When arts collide: Book vs. Film

Christine Dilworth explores the nature of translating literary narrative into the realm of film.

What is it about film adaptations that make them so popular and successful? Some of the most critically acclaimed and many Oscar winning performances have leapt from the pages of some of the most prized novels and short stories. Many ask how can such a personal and intimate art-form translate so well onto the big screen, to such an audience-orientated medium?

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Trainspotting, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Pride and Prejudice, Brokeback Mountain (Close Range), Schindler’s List (Schindler’s Arc), American Psycho, The Godfather, The English Patient and Fight Club, just to name a few, have all been adapted from writings.

Seems bizarre when many die-hard book worms (myself included) would testify that nothing can live up to the experience of leafing through a book page by page until finally completing the almost anti-climatic last few pages, sentences and words.

What is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of adaptations is the fact that the fans have no control over what content is included, and what is not. And in many cases the author of the original book doesn’t have a say. That is not to dismiss them as horrific films when some are good and even great films.

Take The Shawshank Redemption (1994) for example. On numerous occasions, it has been listed on countless ‘favourite film’ polls; however, many fans may not be aware that it is in fact adapted from a Novella by Stephen King called, “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” from his collection Different Seasons (1982). In fact three out of the four short stories in this collection became films; Stand by Me and Apt Pupil being the other two.

Even though the film did remain loyal to the plot it is striking how manipulative the medium of film can appear, as the original story is slightly distorted. Red, played by Morgan Freeman, was originally a red-haired Irishman in King’s vision. It is strange to imagine, given the eminence of the film. When adaptations become as successful as this one, which was nominated for an impressive seven Oscars, they seem to overpower the work of the original author. These Novellas by King are in fact considered amongst his most masterful works, but this is known by few.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) is one of the most critically acclaimed adaptations. Nominated for eight Oscars and winning three, including best adapted screenplay by Horton Foote, it is renowned worldwide. The original book written by Harper Lee was extremely controversial at its time of release due to the racial tensions that it realistically portrayed.

This realism translates magnificently onto the screen particularly through the Oscar-winning performance of Gregory Peck. The fact that the book is still studied today however means the film has not overshadowed the book. It is the book which has remained most famous.

To discuss more modern examples; first came The Lord of the Rings, then came Harry Potter and now it is the Twilight series which seems to be taking over the imaginations of all the fantasy-world fans out there. The Twilight films seem to be just as successful if not more so than the books. And when any Twilight fan, or ‘Twi-hard’ as they are called, is asked, the adaptations seem to meet the expectations.

They have become so enveloped in popular culture that when you ask, “Are you team Jacob or Edward?” almost everyone will know what you are talking about. Series such as these have become such money-making studio favourites that one can only wonder, what is the next series that will be adapted to screen and in the process become a money-making machine?

For some however the experience can never completely translate onto film. There is nothing, like in your own mind, imaging the characters, how they look, walk and talk. When books are adapted to film, that power is taken away and put into the hands of one or a few people. But, perhaps it is this realisation of their imaginations for some that attracts them to see these films.

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