Movie Adaptations

I like viewing the movie adaptations of the novels I have enjoyed. Everyone agrees that the movie version no matter how good is never as good as the book, yet the movie adaptation can be very good of its kind.  Movie-making and novel-writing are distinct art forms. It may take upwards of eight hours to read a book and two hours to watch a movie. The screenwriter has to coalesce the essence of a novel into a 150-page film script.  The general measure is that one page of script equals one minute of footage. The artistry of the film maker transfers into cinematography the essence of a book that may be 400 pages long. In so doing, a variant on the theme is produced but not the total vision of a novel. Something new is born. The novel inspired the film but obviously is not its visual incarnation because it is impossible in the time frame of a motion picture to capture every dramatic scene.  So it isn’t surprising that readers are often disappointed with the film adaptation.

When Gabriel García Márquez was asked in a 1981 Paris Review interview whether he thought a novel could be successfully adapted to the film, he responded: “I can’t think of any one film that improved on a good novel, but I can think of many good films that came from very bad novels.”

Because the film and a novel are different genres, I try to read the book before I ever see the movie. The very process of writing a script for a film adaptation in itself is a separate art form–the first step the book’s realization on the screen. I prefer to visualize first how I see characters in my mind’s eye rather than how some director visualizes the characters, action and scenes.  The dearth of dialogue in modern America film annoys me.  Foreign filmmakers do a better job with dialogue while Americans seem to focus on cinematography, using facial expression and body language to capture character. One of the best films I have ever seen is The Piano because Jane Campion wrote the script and directed the film. It is a rare film that sticks in my mind so long and poignantly as this one does. I have watched it more than a few times.  In your mind what are the memorable movies of all times? Are they adaptations or original film scripts?


4 responses to this post.

  1. I’m sometimes unaware of whether a movie is original or an adaptation, but I’ve often been disgusted with a movie even before knowing about the book or reading it. I didn’t like The English Patient very much and had more reason to dislike it after reading the book. Some adaptations are just travesties. I was happy with Sense and Sensibility because it was true to the spirit of Austen’s book and to the characters. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was superior, in many ways, to the book. Most movies that stick with me are originals, like Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, but one of my all-time favorites is Copenhagen, an adaptation of a stage play.


  2. This is a truly rich topic Olivia. Thank you for writing about it. I find it interesting that the novel and photography can be thought of as 19th century siblings. I would like to learn more about the relationship of the novel to photography (both historically and theoretically). Likewise I wonder if there is a connection between the novel and film via photography- is photography somehow a connector between the two in terms of popular technologies of art- all three are art forms of mass production and consumption. I was also thinking about the serialization of novels in Victorian culture. It echos the coming of the serial films of the 1910’s and 1920’s and this perhaps echos the coming of the television series. I enjoy thinking about these topics as a sort of evolution of art/mimetic structures. Keep up these terrific topics. They always capture my interest in the questions they pose, in the insights they offer.


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