Book-to-Film Adaptations

         Throughout the semester, we have studied classics of more modern literature and their subsequent adaptations into films. Most book-to-film adaptations are quite disappointing, especially if the book is well known and loved. I experienced my first disappointment with a book into film at the age of nine when Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park was made into a movie by Steven Spielberg in 1993. I had just read the book, and thought it probably the best ever written (dinosaurs to a prepubescent boy, c'mon). I went into the movie, thinking it would be exactly as it had appeared in my head. While the movie was good, and visually stunning, I was left feeling cheated. Whole characters from the book had been left out, whole sub-plots skipped over. The characters were cast all wrong, and the ages of the children had been reversed, changing them entirely.

         As I branched out from children's literature into adult fiction, which, more and more are being made into films, I found that it was common for the movie to be bad when directly compared to the movie. But I found that I could enjoy the movie more if I were to take it as a separate entity from the book entirely. The very medium in which movies are made; the time constraints, problems with certain effects, attempts to entertain audiences and not bore them to death all make films very different from books. If films are seen as such and if comparisons are not made, films can be appreciated all the more.

         Some film adaptations are more difficult than others. Early in the semester, we watched and read William Wyler's 1939 cinematic version of Emily Brontë's 1847 Wuthering Heights. The plot of the book covered many years and many different events, making it difficult to make a movie that is not too long but that also tells the whole story. The movie just took a chunk from the book and forgot about the rest, except for a few allusions. This detracted from the overall story. While I did not particularly like the Mexican version, Los Abismos de Pasion, directed by Luis Buñuel in 1954, any better, it at least tried harder to change the story so it could fit in the time and still tell a good story.

         I thought the best-book-to film adaptation in the class was William Wyler's 1949 cinematic treatment of Henry James's 1880 Washington Square, The Heiress (it does not seem fair to count the play to movie adaptations, as that is a far easier transition to make). The movie told the story essentially the same as the book, merely trimming the excess when necessary. I believe that when possible, this is what should be done with film adaptations. The last excellent book-to-film adaptation I saw was Frank Darabont's 1994 version of Stephen King's The Shawshank Redemption. Both media told the same story close to the same way, and both were excellent in their own right. As I said before, if this is impossible to do because of the limitations of film, then the story should be changed only in a way that keeps the spirit of the story, even if cuts must be made.

Nathan Beard

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