I know, I know; the promise to keep posting completely fell through. I am literally three days from my first exam (yet I am still on here, procrastinating and writing this…) so I have been putting myself on a kind of internet ban… not that it worked at all. Anyway, I’ve been reading less, hence the lack of reviews, but I’ve decided that I want to write about something that has been on my mind recently, namely television and film adaptations of the books we love.
I don’t watch a lot of films or TV dramas; those I do watch are usually adaptations of books, 95% of the time I had read before. Now, very rarely are these films like the books from which they are adapted. Does this ruin my enjoyment of the film? Does the accuracy of the adaptation take priority over any other aspect? My answer is a resounding no.
A lot of people, upon hearing that their favourite book is being adapted into a TV series or movie, get excited about seeing every element of the book transposed onto the screen, listening to the characters they pictured in their heads saying the lines they know inside and out, and getting a polished, accurate portrayal of how they imagined the story. I feel like for a few fans, a reality check is needed; this is never how it goes with adaptations. They are never perfect. There will always be things cut, changed and added, and it will not resemble exactly the image you had been imagining whilst reading. And I am fine with that.
Given the time and cost constraints of recording and the plausibility of creating something which is – in the case of many a fantasy and sci-fi -almost impossible to bring to life, I accept that things will not be exactly as they were in the book, and on the road to accepting and enjoying your adaptation, I think this is the first step. From lurking on the internet, I have seen many a fan’s reaction to their favourite book becoming a movie, and more often than not, it seems their demands or complaints are irrational, with requests being made for even the most irrelevant small details to be kept in. If you convince yourself from the beginning that these irrelevant details or overcomplicated scenes are going to be in the adaptation (especially if it is a film with a shorter run time than a TV show), then you are setting yourself up for a fall. For this reason, I always go into adaptations with the mentality that it does not have to be a carbon copy of the book, as it will not be. In a few cases, such as with the TV adaptation of ‘The 100’ by Kass Morgan, I know without watching it that the show bears no resemblance to the book, so I did a bit of research on the show. It is now that I have read about the plot of the show that I have come to the decision not to watch it; I loved the book series, but the TV show sounds nothing like it, and more like something I would not enjoy – not saying that it is bad, but the changes to the plot of the show do not appeal to me in any way. I am not going to watch it and complain about the lack of similarities, instead making the decision that I do not want to watch it, and I think that if, as a fan, you know the adaptation is not going to be like the book – and you are not prepared to look beyond that, or are not enamoured with the idea of changes – then maybe watching the adaptation is a no-go for you. As a fan, you have no obligation to see the adaptation if you don’t want to! Maybe we need reminding of that sometimes.
An aspect that crops up a lot when discussion adaptations is the casting. In particular, I am thinking of the ‘Shadowhunters’ casting, which is in the process of being announced at the moment (I might do a full post on my thoughts, I don’t know). I found, much to my dismay, that in an attempt to ‘keep things exactly as they are in the book’, many more fans than I would have expected to see have been what I would deem as racist. It is perfectly okay to have a set image of a character in your head, however the chances are the person cast is not going to match up to it. What shocked me was the amount of fans who were expressing negative views on the casting of Isaiah Mustafa as Luke, for no other reason than the fact he is black, and ‘Luke is not black’. I cannot recall a description of Luke that covered his skin colour, and if there was one, it was clearly so irrelevant that it did not stick in my mind, and did not influence the plot in any way, shape or form. Yes, I did picture Luke as white, but does that mean my idea of him has to be adhered to? No. From what I have seen, the actor seems to fit with the role, and they wouldn’t have cast him had he not convinced them he could play the character well. Race does not come into it. When it comes to casting, I think that quite a few people need to realise that the appearance of the characters very rarely has an effect on the plot and story progression, which is after all the most important element, so if an actor does not match up with your ideal, then remember that it is not the end of the world. And, most of all, do not be offensive or dismissive of them because of it.
