From Page to Screen

After recent statistics have estimated that a third of all films have been adapted from novels Alice Kelly takes a look at the relationship between the two mediums. [br]WORKS of literature have been adapted for the silver screen since the dawn of the film industry as the crossover between these mediums serves to benefit both forms. Just as a cinematic adaptation of a bestseller brings avid readers to the movie theatre, an impressive film can encourage fans to return to its source. Adaptations are also an experiment in form: filmmakers are faced with the unique challenge of translating a literary world to the screen.However, it is popular opinion that film adaptations never live up to the expectations of readers, as anyone of the Twilight generation will know all too well. Readers often leave the cinema with their tongues churning out the usual phrases “but that didn’t happen in the book” or “they left out the part where…” Thus, while film adaptations do generate more readership for the author, book-to-film cinema is most often an arena for disappointed readers.Filmmakers adapting a novel don’t have the luxury of inventing their imagined world on the big screen as readers come to the movie with expectations formed by their own imaginations. While production companies are attracted by the financial benefit of a ready-made fan base, the onus falls on scriptwriters and directors to take on the impossible task of fully satisfying an audience that has often created their own vision before the opening credits begin.There are also constraints faced by filmmakers that authors don’t struggle with. Practicalities such as budget, location, and casting may cause a shift away from the original details of a book.Time constraints force films to move faster as they lack the space a book has to be richer and more detailed. This often causes films to fit more rigidly into a single genre structure that a book might transcend. The action of a novel is presented on screen in the absence of the complex emotion that drives this plot.
"The problem of faithfulness lies at the heart of the debate as to whether great books can make great films."
An obvious example of this is the 2012 phenomenon The Hunger Games. The film hit all the expected action plot points of Suzanne Collin’s novel, which itself was presented almost like a cinematic blueprint, but only barely touches on Katniss’ complex relationships and thoughts.This omission stems from film’s inability to fully convey the internal monologue of a book. Filmmakers have experimented with a variety of ways to bring these nuances across, from Edward Norton’s voice over in Fight Club to the “things left unsaid” style of Gone Girl. Internal monologue is almost impossible to accurately convey on-screen but its exclusion often causes the downfall for a book to film adaptation.The problem of faithfulness lies at the heart of the debate as to whether great books can make great films. Generally speaking the more the film remains devoted to the book, the more satisfied the readers will be. However, does this strip filmmakers of their creative integrity? Faithful adaptation compromises imagination as filmmakers seek only to please the original readership rather than reaching any form of creative expression.A thoroughly faithful adaptation must also succeed in operating without the element of surprise, in conveying all the familiar plotlines with no unexpected additions. Filmmakers often risk offering nothing new to those familiar with the plot.Of course, the element of surprise is not always welcome in adaptations as many books are glossed over with a familiar Hollywood sheen when content deemed not commercial is pigeonholed to appeal to a broader audience. Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard's happily-ever-after kiss at the end of Breakfast At Tiffany’s is a far cry from the ambiguous and thought-provoking ending to Truman Capote’s novella, as popular films often forbid the audience from leaving the theatre feeling anything but sheer joy.
“Daniel Handler has said, 'telling an author their book would make a great movie remains the highest form of cultural currency."
Filmmakers must grapple with the emotional investment of readers in order to satisfy their expectations whilst creating a film that stands alone as its own art piece. There is much dispute as to what films, if any, have achieved this.Martin Scorsese’s expert handling of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence is a prime example of a near perfect adaptation, both faithful and expressive. Scorsese’s signature brutal tribalism is unmistakable within Wharton’s passionate narrative.Despite the many film versions of young adult dystopian fiction, a more recent “go-to” example of successful adaptation comes in the form of the 2007 film of Ian McEwan’s Atonement. Joe Wright achieved the impossible act of a cinematic reinterpretation of a novel that is primarily dedicated to page-spanning paragraphs and swooning internal monologue. The same emotions are presented through snappy editing and evocative music proving literary devices can have corresponding cinematic ones.Scorsese and Wright pull off the much-attempted book to film adaptation by neither committing themselves entirely to the book nor disregarding it completely. Instead, they expertly choose what they want to emphasize from the book and what new content they want to put forward and, most significantly, how these two elements intertwine, all while remaining faithful to the spirit of the book.The best adaptations should be viewed as separate art forms, relatives rather than two halves of the same whole. Just as the filmmaker must accept the opinions of the reader, readers must attempt to understand the choices of the filmmaker in order for the adaptation to work.If nothing else, the crossover of these two art forms at least allows for an experiment in form and interesting critical debate. Undeniably, the two mediums benefit each other, as A Series of Unfortunate Events author Daniel Handler has said; “telling an author their book would make a great movie remains the highest form of cultural currency.”