There Ought to Be a Law

         There have been many attempts by film makers to adapt books to film. Some film makers have done so successfully, but more have failed. Film makers usually make changes from the original work that cause serious damage to the story. Film makers cannot always keep adaptations close to the source material for a variety of reasons.

         One of the reasons may be the length of the work. Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, published in 1847, is an excellent example of such a situation. William Wyler's 1939 film adaptation leaves out much of the characters' childhoods and their children's lives. Wuthering Heights would make a better mini-series than a movie. By leaving out these parts of the plot, the film makers take away from Brontë's story and its characters. The missing scenes help to develop the characters in the book. The audience would be able to understand the characters better with more insight into their pasts and futures.

         Another reason film adaptations may fail is because they may not show emotions and thoughts as well as in novels. Reading Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind, one can better understand Scarlett's attitude toward Rhett. The novel allows one to see the gradual transition of Scarlett's opinions and feelings toward Rhett. In the 1939 film directed by Victor Fleming, it seems as though Scarlett (Vivien Leigh) has a sudden epiphany that she loves Rhett (Clark Gable). This take away from the heartache of the situation.

         Characters are often left out of film adaptations. This aspect also takes away from a story. When an audience witnesses the behavior of one character toward another, they receive more of an impression of the characters. For example, in Wyler's Wuthering Heights, the son of Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier), the daughter of Catherine (Merle Oberon), and Catherine's nephew are all left out. The book's depiction of Heathcliff's treatment toward these children adds to his coldness and reveals a more heartless persona. In the film version of Gone With the Wind, two of Scarlett's children are left out. Her transition from a cold, distant mother to a more attentive one is cut out as well. This steals the audience's ability to see her in a different perspective.

         One of the few times I have witnessed a film adaptation that leaves out scenes from its source material yet does not take away from the story is Robert Z. Leonard's 1940 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier. Jane Austen's 1813 novel consists of many conversations between characters, but the film makers are able to remove much of the novel's dialogue without taking away from the story or the characters.

         Some books are written too well to be adapted to film. The Harry Potter series is an excellent example. The film makers do a decent job on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), both directed by Chris Columbus, but do not capture all the magic and descriptions put into the books. The characters and locations in the novels do not always match up to readers' imaginations.

         The third Harry Potter film, The Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), is the least successful of the three. The book is more of an intellectual mystery, with no big fight scenes like in the first two. Because of this, the film is not as exciting or intense as the novel. The director, Alfonso Cuarón, tries to make the film look more modern than the previous films, and this takes away from the art and descriptions in the book.

         Although films are more popular than books and can reach more people, I believe film makers should not adapt books to film. People think, "Why read a book when I can watch the movie?" Films take away from the author's original creation. Stopping these adaptations may get more people to read and improve the intelligence of the people in our nation. I am somewhat of a hypocrite because I sometimes enjoy film adaptations, but I usually enjoy the books more.

Brittany Fentress

Table of Contents