So when I have decided that I do want to watch the adaptation, it has all been made and released, and I have found a way to watch (often once it is released on DVD; rarely do I go to the cinema), it comes to how I judge it. Personally, I judge adaptations completely individually from their books; I try not to have the book fresh in my mind when watching, as I do not want to get caught up on the details that were the same or different – I can reflect on that later. In the moment of watching it, all I care about is my enjoyment. There are film adaptations of some books I adore that were completely slammed in recent years because of how different some of the details were from the books, but that I tried to watch without thinking of the books, and I actually really loved. The first example of this is the ‘Mortal Instruments: City of Bones’ movie. So many fans hated the movie because ‘the characters did not look right’, ‘the end was different’ and ‘(insert aspect that did not actually affect the outcome here) was left out’. Firstly, the characters is always a subjective topic. Personally, with the exception of Jamie Campbell Bower, I liked the cast – yes they were older than the original characters, but that will always be the case. Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ villain did not resemble Valentine from the books, but from an enjoyment perspective, he was a very good villain, if not the one I was expecting, but that is okay. The difference at the end of the film – that could easily have been remedied at the beginning of a sequel, and created a better-rounded ending considering that the second film was not made after all (although they weren’t to know that at the time). The missing details, I feel I have talked about that enough. But once all of these things had been overcome, my friend and I, who were very excited yet slightly sceptical before watching, had a fantastic time watching it. No, cinematically it was not fantastic, but the content was coherent, enjoyable and (on the whole) well-acted. It was recognisable as the original idea, but had its differences, and these differences worked well to complement the original plot. While we were not surprised that it received such a bad reception, we did not agree with the criticism. Of course, as I said prior, it is entirely subjective, but we theorised that many people would not have found it as bad as they did, had they looked past the fact that it was not as ideal as the vision in their heads. The second adaptation I (and I alone, judging by the reception) enjoyed was ‘Vampire Academy’. I have only recently really gotten into the series, and at the time of watching the film, I had only read the first two books, which I did not enjoy as much at the time of reading as I do in hindsight. Now, this adaptation was perhaps a more drastic change than the ‘Mortal Instruments’ one; rather than having the edgy, sexy feel I associate with the books, it was very clear that chick-flicks were what the director does best. It felt very light and contemporary with many a ‘Twilight’ piss-take. In terms of direction and script, it could be pretty weak. However, approaching it as the chick-flick it was clearly trying to be, I actually found myself enjoying it. I liked the characters, who stayed relatively true to the book, and all of the aspects of the story I enjoyed in the book were present in the film. However, I accept that, in both of these cases, if I had not altered my viewpoint before watching, be it embracing a change of tone or accepting the plot and character changes, I would not have enjoyed these films half as much as I did. Therefore, I do think the key to enjoying an adaptation is being open to the twists the film-makers are putting on the original source. That’s not to say that you need to be okay with everything, or that you even need to accept these changes once you have seen the final product. However, I think that if fans went into these projects more open-minded there would be less of a sense of disappointment that follows every adaptation. Just because it is different, it doesn’t make it bad – try viewing it as an individual film and not as an extension of the book. You may find you are surprised.
My final point is thus; the book is not always better than the movie. Anyone who has read my other film based talks (on ‘The Hunger Games’ series) will know that I am a bigger fan of the films than the books. It has to be considered that some books do have content that works a lot better as a film, such as the tension in a murder mystery or thriller, or the aesthetics of the Districts and arenas in the aforementioned series. However, when it comes to ‘The Hunger Games’, I feel like the changes correct some of the parts I was not fond of in the books. In this example, the changes that many fans moan about actually gave me a greater appreciation for the series! I suppose the key point behind this paragraph is thus; fans, do not feel you always have to say the book is better! It is perfectly valid to enjoy the film more! Some fans, when discussing on the internet, will be reluctant to admit that they are a bigger fan of the film than the book, but I think that it’s better to present an opinion different to the norm – you certainly won’t be the only one who thinks it!
That pretty much rounds up the thoughts on adaptations that have been swirling around my mind. Of course, it is up to the individual how you judge an adaptation of your favourite book, but for me, it will always be largely unrelated to the book. Books are books and films are films; they are different forms of media and entertainment, and just because the basic story is the same, it does not mean they have to be identical. Both can be enjoyable in their own ways, and I think once that has been recognised, many book-to-films adaptations would see less criticism.