Like a lot of folks of my generation, I am a voracious consumer of media. I’m a fan of a lot of things, many of them eclectic, from mainstream to obscure, across a variety of forms of entertainment, from books to film, stage plays to video games, comics to television, I have a strong appreciation for storytelling, as a writer and a consumer. A few weeks ago I started thinking about adaptations.
Adaptations are a huge part of the modern landscape of entertainment and have been in the DNA of filmmaking for over a century. It’s something that’s expected and is occasionally derided alongside sequels by the movie-going public. Everyone’s familiar with the old cliché of, “The book was better,” attached to any and every adapted film, regardless of quality. There’s plenty of push-back to that notion, too; I’m seeing more and more film enthusiasts holding up movies as the art they are.
This blog isn’t about which form is better. The art of adaptation is just that: an art, which accomplishes the creative alchemy of producing an independent piece of media that can both be a supplement of the original work and stand on its own as a separate entity with its own context completely removed from the original. Not all results are good, of course; there are duds on either side of the fence in adaptations, but books are not better than movies or vice versa. They are fundamentally different ways to tell a story.
At the heart of that difference is that process of transmogriphying a piece of art from one form of entertainment to another, and in this blog I’ll be talking about that process as it applies to one specific book and film, the necessary changes to translate it across platforms, where it works and where it fails, and what can be learned from it as a writer.
Before we get started, let’s set some expectations. We’ll start with reviews of the book and film as separate works, the good and the bad, and establish some working ideas about each piece on their own. Then we’ll get into both in the context of each other: the divergences between each—both the necessary and unnecessary—how each version informs the other for the better or worse, and how the differences inherent in the mediums play a part in those changes. Then we’ll wrap things up by looking at what sort of lessons can be learned from the adaptation as a writer, not necessarily from the perspective of how to go about adapting something, but when writing our own stories.
Last but not least before we start, this blog will contain spoilers. There is too much of a need to focus on nitty-gritty details to try and write something like this “spoiler free.” This is also your warning that this blog is very long. I’ve broken it up into sections and each section isn’t tremendously lengthy (around two thousand words or less), but it adds up to around eight thousand words altogether.
Alright, enough warnings, let’s get started.