Gaahh! Now they’ve gone and ruined it…

We all have a cherished book, a book that we’ve read and re-read countless times over the years. We practically have it all off by heart, it’s been read so many times. In fact, the current copy is the fourth or fifth we’ve had to buy because all the others have fallen apart into dust particles.

More to the point, we can see everything that’s being narrated and described in minute detail in our heads. We’ve cast the perfect actors for each of the character roles and we have the most amazing locations. The monsters and villains are the scariest imaginable (at least according to ourselves) and the effects are the most whizzbang yet realistic that anyone is ever likely to be able to conjure up.

And then, you often find yourself wishing that someone would make a film of the book because how cool would that be?

Then, wonder of wonders, you hear on the grapevine that someone has optioned the film rights and is busy assembling a team to make it all a reality. You haven’t felt this excited for a long time – at last, you’ll be able to see your favourite book brought to Technicolour life right there on the silver screen. You eagerly listen and look out for any news on the project, hoping that production sketches, cast lists, who’s been chosen as the director and such-like are posted to the web so you can get a feel of which way the film is likely to go

And then information starts trickling through: and now you’re thinking -they’re not seriously asking HIM to be the director, are they? Are they REALLY casting him/her in the lead role? What the hell are they thinking – they’re totally unsuitable for the part. And those monsters are completely wrong – they don’t look anything like how you imagined they would be. And you start getting that sinking feeling that they’re just about to ruin the best book you’ve ever read. Now, you’re undecided as to whether to go and see it at all.

This, of course, is the danger of adapting books to films. Everyone who’s ever read the text currently being turned into blockbuster celluloid has a vision of what it should look like, and every one of those visions is different. So, in a nutshell, there are ALWAYS going to be people who disagree with whatever’s been done with their favourite story. You can never please everybody.

But that’s okay – the one thing that people like this never seem to realise is that they needn’t go and see the film in the first place. When I sat in the cinema to watch Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings I could hear several people around me complaining that certain parts of it weren’t ‘in the book’. Yes, I realised that too, but I also realised that for the sake of dramatic intensity those parts had to be rewritten. I love those books to pieces, inheriting my father’s passion for them, but I am also savvy enough with the way films work to understand that sometimes you have to spice things up in order to make them work better in a cinematic context (with the proviso that said changes enter into the spirit of the author’s work). The bit where Arwen rescues Frodo from the Black Riders? I know that it isn’t in the book, but it was damn well exciting nonetheless!! I knew I was, in essence, enjoying just one man’s vision of how he thought the book should look. So I revelled in the fact that I was able to do that.

I do have some sympathy with those who feel disappointed when the book they’ve spent most time reading is turned into a film which, to them, is completely unwatchable. I was disappointed with both Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch (but have since come to the conclusion that it was possibly the only way to actually film such a difficult, essentially plotless, book and, as such, is actually quite good) and the same director’s take on JG Ballard’s Crash. I also had some reservations about Jackson’s three-parter, but, despite some niggles with some of his decisions, I enjoyed them all immensely.

Simultaneously, I find people who go into excruciatingly minor detail about how this is not right, or that’s not the correct time period, or they have the shade of colour of the main character’s underpants wrong just bloody annoying. I am there to enjoy the action, not nit-pick. More to the point, people whispering to each other in the cinema “that’s not canon” spoil it for everyone else. If you’re that concerned about the lack of authentic detail, make your own version of it for us to see.

So, the next time a director or studio decides to make your cherished book into a film, look at, and enjoy, it as the vision of someone who has had the persistence to bring it to the screen for us all to enjoy. Don’t sit there complaining, spoiling the experience for the rest of us that might like it – for one thing, it’s disrespectful and also it’s rude. If it bothers you that much, just don’t go to see it or wait until it comes out on DVD or Blu-ray. To coin a phrase – simples.

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3 Responses to “Gaahh! Now they’ve gone and ruined it…”

  1. A good point well made, although if you really feel that strongly about a fil adaptation, my advice would be to walk out. You’ve already paid, the studio get their money and you don’t spoil it for the others who do want to watch it.
    Personally, I don’t like books that are written after the film. They are for the main part, a collection of words written by someone with the DVD in front of them, pressing pause every so often and very few really capture the film in its entirety. So I don’t buy them 🙂

  2. Adapting a work is a whole special art in and of itself. It can be utterly horrendous (see the first version of MOBY DICK as an example–four words suffice to show the horror: “Ahab Gets The Girl”) to extremely faithful and successful (the fourth and most famous version of THE MALTESE FALCON comes to mind) to the mind-blowing (BLADE RUNNER) and a few times when the film is actually an improvement (THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER).

    I try to treat the book and movies as different things. Mind you, I’m also picky enough to have written a treatment for my own favorite novella should the opportunity ever arise…heh heh.

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