No matter how much I love both books and movies, I’ve come to the conclusion that they can never truly love each other.
This is a rather disheartening realization, given the fact that at least 50 percent of all the movies coming out of Hollywood at the moment seem to be book adaptations (“The Girl on the Train” and “Middle School” this week alone). Not all of those adaptations will be bad, of course – “The Godfather” and the original “Jurassic Park” are both fantastic movies, in some ways outshining the books upon which they were based. Even in arguably successful adaptations, such as “The Lord of the Rings” movies, “The Princess Bride,” and “Gone Girl,” the two feel like fundamentally different creatures.
In a very real way, they are. In order to make an excellent novel into an excellent movie, you often have to change it to the point where it no longer feels very much like the novel. Streamlining is, of course, the most immediate necessity – as “Game of Thrones” has proven, the content of a single novel is enough to supply an entire season of a show, rather than just a novel. Those small, intimate scenes that may very well be your favorite parts of a story are often the first on the chopping block.
Secondly, the things that make an excellent book rarely if ever make an excellent movie. Books are more internal, bringing you directly into the heads of the characters and letting you experience their thoughts and feelings. In the Harry Potter series, for example, we felt every moment of worry, grief and hope as if we were right there with him.
Movies, however, are all about visuals. A good actor or actress can communicate a character’s feelings without a word, but that requires both an excellent performer and a director willing to let a quiet scene linger on meaningful looks and shifts in expression. Even then, those scenes are interspersed with grander visuals, whether they are beautiful, sweeping vistas or action scenes either great or small.
Out of necessity, even the exact same moment will feel differently between the two mediums. A movie can capture the swinging arc of a hand coming to slap another face, frame it in stillness so it comes across as a shock, where a book would focus on the emotions leading up to the hit and the aftermath that follows. Bringing a story from one medium to the other profoundly changes it, no matter how respectful the adaptor is. Even Gillian Flynn, who wrote both “Gone Girl” and the script for the movie adaptation, talked about how she had to reshape her story in the process.
Sometimes, that re-shaping is a blessing. Even those who don’t love the movie adaptation of “Forrest Gump” agree that the book is a vastly inferior muddle. “Hannibal,” though far from a perfect movie, fixed the absolute disaster of an ending author Thomas Harris forced on the novel.
Other times, however, even good adaptations can be a stab in the heart for book fans. Readers of “The Hunger Games” series still complain bitterly about how the movies largely jettisoned the books’ social commentary to focus on the love triangle, which is exactly the same things the villains did in the book. On a smaller level, Harry Potter fans will never forgive the “Goblet of Fire” movie for ignoring the word “calmly” when delivering one key line.
I will continue to love books, and I will continue to love movies. I will, at times, even love movies based on books. But I think it’s time I give up the dream of seeing the books I love breathed into full, complete life on the silver screen. The very nature of the two mediums makes it impossible.