Monday, August 26, 2013

Can't We All Just Get Along? (Books vs. Movies)

By Charlee Vale

It seems to me that lately, there have been an influx of book based movies hitting the theatre. As both a writer and an actress, this makes me immensely happy! But I know that others aren't as happy, especially when they see their favorite books 'ruined' by it being made into a movie.

As an example, I'll tell you about my experience seeing The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, this past week.

I went to a tiny theater near my house. It was a late showing, and there were only a few people waiting for the movie with me. Of these people, there was a group of teens, completely decked out in costume. They had every major character covered, we're talking dedication. I gathered from not-so-subtle eavesdropping and a little conversation, that they were overjoyed to be seeing the movie for the first time, some of them fans of the book since it first came out in 2007.

So we went in and watched the movie. (For the record, I really enjoyed it--and I recommend everyone see it) As soon as the credits rolled I looked over at the costumed group to gauge their reaction. They all seemed overwhelmingly confused and saddened. Not understanding 'what had just happened.' (This despite us talking about how books and movies have to be different before entering the theater)

While thinking about this, it occurred to me that in fact, many times I've known people who are 'okay with it being different from the book,' and then walk out of the movie furious for that same reason. This makes me sad, because hollywood is finally paying attention to books! Their making book movies! But if everyone keeps hating them, they'll stop.

As a person who crosses the book/movie world, I thought I'd talk about a couple of the reasons books and movies can't be the same, and why that's okay.

1. Length

The book you read was most likely in between 200-300 pages, maybe more. The standard rule of thumb in the movie industry for screenplays is 'a minute per page.' If movies literally took the book you read and put it on the screen, even the shortest books would be almost three hours long. (The City of Bones hardcover is 485 pages--an 8 hour movie!)

2. Investment vs. Payoff

Because the aforementioned problem with length, movie producers have to look at the story and what's going to be the best way to deliver the required information, and still keep the tone of the story. A good example of this is the Hunger Games movie.

For those of you who have both read the book and seen the movie, you know that the person who gives Katniss the Mockingjay pin is different. A lot of people were upset that in the movie 'Madge' was cut out as a character. However, the time the movie would have spent developing that character would have been wasted. Why? Because Madge does nothing else. In fact she has little presence through the entire series. So spending ten precious minutes of film time on a character that doesn't affect the audience, is silly. The payoff wasn't worth the investment.

3. Different Mediums

This should be fairly straight-forward, but I find it's always good to remind people that books and movies are different. And that's okay.

In books, we have the time to describe something, to let the mind piece together an image as it goes along. Movies, as a visual medium, have to give us things that our minds can both interpret immediately, keep us engaged, and keep the story moving.

This is why I find I enjoy book-to-movie adaptations much more the second time I watch them. The second time, I already know what's different from the book--there are no surprises. That way, I can relax and enjoy the movie for what it is. Unfortunately, I know a lot of people don't get that far because they're upset.

As a final note, I hope that you will go and support book movies. Even if the particular book isn't your thing. I would hate for Hollywood to think we're giving them a message to stop making these movies. There are so many wonderful book stories that can be told with film. Let's keep making it happen!

Charlee Vale is a Young Adult writer, photographer, and tea lover living in New York City. You can also find her at her website, and on Twitter, and at the movies, absorbing all the stories. 


Jemi Fraser said...

Great post Charlee. I have this kind of discussion with my students a lot because some of them get SO upset. I read the Hobbit with the class before the movie came out and we talked a lot about what might have to change because of the visual media & time frame. After seeing the movie, most of them said they didn't feel 'ripped off' this time and were thrilled when some of their guesses about changes turned out to be right. :)

Jai said...

I enjoyed this post very much.

In Hunger Games the thing that upset me the most and it is stupid really was the freaking cat.

The author took so much care in describing and ugly squashed nose yellow cat. How hard can it be to find one of those???

Seabrooke said...

Great points, and all true. I always expect there're going to be things that are done differently in the movie than they were in the book, though I can't always guess which they'll be.

Another major difference between them is that in books, you get to read the character's thoughts and emotions, whereas on screen you can only interpret their body language for emotion and you don't know their thoughts at all. Plus, it's a lot harder to convey backstory and details like that that get woven into the narrative of a book but need actual screentime in a movie, or insertion in dialogue, or some other more awkward way of conveying the information.

City of Bones is a long book. I felt the movie felt maybe a tiny bit rushed because there's so much that happens and they were trying to wedge it all in to just 1h40. Quite a bit of that time was spent on fight scenes. Given that movies are regularly running upwards of two hours these days, I thought they could've allowed themselves a little more time to develop the story and characters more, especially Jace and Clary's connection.

SC Author said...

Awesome post! I like seeing movies from books, and the unsuccessful movies usually stem from trying to be so true to the book.