Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Of Books and Film

If you are like me, the news that a beloved book is to be adapted for the silver screen fills one with both a feeling of overwhelming excitement and overwhelming dread. Excitement because maybe, just maybe, the pictures and characters in your head will come to life before your very eyes. Dread because you also know that there is just as much of a chance (of not a better one) that you will not be able to even recognize the story you so love. In this week's "Dear Book Lover" article over at The Wall Street Journal, Cynthia Crossen discusses that belief that is as old as the film industry itself...can the movies ever really live up to the books?

The thing to understand, Crossen says, is that "[w]ith books, the reader and writer collude in deciding what the characters, rooms, landscape look and feel like; movies make all the decisions." When you watch a film, you are at the mercy of the director's (and writer's and producer's and actors') interpretation of the story. We lose the possessive quality that reading has, for it is no longer "our" story to imagine and create, but someone elses' to serve as they see fit. Sometimes this works out and the characters and setting of your imagine meld beautifully with theirs (Pride and Prejudice 1995, for example). Other times, you wonder if the two of you were even reading the same book (like the newer Chronicles of Narnia series).

All of this being said, though the usual rule is that the book is (almost) always better than the movie, that doesn't mean that the classic stories should not be brought to the screen. I have been introduced to many great stories because I happened to see the film first, and I know that I am not alone. Crossen ends her article by quoting James M. Cain's comment: " People tell me, don't you CARE what they've done to your book? I tell them, they haven't done anything to my book. It's right there on the shelf." That, I think, is the real moral of the book to film argument.

So how about you? Are there any adaptations that you felt were spot on for one of your favorite books? Any where you think the filmmakers should have their heads stuck on a pike? Fell free to sound off in the comments...while I leave you with the trailer's for four upcoming book-film adaptations. Do any of these excite (or horrify) you?

The Three Musketeers October 21

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn December 23

War Horse December 28

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy November 18

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