Bringing a Story to the Big Screen

†††††††† Adapting a piece of literature to the big screen is by no means an easy task. Some film makers tackle this task with relative easy, while others fail miserably at it. This has always been the case, and it will probably always be a fact as well. It is simply impossible to expect a film maker to cover every aspect of a novel (or other literary piece) while bringing it to life.

†††††††† A good example of a story that was brought to the big screen well is definitely the 1973 film version of Henry Ibsen's 1879 A Doll's House, starring Anthony Hopkins as Torvald. The theme was not twisted to fit some view, which was definitely the problem with the feminist-oriented movie version, starring Jane Fonda. In altering the movie in order to support the pro-feminism movement, the film makers thus lost its original meaning. On the other hand, the version with Hopkins stuck to the story and treated it much as if it were being acted out on stage. In fact, practically every scene and every line of the original play could be spotted in the movie. Obviously, this is the best way for a film to maintain the essence of the story of a literary work. However, it is not always practical to do so.

†††††††† There is a sort of reverse gradient that goes along with adapting a film. The longer a story is, the more difficult it becomes to adapt it. A Doll's House was short and therefore easy to adapt without changing or cutting out much. On the other hand, a longer story, such as Emily BrontŽís 1847 Wuthering Heights, is considerably harder to adapt.

†††††††† Like A Doll's House, two versions of Wuthering Heights were viewed in class as well: William Wyler's 1939 version by the same name and Luis BuŮuelís 1954 Spanish version renamed Los Asibmos de Passion. Ironically, the Spanish version, despite renaming the story and most of its characters to Spanish names, was considerably more accurate than Wyler's American version. Yet, neither fit the original novel perfectly, which one would expect due to the length of Brönte's story.

†††††††† Wyler treated the character Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) like a misunderstood and mistreated Casa Nova. This was far from the original character I envisioned while reading the novel. In the novel, he was more abusive and mean. There was absolutely no mention of the second generation of characters at all, either. Instead, Catherine (Merle Oberon) simply succumbs to her wasting fever and dies. The story then abruptly ends, leaving out a huge portion of the book without even the possibility of using the rest in a sequel.

†††††††† On the other hand, the Spanish version moved the setting from the moors of England to what seemed to be the outskirts of a town in a semi-desert setting. This was likely in order to maintain interest among the intended audience, and really it had little effect on the story's meaning. Catalina (Catherine) (Irasema Dilian) and Alejandro (Heathcliff) (Jorge Mistral) still had their special place in the semi-desert, just as they had had out in the moors. Alejandro is certainly more abusive, particularly toward his wife (Lilia Prado) and Catalina's brother, Ricardo (Hindley) (Luis Aceves Castenada). The second generation is mentioned in the Spanish version but altered a little bit. Catalina's brother has his son, whom he treats quite miserably (as was the case in the book). However, instead of a daughter, Catalina gives birth to a son. This is still at least a bit more appropriate than no child at all.

†††††††† A good example of a book to film adaptation gone horribly wrong would be Stephen Spielberg's 1993 version of the Michael Crichton book Jurrassic Park: The Lost World. The book was fairly long, so one would expect a few changes based on the reverse gradient mentioned before. However, there were certainly more than just "a few" changes made. Dr. Hammond's nephew was added into the movie to be an antagonist for the story trying to take over the doctor's company, InGen. The team went to the island to prevent Hammond's nephew from succeeding in taking InGen over, rather than simply being there to observe the dinosaurs. The only exceptions are Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), whose reason did stay the same--to save his girlfriend--and his daughter, who secretly tagged along with her dad. In the novel, a Tyrannosaurus rex mother and child were never brought back to San Francisco in the novel. In fact, there were so many differences between the novel and the movie that I cannot even list them all. Surprisingly, Spielberg nevertheless did manage to maintain the theme of Crichton's novel--which is, in a nutshell, that humans should protect rare species by not interfering or even being in contact with them. This is not to say that either the book or the movie was not enjoyable, but simply they seemed to be almost two completely different stories.

†††††††† There certainly seems to be a reverse gradient when it comes to adapting a literary work to the big screen. The longer a story is, the less like it a movie will be. Short plays, such as Henry Ibsen's A Doll's House, can be adapted perfectly. Some, like Emily Brönte's Wuthering Heights, get adapted fairly well or fairly poorly, depending on who is directing it. Still others, such as Spielberg's adaptation of Crichton's Lost World, simply change the story altogether. This goes to show that, along with the reverse gradient, the effectiveness of an adaptation also is depended upon the director of the film.

Brandon Hale

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