Tuesday, 17 March 2009
Books versus movies
I like to read a good book as many do, but I also like to watch a good film. However, a well-written and entertaining narrative does not necessarily translate into a good film.
It's always exciting when a new movie comes along, one which has begun its life in literary form. Standing in the box office queue, you wonder what the filmmakers have done to it, and will there be parts which veer considerably from the book? Will they present the characters in the same way you visualise them in your head? Or - crisis - will they butcher the whole thing and change the ending?
A sizeable proportion of films released over the past few years have been books in former lives, a fact which prompted me to wonder what percentage of movies are in fact, adaptations? My (very) rough guess is around 18 per cent.
Books which have been made into films include: Girl With A Pearl Earring, Atonement, Fight Club, The Reader, Chronicles of Narnia, The Constant Gardner, PS I Love You, The Kite Runner, and not forgetting the Harry Potter series or comicbook adaptations like Hellboy. Of course those few are just a drop in the ocean of the vast number of book and film marriages. I also hear on the grapevine that both the Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (who last week sold a new manuscript for close to $5 million) and the wonderful Secret History by Donna Tartt (at last!) are to be made into films too.
I much prefer to read the book before I see the film, which I believe to be the case with many people. A book allows you to create the characters yourself, whereas the filmakers have presented them in front of you. There are some exceptions to the rule though - wouldn't you much prefer to watch The Godfather, rather than read it?
Probably the main reason that the average Joe Public prefers the film version is a short attention span and access to a form of 'easy' entertainment. The average teenage boy would probably prefer to watch a Vin Diesel action movie than read a book upon which the film is based.
There are various books I've read before they were made into films and have been a pleasant surprise when the red curtain goes up. Into The Wild directed by Sean Penn was excellent, retaining much of the sentiment of Jon Krakauer's book; however I did have a feeling it was 'Hollywoodised' as is the case with many.
And what about those films you didn't even know were books in the first place?
How many of you have been in this situation?
Friend: 'Fancy going to see Marley and Me?'
You: 'Yeah it looks good.'
Friend: 'Have you read the book?'
You: 'What book?'
But it seems to be the hotshot Hollywood directors and producers who take much of the glory for the success of a project. Who's heard of Vikas Swarup? Readers may know him as the novelist who wrote Q&A, the story of an orphaned 18-year-old who won a major prize in a quiz show. Many critics said it was a preposterous idea for a novel, but look at the subsequent success of the movie - none other than Slumdog Millionaire.
Perhaps your current WIP (work in progress) will be the Academy award winning Best Picture of 2012? Don't don't rule it out. And while I'm on the subject, can you think of your favourite book/film combo, a successful marriage that holds up on both sides? American Psycho? The Silence of the Lambs? 25th Hour? To Kill A Mockingbird?