Hey everyone, Flobo here!
Now, some time ago we talked about adaptation, and how doing so could strengthen your skills as a writer. Of course indie authors like me (and presumably you) aren’t the only ones adapting things. Hollywood makes feature length films from anything they can get their hands on pretty regularly nowadays . There are movies based off of cartoons, comics, candy, board games, and television shows. However it’s the ones based from books that tend to be the most polarizing for fans of a particular franchise. You know the people I’m talking about. The folks that scoff at the first sight of a trailer of a movie based on a book and say:
“Harrumph, the book was much better!”
I USED to despise these people. I used to think it was understood that a film couldn’t possibly be a 100 per cent faithful adaptation of a book. There’s the issues of time for one, not to mention that films that follow way too closely to the book tend to be a drag (I’m looking at you Shutter Island). Knowing a film should stand on its own merits, one shouldn’t have to read the book to understand the flick, but rather the flick should encourage you to read up on the subject. You’d be surprised how many comic book fans starting reading Superman and Batman after checking out the movies.
Okay, so what changed? Well for me it was this book right here:
I got swept up in the “Da Vinci Code Hoopla” in the last decade and I’m proud to admit it. Never have a seen a fictional book be the center of so much controversy in my lifetime. Forget what you thought about the concept of Jesus having a royal blood line, the story was plausible enough to have those on the religious fringe to question their faith. (As I read more of Dan Brown’s books I realize this is pretty much one his best works – for better or worse). So anyway, I read this little ditty (and “read” the 16-hour unabridged audio book). When the film came out, I was first in line…
Long story short, I became the guy who had his nose in the air saying “the book was much better”. In this instance it wasn’t so much of the filmmakers cutting things out, it was the issue of simplifying things to the point of changing the property’s genre. As in, it went from being an action-adventure (or more accurately an adventure with action elements) to being a straight up action-thriller with puzzles. Those that know me know that I write prose as well as screenplays. I say this not to brag (as I am completely poor) but to illustrate that differences between the two media exist. You are allowed to embellish on everything from character’s backgrounds to the setting in a short story and novel. Your job as a writer there is to tell the reader everything you see fit. In movies, this flips. You can only describe what can be shown on the screen. A shot of an actor sitting down at a bus stop tells us nothing about the character’s childhood, and that’s a hurdle you are going to have to climb when writing a film piece. This is why things like flashback, voice over, awkward character conversations about childhoods, and exposition dumps populate poor screenplays. They are just ways to awkwardly throw the information at the audience that wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow if there were written in paragraph form.
Hmm, exposition dumps. Remind me to blog about that one day.
I guess looking back on the Da Vinci Code, I would argue it is a fairly decent adaptation. If you were truly interested in the way Robert Langdon (the protagonist) handled the clues you could read up the subject. The film also stands up on its own, flaws and all.
It’s just that the book was much better.