Monday, May 21, 2012

Do Movies ever get it Right?

Often when I see a movie come out based on a book I’ve read I find myself greatly disappointed in the film. As I’ve said before I find it very hard for film to capture certain things about writing. On top of that to make a book a movie it needs to be condensed to fit in a two hour time slot, which means many of my favorite parts get cut out. And then there’s always the possibility that the director’s interpretation of the storyline or how the characters look differs from how I pictured it.
For example, War of the Worlds by Steven Spielberg came out right when I was reading War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells in High School. Since I loved the story I was very eager to see the film. However, Spielberg’s interpretation was… well, just that, his interpretation. I could handle him changing the setting, the century, and many other small details that came with making this story ‘modern’. What bothered me was the complete transformation of the main character, and plot.
Spielberg often adds the element of family into his movies, particularly broken ones. So of course Ray can’t just be making his way to his wife, but to his ex-wife. Spielberg also likes to look at the concept of the special obligations that we have to children, so Ray now must have his two kids at his side, even though he had no children in the book. Spielberg created a story about the main character which displays certain philosophical views that he often looks at in his movies, but  by doing this he loses a lot of what the book was about.
I’ve noticed a number of these poor adaptations over the years. The Shining by Kubrick was nothing like the book by King. The Time Machine by Simon Wells didn’t meet his great grandfather’s expectations. Spielberg again threw so much of his own philosophy into Minority Report that it was nothing like the short story by Phillip K. Dick, although at least this film in general was better than War of the Worlds. I could go on, throwing in almost any modern Shakespeare adaptation, and sadly a few more Stephen King adaptations such as the Stand. But, I think you get my point. 
Another problem I see with movies that are based on books is that sometimes there are movies that are done well, as movies, but don’t represent the book well. The Shining is often listed among “the best movie adaptations”, but I have to disagree. It can be a good movie, sure, but for it to be a good movie adaptation it should represent the book correctly. I feel many people liked this move, I also feel those people couldn’t have read King’s book. The Shining by Kubrick was scary, but in my opinion that’s the only thing it really had going for it. By the end of that movie, had I not read the book, I would have had no idea of what ‘the shining’ was. Kubrick missed the point of the book and he changed the characters and plot in some cases to make for a better thriller. The Garris miniseries version of this book is much better; the only problem is that in making it a miniseries it wasn’t as scary. Sometimes getting in everything the book included can take away from the overall effect, but at least he had the story right.
Now that I’ve ranted, I want to say that a poorly adapted movie doesn’t always make for a bad movie, as was the case with The Shining. But, fans that came to love the book will be disappointed if they find their movie more “inspired by” then “about” the characters and plot they came to love. That said, some have gotten it right, and I think one of the biggest tricks to doing a movie right is to avoid making it modern, keep to the setting of the book, and to follow the themes of the book, don’t add in your own personal philosophical ideas. When directors get these things right they have better movies, and if they can’t do these things then maybe they’re picking the wrong books to adapt.

Normadic Lass
The Shawshank Redemption, and The Green Mile, are two movies that I feel did Stephen King right, as well as were great movies. Part of why they worked, I think, is because they went by the book and knew how to pick the right parts of the story to tell.  
Most recently, The Hunger Games did it perfectly. The movie may have been a little long, but maybe it needed to be. For the first time I felt like a movie covered everything that I had loved about the book, but wasn’t so long that it lost suspense. Also I think they got the feeling of this movie right. The shaky camera angles, the music choice, it almost felt like a documentary at times and I think that was what it needed to make it feel as real as the book.

In the end what it comes down to is that books do make for great movies. The Godfather, Jurassic Park, Jaws, and countless others are proof of this. They just have to be done right. It should be about turning the words of a book into images, not an interpretation of the storyline. It’s hard to convert literature to film, but it can be done.