To Read or to Watch? That Is the Question

†††††††† Have you ever been in the middle of a movie when a person walks in and says, ďOh, the book was so much better?Ē Or, at the very least, have you heard someone make this comment? It seems this is a very common thought process for many people. I have even found myself feeling this way about film adaptations of books. You can rest easy, though, because there is a good explanation for this phenomenon. When directors and scriptwriters adapt a piece of literature to the big screen, they are faced with many difficulties. It is the purpose of this essay to examine some of the chief difficulties, such as time constraints, technology, and interpretations. In order to do this, the films A Dollís House, directed by Patrick Garland in 1973, and The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, directed by Peter Jackson in 2001, will be used for further insight.

†††††††† To begin, the first obstacle a director faces when creating a movie is time--perhaps the amount of time used to actually create the film is an issue, but more specifically how long the film will be. Essentially, the film makers are faced with the challenge of recreating source material so that it fits into a two- to three-hour time frame.

The second challenge in adapting films from literature is the availability of technology. Within a book, any kind of creature, world, architecture, or time period can be created. In a film, however, creating something like a seven-headed dragon with the body of a horse and the tail of a peacock could be quite difficult. Part of the reason for this is that such a creature does not exist. Another thing that makes this difficult is, even if the director does create it, will the audience buy it?

†††††††† The final challenge to examine is that of the film makersí interpretations of the book. In keeping with the seven-headed dragon example, the way one reader pictures the creature could be quite different from another readerís interpretation. This leads to the issue of whether the audience will buy the film version of this element of the story.

†††††††† Now that these issues have been examined, one may be wondering where some of these obvious obstacles can be seen. Two films that might shed some light on this issue are A Dollís House and the first installment in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Patrick Garlandís A Dollís House is a great adaptation of Henrik Ibsenís 1879 play. Fortunately, Garland was not faced with the issue of time constraints because of the short length of the source material. He was, however, challenged with technological difficulties as well as the problem of interpretation. For example, the setting of A Dollís House is set during the winter and some of the scenes are set outside. So while it may be actually snowing outside, inside a studio would be quite dry. If a scene calls for snow, then how is a director supposed to accomplish this? One way may be to pour a bunch of white confetti into a fan to create the illusion of snow. The other challenge is how the director interprets the novel or play. For example, the actors chosen for the film may or may not look like the characters described in the source material. If an actor does not portray one of the characters from the book well, it could be very distracting to the overall story. In Garlandís case, he does an excellent job of casting Anthony Hopkins as Torvald. For whatever reason, Hopkins does a great job of portraying this character and makes the film that much more believable.

†††††††† So why mention The Fellowship of the Rings film? To begin, it helps in examining the issue of time. The original work by J.R.R. Tolkien is very lengthy and intricate. How, then, is a director to take so much content and create a two- to three-hour film? In this case, Peter Jackson and his team of film makers chose to omit several things from the original story. For example, there is a whole time frame with involves two characters that play an important part in the book that are never seen in the film. This was probably a tough choice for the film makers, but they realized that this omission was necessary and that the overall story could still be told. Furthermore, it helps to look at this film when addressing the issue of technology. This is so because many of the scenes from Tolkienís The Lord of the Rings are very elaborate, and creatures like a seven-headed dragon lurk in the story. Fortunately, the film was made at a time wherein computers are capable of creating realistic depictions of such things. Perhaps it will not even be an issue in the future.

†††††††† Now, maybe the statement ďOh, the book was so much better than the movieĒ should be re-examined. After looking into this, I find saying this less and less. This is because I have come to understand that a book and a film, though an adaptation of the book, are two different things. It is like comparing a previous relationship to a current one. In a lot of ways, there will be similarities to the two relationships. The fact of the matter is, though, the previous and the current are two different things. With this in mind, it should stand to reason that each should be looked at for their own strengths and weaknesses. If one lumps them into one category, one might miss some of the most exciting parts.

John Luttrell

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