s say it was 6 hours. Movies are hardly ever longer than 3 hours. It’s simple math. Overall, visually showing things in a film will always take longer than reading. You can argue that when describing something in a book it may take a few paragraphs where in the movie just looking at a scene may show everything in a matter of seconds. But when it comes to emotions, that can end up being only a handful of words. Visually you have to capture the actors expressions, gestures and motions. Saying someone ran from point A to point B is one sentence while in the movie, it can be an entire sequence lasting minutes. This may not sound like alot but again, movies are typically 90-180 minutes long so those few minutes take up a lot of real estate. This is just a silly example but you can imagine why it’s obvious you can’t NOT leave out anything and add nothing.

Things Must Be Removed/Added and Edited for Continuity

This is a simple concept. Because they need to remove material from the book in order to fit it into the movie, they also have to rewrite the script in order to fill that gap because of inconsistencies. You may ask: Why did they remove that one specific scene but kept others? The reason is because a story builds upon itself. Scenes, whether book or movie, rarely stand alone without meaning. A successful book and movie builds upon the previous scenes to continue an overlaying purpose. When you translate one part into a movie from a book you have to also include ALL the other parts that lay before it that references it in terms of an event or character development. So when you ask why they may have removed a scene from the movie that was in the book it was because they would have had to incorporate anything related to that as well. The issue here again is time. Movies are short and scenes HAVE to be cut. Whether you think one or another should have been removed is a matter of opinion but regardless, SOMETHING has to get cut. To build upon this, screenwriters need to change things in order to bridge those certain gaps whether it is changing who said something, how they got somewhere or where the characters even are.

Too Similar VS Too Different

This debate will never stop making people upset. It’s a vicious cycle that will not and can not ever end. Many hate when the movies are too different from the books obviously, but many also hate when they are too similar. It’s impossible to please everyone and many unfair reviews are written because of this fact alone. It’s something screenwriters have to keep in the back of their mind constantly. Unfortunately it’s a battle that they will never win. Again, changes and sacrifices HAVE to be made. Lesson here, ignore reviews and watch what you think looks interesting and make your own conclusion.

Comparing Quality –  Books VS Movies

Lastly, which in my opinion is the most misguided and frustrating issue, is when people ask this question: “What do you think is better, the book or the movie?” Sure you can like the book more than the movie and even the movie more than the book but its relation ends there. It’s nearly an invalid question. There is very little argument here, if you read the book the chances are extremely high you are going to like the book better simply because it has more of what you originally love and ultimately because it IS the source material. It’s what made you so excited about the movie adaptation to begin with. Again, it’s two completely different mediums. So how can one compare the two saying the opposite choice sucks VS the other? The movie was birthed from the book. It’s the parent of the book… not it’s brother or sister. They aren’t on the same hierarchy. In preferences, most cases the book wins and it’s obvious, but why should the movie be referred to as sucking? To be clear though, the quality of the adaptation is irrelevant here because that’s a different question to ask and an entirely different meaning/understanding.

In summary, movies are called adaptations for a reason. The material is not meant to be simply copied and pasted. Movies adapted from books should be enjoyed as it stands as it’s own complete work. It’s a very different medium that if you constantly try to compare between, you will always set yourself up for disappointment. If you can just try to not get so stressed over the source material and enjoy it for what it’s worth, you may just start to enjoy these movies more.

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About Jon R.

Silly, serious & everything in between – that’s me in a nutshell. (Salty too… since I’m in a nutshell I might as well be suitably seasoned!) It’s apparent that I have a different way of thinking and seemingly have a talent for viewing things with a more independent perspective as well as an ability to perceive the objective nature of things more than most. Much like anyone else, I wish for the world to be more civilized and enjoyable for all. I’m full of ideas and love to improve things, and (un)fortunately the world has plenty wrong to offer. I’ve always been a problem solver and I love doing it. My endless ambition plus the urge to defend what’s right and bring reason has lead me to writing. With this I aspire to contribute some good to the world in order to help make it a better place. Regardless, all views are my opinion and not meant to offend anyone. While I seem to have the less popular point of view on things, I don’t represent any one side. I respect all sides and do my best to reflect on all fairly and within reason. I hope readers will find the content on this site interesting, and just maybe, will leave with a little more of an open mind.
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5 Responses to What People Severely Misunderstand about Book to Movie Adaptations

  1. Pingback: What People Severely Misunderstand about Book to Movie Adaptations | Tinseltown Times

  2. adria259 says:

    Reblogged this on Screens & Writers.

  3. John says:

    I totally agree with you about this. I’ve had many an argument online with an armchair critic complaining that ‘scene X’ was left out/ changed from the book. I will quite often read the book, enjoy it and watch the film and enjoy it. A prime culprit previously has been the omission of Tom Bombadil from the LOTR films. I’ve read LOTR and watched the movies and I can totally understand his omission. It doesn’t add to the overall story and, to be honest, doesn’t really work (even in the book itself). The points you raise are totally valid but I would also like to add that these complainers tend to conveniently forget that making a movie costs millions (more often hundreds of millions) which have to at least be recouped and, as much as it might damage their fragile egos, these adaptations are not made to only please fans of the books. Many classic works of fiction have been adapted and reinterpreted (often in quite drastic ways) dozens and dozens of times (e.g. A Christmas Carol or the Sherlock Holmes stories), more often than not to bring the story to a new audience who otherwise might not have shown an interest, but no one bats an eyelid at these. On the flip side you have The Hobbit films which stick far closer to the source material than those I mentioned yet people get all worked up about it because of minor changes which don’t affect the overall story and a lot of the time actually enhance it. It’s about time that people realised that a totally 100% direct adaption of a book will NEVER happen. The sooner they do the sooner they can enjoy the films for what they are.

    • Jon R. says:

      Thanks for the comment! You are so right! I just don’t understand why people can’t just sit back and enjoy the movie as IS. People get way too defensive over these types of movies. I heard so many people talk about the omission of Tom Bombadil to the point where it seems it’s among the top things people wish were in the films. Sure they could have made a cameo of him to please people, but it would have been out of place and Peter Jackson cared too much about coherence to do such a thing. People must accept a movie’s time slot is VERY short in matters like this. To hate a film because of such small things that they feel are missing is unfair. But people tend to hate what they don’t understand.

      Also I so agree, not only will a 100% direct adaptation never happen, but it CAN’T happen. The movie would be many many parts long. People get upset that a single Hobbit book was turned into a trilogy but even if you ripped every bit of text and put it directly on film, that movie would at least be just as long. I dare people to time themselves reading the Hobbit book, including all the appendices, and see how long it takes them. Because it will take that amount of time plus much more for the visuals that take place in between lines, as well as time for making whats happening in text work in reality. Something read is shorter than acting out what the words describe. Not to mention creating the story that links all those appendices PJ used in making the films.

      Hell, why not enjoy it! Why not love the fact it’s more material and movie to see? Why complain, really? People baffle me.

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