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Books and Movies
zuko, dietotaku

Been reading The Hunger Games again, because everything I see from the movie makes me salivate. Possibly twitch. I don’t usually care that much about changes from movies to books, but I find myself following the trailers and things obsessively, because I find myself just wishing nothing will be different. There are bits and pieces of The Hunger Games I don’t like, of course (I’m looking at you, Gale), but for the most part, I think they’re brilliant. And if the director doesn’t pick up on some Occupy parallels in Catching Fire, he’s an idiot. These are popcorn movies, of course, but still. It ought to be staring them in the face.

Anyway, I would like to talk about why I don’t care that much about changes between movies and books.

Let’s be clear. Books are not perfect holy texts. They’re more like living things. Every person interacts with them differently. Different parts touch different people; different people envision different things. And everyone thinks some part of a book is completely essential and some part is complete crap. That’s just how it goes.

Movies are a little bit different. Only in good movies are you encouraged to fill in the gaps on your own. For the most part, everything is related directly to you. There might be ambiguity, but it’s not as much of a matter of personal interpretation as, say, the appearance of Hogwarts is.

Really good movies can make you think, but it’s not the same way a book might. Movies speak through color and editing choices; books speak through writing. It’s completely different.

And that’s why changes from books to films don’t matter that much. I mean, Chris Columbus’s first two Harry Potter films are almost the books verbatim, and they are the dullest things in the world. I can’t sit through Chamber of Secrets, even though that’s my favorite of the Young!Harry books. Goblet of Fire and Half-blood Prince take far greater liberties with the source material, but they use the medium in a much better way.

Another thing to consider is authorial vision versus directorial vision. A director has to put their own slant on the material; that’s the director’s job. They direct the look, feel, and tone of a movie. It’s awesome if their vision matches up with the author’s, but it doesn’t have to. Prisoner of Azkaban was extremely different from the book, but it had its own delightful look and feel. It would have made a terrible book (and you can argue that it’s a terrible adaptation of a book, although I wouldn’t), but it makes a great movie.

A director who’s just trying to do what the author would have wanted will not do a good job, because everyone has a different interpretation of what a book means. Once a book passes out of the hands of the author and her editor and into the real world, it stops being about what the author wants and starts being about what the readers see. A movie should be a director’s version of what he or she sees in the book, not their clumsy attempt at a universal version (because it will always be clumsy).

Third, some readers tend to think of books like they were downloaded directly from the Platonic ideal of that book. That’s not what writing a book is like. Even the best, cleanest author needs an editor’s help when they finish a book. It’s just how writing works. After a certain point in the editing process, you stop being able to have any perspective on your work and need someone else to help you. And that someone else might suggest radical changes. In fact, they probably should.

Like I said, books are living things. They have to grow and change, and you can hardly expect them to be squashed into another medium and keep their shape perfectly. It never works. 



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