If you’re reading this, it is safe to say you are living in the 21st Century. I don’t imagine this blog will find its way in any century besides this one. Therefore, you most likely have some experience with novels, television shows, and movies.
Anyone who has ever had a favorite book or merely just a book they were the slightest bit fond of has an understanding of the adaptation whether it’s for television or the theater.
Adapting novels to a visual medium isn’t anything new and it isn’t limited to movies and television but what I am focusing on here is the adaptation in the age of information.
It seems like people often believe Hollywood has not experienced economic turmoil with the rest of us over the last thirteen years. You read about these ridiculously high numbers going to the cast’s salary, the budget, and at the box office and it’s more money than most people have ever had in their life. However, like the rest of, film studios have had to adjust to rising cost of, well, everything along with dealing with people’s expectations of what a movie should look like.
Along with dealing with this they’ve had their struggle adjusting to the digital age. The way in which we are able to watch film and television has drastically changed in the last thirteen years as evidenced by the Netflix or other service streaming on your television, desktop, laptop, smartphone, or tablet.
This is no way a defense for the film industry as I’m sure they’re lobbying for the next version of CISPA and SOPA, a tactic to control the chaotic frontiers of the internet out of fear of piracy instead of adjusting to change. It does, however, help explain the rise of the franchise.
The first year of the 21st Century saw two film franchises begin based on very popular books. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings were both highly ambitious adaptations setting precedents with their production, presentation and box office sales.
Alongside this, the superhero franchises are just beginning their rise with the likes of X-Men and Spider-Man. The success of these films displayed you could establish franchises in genre fiction that wasn’t there before, as well as adapting what previous generations of Hollywood filmmakers deemed “unfilmable.”
So we have…
- Hit series of films based on a book and comic books in Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, X-Men, and Spider-Man.
- New technology in special effects including but not limited to CGI
- Economic turmoil increasing the cost of production of movies.
- Ease of access to information through innovation in higher speed internet and the rise of desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, and tablets.
All of this blended together leads to what we’ve seen in Hollywood the last thirteen years and beyond. Books and comic books to an extent have an established audience and likewise so do sequels. Why take a risk on an original script when adapting a series of books proven to sell on the New York Times Bestseller Lists is a much lower risk?
So here we are, watching our favorite books become movies step by step. With a few taps of the keyboard and a few clicks we know who bought the films rights, who is writing the script, who is directing, who is cast as the main character, what the costumes will look, what changes the story were made. Change is the keyword here, a common fear amongst everyone, not just exclusive to book adaptations either.
Here’s the thing fellow bibliophiles and regular readers, Movies will never be books and TV too. You all know the inner monologue is the first things to go when it comes to the adaptation, but it isn’t the last. With books, there is no limit to the imagination but with film and television there is nothing but limits that often are stretched much further than deemed possible by the filmmakers themselves.
Money, is, of course, the number one limit to the adaptation of a book. Everything has a financial limit and this often leads to sacrifices. Sacrifices that have a cost to the storytelling as well. There might be the technology to pull off that epic battle scene in your favorite novel, there might be the perfect actor who fits exactly what the protagonist looks like and sounds like, and there might be the perfect director who loves the script, loves the novel and always imagined bringing its world to life. None of these factors are free, though, there’s a reason writing novels isn’t called the novel business but making films is called the movie business.
None of these people are going to be free and sometimes sacrifices are going to have to be made in order to get one of these factors over another. You may have to settle for the second choice actor in the film in order to get the special effects budget you need or, on the other hand, you get the actor you wanted but that battle scene needs to be scaled down.
There are so many factors that could go wrong on a movie. In filmmaking you are lucky to get your movie made, for it to be any good, and then for it to be successful which is what an adaptation of a series needs in order to make books two through the final book.
These all difficult and daunting tasks that don’t necessarily happen for the majority of movies. Scripts get multiple writings and revisions by writers who are usually not the author of the original novel, all of with their own takes, voices, and perspectives that they are trying to convey through someone else’s story. There’s no guarantee that these writers are passionate about the novel they are transferring to film. The same goes for the director, the actors, the producers, and the studio distributing it.
My advice to readers? Let go. You can’t think of film or television version of the novel as the visualization of the novel. Corey Olsen, also known as The Tolkien Professor broke it down fairly for readers when discussing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on an episode of his podcast, Tolkien Chat 12: Adaptation and the Hobbit Movies when discussing film adaptations that you can apply to TV as well.
I’ve often said a movie is different from a book. The first thing you have to keep in mind when you are going to see a film adaptation of a book is you’re not going to see a book on screen and it’s not fair to evaluate the thing you are seeing as if it were simply a transposition of the book on screen. It’s not a translation. It’s an adaptation. It’s a retelling. This is another version of the story. This is not Tolkien. This is Peter Jackson’s retelling of Tolkien’s story on screen and those are two different thing. You have a different person telling the story and you have a different medium in which the story is being told.
Believe me, I understand. One of my favorite books is the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the film version failed to capture the satirical intelligence of Douglas Adams writing but these are not sacred text and as long as they keep making money Hollywood will continue adapting books to film. Your favorite book will still be there even if you don’t like the retelling of it in the film. The book was better,