Turning a Book Into a Successful Movie or a Disaster

         Countless books have been made into movies. However, not all of these books have been adapted well. Every time a director attempts to make a movie out of a book, he or she takes a risk on whether audiences approve of his or her interpretation. On the other hand, audiences do not always realize how difficult it is to transform a book into a movie.

         Directors and film makers must consider many things when turning a book into a movie, such as length, importance of events, and whether there should be more information given during a particular scene.

         Many books that are made into movies are long novels or a series of books. If every event from a book is included in its film adaptation, the film may be several hours long. Film makers have to take into account that audiences do not want to spend all day in a movie theater . People tend to get bored if they have to sit too long, and most people have other things they have to do; so they just do not have the time. Therefore, directors and scriptwriters often cut out certain events in books to keep the length of a film adaptation short. For example, William Wyler's 1939 adaptation of Wuthering Heights, based on Emily Brontë's 1847 novel, completely leaves out the last third of the book. Wyler and scriptwriters Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur did not deem it necessary to show what happened to the children. The bulk of the story does not center on the children, however. Also, some books give a complete family history of the characters within the story, and some of the time the information is not vital to the story. Therefore, this information is usually left out of a film adaptation to save time.

         Another problem directors face when turning a book into a movie is capturing the feel of the book. It is not enough that film makers tell the same story. If they do not create the same feel, the film will be a failure. To create the same feel as the book, film makers need to pay attention to the time during which the story is being told, where the story takes place, and what is going on in the world during the time of the story. They also need to have a clear understanding of each character, regardless of whether they are part of the main story. They need to understand all of the characters' backgrounds and what they are about so the right actors can be cast for each role. Casting the right person for a particular role is very important because not every actor has the same look or acting style. I personally think Jane Fonda, who plays Nora in Joseph Losey's 1973 adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House (1879), fits the role much better than Claire Bloom, who stars in Patrick Garland's 1973 film version of A Doll's House. Fonda appears to be much younger, which helps with the idea of Nora being needy and immature. I also prefer Leslie Howard, who plays Higgins in Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard's 1938 adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion (1913) because he appears to be closer to Eliza's age than Rex Harrison's Higgins in My Fair Lady, directed by George Cukor in 1964 and also based on Shaw's Pygmalion.

         Having an understanding of the time a story takes place and what is going on in the world at that time allows the director to better understand how the characters think. A Doll's House is set in is a time when women were not allowed to handle a family's finances or even check the family mail. Women had to have the permission of their husbands or fathers. This made it very difficult for women to rise up in society. Nora realizes what society does not allow her to do, so she plays games and acts like a squirrel to get what she wants. Directors must understand the historical context of an adaptation's source material to accurately interpret a book.

         Wyler's Wuthering Heights does a wonderful job of dealing with all of these different factors to interpret Brontë's novel. The film makers considered the length and cut events and information that were not essential to the story. Actors, such as Laurence Olivier, Merle Oberon, David Niven, and Geraldine Fitzgerald, were chosen that fit each role both physically and in terms of talent. The film makers understood each character, such as Heathcliff, Cathy, Edgar, and Isabella, and knew exactly what each was about. The film's portrayal of the time period is accurate, including sets and costumes. Out of all the films we watched in this class, Wyler's Wuthering Heights does the best job of understanding its source material and adapting it to film.

Ashley Veigl

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