Adaptation, Part 2

Adaptation, Part 2

In the previous article, I talked about the four different kind of book-to-film adaptations.  Before I discuss how I think my books would look on film, I probably ought to look at some good (and bad) adaptations of books I’m familiar with.

I already touched on “The Hobbit” in the previous article.  I think it’s a good movie, but a very poor adaptation of the book, because it fundamentally isn’t even trying to tell the same story as the book.  And, unlike some books that would seem to be “unfilmable”, “The Hobbit” would work perfectly well if more faithfully adapted.

Peter Jackson was a lot more faithful in adapting the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Yes, there were changes (some of them pretty big), but he kept a sharp focus on the most important elements of the story and the tone.  While you or I may not agree with every choice he made (if you asked 100 fans of the books how to translate them into film, you’d get 100 different versions), you can clearly see why pretty much every choice was made, and pretty much every choice is defensible.

How about another favorite novel of mine?  Frank Herbert’s “Dune” has been adapted twice.  First by David Lynch in the 1980’s, and then by the SciFi Channel as a six-hour miniseries.  The SciFi version is just about as faithful to the book as any adaptation could reasonably be.  Yes, there are some changes, notably the addition of scenes on Kaitan, and the increased role for Princess irulan.  But there’s a logic to them, and in general, the miniseries sticks very close to the book in both tone and timeline.

Lynch’s version strays quite a bit more.  Some of the changes are intended to take difficult concepts from the books and make them visual (the “weirding modules”, etc), and some of them are the sort of excesses you have to expect with David Lynch (the depiction of Baron Harkonnen).  Lynch tries really hard, and the film is both visually stunning and well-acted by a fantastic cast, but all-in-all, it just doesn’t work.  Part of that is the length; the miniseries has twice as much time to tell the story, which makes a huge difference with such a long and complex book.

What makes an adaptation good?  To me, the biggest thing is to capture the “heart” of the book – to understand what story the author was trying to tell, and to tell that same story as closely as possible on film, with as much of the tone and feel of the book as you can.  That does not mean keeping things word-for word; in my opinion, the best of the Harry Potter films is “Prisoner of Azkaban”, which is, in some ways, the least faithful to the books in terms of the story details.  But it captures the heart of the story better than the first two movies, and despite the many changes in details, it’s closer to the books than the subsequent films, even though they superficially adhere closer to the books.

Of my four types of adaptation, I think that a happy medium of the first two approaches is best.  Keep to the details of the book wherever you can (fans of the book will be looking for their favorite scenes and moments), and if you must make changes, keep the heart of the story in mind.

I rambled on a bit, so I’ll save my thoughts about my books for the next article…

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3 Replies to “Adaptation, Part 2”

  1. I like your analysis of different types of adaptations and your examples. I’ve also enjoyed both versions of Dune, for different reasons, and while the Harry Potter and Middle Earth movies have been enjoyable, they have strayed considerably from the source material.

    I hope you’ll get the chance to see your books adapted to live action!

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