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From Print to Screen

Industry News

(By Theresa Syn)


Think of any box office legacy – Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Twilight – and chances are, it was probably an adaptation from a book. But what’s there not to love? Watching characters from the pages of your favorite novel spring to life on the big screen and finally putting a face to that charming protagonist seems like any book buff’s dream come true. That is, until it doesn’t turn out the way you expect it.

Take The Hunger Games, the most anticipated film of 2012, following the success of Stephanie Collins’ best selling novel. The movie received positive reviews from film critics and achieved box office success by grossing $152.5 million in its opening weekend. However, some avid fans of the book lamented that the movie failed to explain the significance of various symbols in the novel (e.g. the mocking jay pin), which made some scenes in the movie lose their intended depth.

Jennifer Lawrence plays female lead character, Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games (Picture from: MTV)

However, viewers tend to forget that as much as a film tries to capture the true essence of the novel, changes are simply inevitable, because even the most advanced technology cannot match the power of one’s imagination when reading a book.

To counter this, some filmmakers take on adaptations that spin off from characters in books, rather than the plot of the novel. This allows the filmmaker to manipulate the story as he likes, without having to live up to the expectations of ardent book fans.

Take the Bourne film series for example. The movie takes the main character, Jason Bourne, a former CIA assassin with retrograde amnesia (created by author Robert Ludlum) and places him in original plots totally different from the original books. This was a bold move considering the series’ popularity. Fortunately for director Paul Greengrass, the Bourne series received both critical and commercial success, winning Academy awards for Best Film Editing and Sound Editing, while Bourne Supremacy and Bourne Ultimatum received the Empire Award for Best Film.

Character Jason Bourne is a hit in both print and film. (Picture from: MKV)

Then there are some film adaptations that didn’t just enrage fans, but made the authors wish they had never written the book. An example would be Anthony Burgess who wrote the 1962 novel, A Clockwork Orange, which was adapted into the film of the same name in 1971. He said, “The book I am best known for, or only known for, is a novel I am prepared to repudiate… The film made it easy for readers of the book to misunderstand what it was about (Burgess said the movie glorified sex and violence), and the misunderstanding will pursue me till I die. I should not have written the book because of this danger of misinterpretation.” (Mental floss)

A misunderstood novel: The Clockwork Orange (Picture from: Gold Derby)

This brings us to the question, how closely should a film adaptation follow the book? Should the filmmaker be accountable to the author of the book – the creator of the character – or their own artistic integrity? Megg from Author2Author thinks a filmmaker should have the freedom to adapt the movie the way they best see fit. “A movie is totally different art form from a book. So why do people expect them to be a direct visual translation of the written word? It simply isn’t possible,” she says, “Screenwriters have to make compromises. It’s the nature of adaption.”

Now, the question of commercial interests comes in to play – are film adaptations leveraging on the success and popularity of these best selling novels merely to gain box office success? Should filmmakers be given the authority and responsibility to produce something completely different under the already established name of someone else’s creation?

It is a never-ending debate and a very fine line that filmmakers have to tread when creating a film adaptation. Still, that is no reason not to try it out. Just make sure you have permission, and who knows? You might just make the author of the book proud.


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