As I am in the later stages of preparing my first science fiction novel for release with my publisher, I just got the thought in my head suddenly for this post. Not that I immediately expect some mega-super-szed Hollywood movie adaptation of my book, but I did start to think about the issues that continue to arise with so many modern films adapted to the big screen from books.
Right now, this summer we are waiting for a number of highly anticipated movies such as Ender’s Game, a few months back there was the film of Cloud Atlas, and we have just seen a mixed reaction to the colossal budgeted movie version of World War Z from the acclaimed cult novel. In some ways it does seem that these huge movies are increasingly getting it wrong over and over-or are they?
Having come from a film studies/production background, I do certainly understand that film and the written word are two different forms of entertainment and artistic expression. You will not get everything across from a book right up onto the screen, that is a fact.
It gets very interesting however, in the changes between the two forms and artistic expression, the two mediums. Lets look at a number of previous classic (in their own ways) movie book adaptations-
In the last year or so we did finally get a film version of the much respected and influential Kerouac book On the Road, which seems to have worked in some ways, missed the ‘feel’ of the book in other ways,
further back, and very famously we have Blade Runner-many known that it comes from the Philip K Dick short novel ‘Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep…?’ which missed out a good chunk of the book, and kept things more gritty and serious. Even with that direction, Ridley Scott has put out several verions of the movie, some with and some without an added voice over. How well did Blade Runner succeed?
David Cronenberg made his own ‘interpretation’ of William Burrough’s novel Naked Lunch, often called unfilmable. He understood this, and so the film was a mixture of parts of Burrough’s own life and selected parts of the novel, which then became a new strange kind of tale onscreen.
Over the last century almost, there have been versions of classic works by Jules Vern and H.G.Wells adapted to screen, and many of these now very old movies are simply regarded as classics. The War of the Worlds, and 20,000 Leagues under the sea-are they seen as a kind of great only because many decades have passed since they were made?
The film version of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange by the great Stanley Kubrick was hugely controvertial on release in the seventies, a national outcry ensued, and the film was then banned, with help from Kubrick himself. But hold it alongside the original novel-is it a success, a failure or even better?
With that movie, Kubrick famously changed the end of the story, which is in some sense ambiguous. I wonder how the author Anthony Burgess felt about that? Some authors who see their books adapted to film are delighted, and then on occassion possibly depressed or seriously angry when their novel is changed, shortened, scenes and chapters cut or changed.
Some might say that Alfred Hitchcock might have been one of the best when adapting books to film. Often they were fairly unknown or cult novels but now those films are just so extremely well known and loved worldwide, films such as Psycho and The Birds.
The fantastic author/filmmaker/artist Clive Barker adapted his own short novella The Hellbound Heart into the film Hellraiser in the mid-eighties, which became a huge success. He then a couple of years later adapted another of his short novels, Cabal into the movie Nightbreed. This was a much more elaborated, epic horror fantasy tale, and it bombed terribly at the time of release in the very early 1990’s. There could be various reasons for this-mostly the studio did not understand Barker’s vision-but could it also be that he was an author adapting his own work to the big screen, and the challenge that could pose to his own point of view? (I will add, I do very much love and admire that movie and the novel. Right now, a new edited version-The Cabal Cut- is touring cinema, hopefully to be released by 2014)
We had a film version of the very influential cult horror novel ‘I Am Legend’ a few years back starring Will Smith. It was the second film adaptation, though some ways much more faithful, possibly due to advances in CGI, film effects and studio budgets. Did it work well? The first hour of less, to me is fantastic. So effective and emotional. After that-after the mutated people arrive, it does become less intense, to some degree but it continues on. It maybe could have been better, but I think it was still a very respectable verison of the novel.
We have Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein and Dracula-some many dozens and dozens of adaptations and versions of those classic novels brought to the big screen-some loved, some hated, some just bizarre. Does it matter how faithful some of those have been to the original source material? Those authors are long gone now, though some of their family may exist and own rights.
So if an author of a much loved novel dies, and a film adaptation is on the cards, should it happen? What the author never wished it to happen, or hated the idea? Does it come down to the fans or the family who perhaps want to sell the rights? What about respecting the original novel?
So do films ever get it right when adapting books to the screen? Yes, there are definately times this happens. It could be argued that Neil Jordan succeeded in making a great film version of Anne Rice’s Iinterview with the Vampire novel, kubrick again made 2001:A Space Odyssey-a truly fantastic movie with the author of the book, Arthur C Clarke. Although David Lynch gave us a version of the very popular sci-fi novel Dune, which attempted to cram in far too much into barely two hours and ended up simply cofusing the heck out of most who even dared to try to watch it, though Lynch actually took his own name off the film, as he was so upset and unhappy with how the studio were trying to have it edited and presented to audiences.
(I myself very much like the David Lynch and the ‘Alan Smythee’ versions of the Dune movie, and find it interesting to see the differences between them)
So should we perhaps simply accept that a film version of a loved book will just never make it to the screen in full as it is on the pages? Like the many film remakes continuously being pushed out-if you did love the original book, go read that. And often, if you liked the movie, go find out what the book was like. Keep reading and keep watching.