Wednesday, December 01, 2010

What makes a good film adaptation?

We had a lively debate today in my senior seminar today. Christmas is a noted time for film companies to send their film adaptations of books into the theaters for a go. Some films are noted failures. Others make absurd monetary amounts. For many movie goers, these adaptations are likely to be the first introduction to various texts. For example, I would say that the majority of my college peers have seen the Lord of the Rings films, simply based on their wild popularity in our high school years. I would also say that only a minority have read the books in their entirety. Those that have read them are likely to be committed fans of Tolkien, and have read well beyond the primary Lord of the Rings volumes. The disproportion of these numbers will likely be less for The Hobbit, but chances are it could increase again after the film. After all, why read the book when you know the plot from the movie? The plot is all there is in a book, right?

(Dana chokes)

I'll admit: it isn't possible to live in a world these days where the book is always read before the movie. I accidentally watched "The Painted Veil" before I knew it was a Somerset Maugham novel.

But the questions surrounding adaptation and quality adaptation remain. What is it about a book that makes it worth putting on the screen? Why do it at all, except, of course, to make money? Are there ways to have quality in the film and be faithful to the text? Does faithfulness matter.

My own opinions in this matter have changed over the years. I was once an utter purist of the sort that most abhors the pleasure seeking movie goer. If it didn't in every aspect look, smell, taste, sound exactly like the novel, down to subplots, then I deemed it unworthy of existence. Now, I allow a little more room. For example, the Ang Lee version of "Sense and Sensibility" is a noted film adaptation that is excellent. It takes significant liberties with the plot and with unifying motifs, such as the use of Shakespeare's sonnet 116.

But before I dive into some examples of my favorite adaptations, I want to hear: what do you think qualifies a film to be an "excellent adaptation"? And don't say "Faithful to the book." Define what you think faithfulness means.

1 comment:

Brittany said...

Hey! I love this post-i've thought about it a lot too :)
I think a GOOD film adaptation demonstrates two things: It accurately portrays the HEART (not every detail) of the book in a cinematically EXCELLENT way.
Meaning-if a subplot in a book is just not going to transfer well, then potentially it is edited out. On the flip side, if-in order to create a realistic film world some details must be added, then give the film maker the liberty to do so. I don't think the film adaptations we know and love (aka LOTR) are word for word portrayals of the book-they can't be for the artistic medium is different. Rather its essence is captured well, and recreated in a new medium in a superb way. :)
anyways...just my two cents ;)