Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Books on Film

Man, the blog title got that old Duran Duran song "Girls On Film" in my head. Oh 80s music, I love you. Anyway...

Sunday afternoon my friend Jenny and I went to see The Lovely Bones. We both had just read the book so it was fresh in our minds and we were eager to see how it would be interpreted on film. The answer? Loosely.

I really enjoyed the book. I went into it thinking it was about a girl trying to help her father solve her murder from the beyond. I got this impression from vague memories of people discussing it years ago when it came out (it was one of those books I kept meaning to check out at the time, but I was in grad school and had lots of assigned reading occupying my time) and then the commercial for the movie which revived my interest in reading it and pushed it to the top of the TBR pile because since I usually prefer books to movies, I like to read the books first. I found that the book was so much more than that. It was more like a study of how people respond to grief and rebuild their lives over the years after a violent and sudden loss. This is a subject that definitely interests me. I'm still grappling with recent deaths myself. I don't want to get too spoilery so I'll just say how much I loved how the many different characters were developed so fully (as that is something I work hard on myself) and I was impressed by the wide scope of the story.

And I really wondered how the hell they were going to recreate that in a movie. This was something Jenny and I chatted about on our way to the theater, specifically wondering how they would age the younger characters over a ten year period. We also wondered how they would deal with the ending since it wasn't a Hollywood ending by any means. I expressed that I felt the ending in the book fell short emotionally for me... just a little bit. If you've read my books, you know I don't like the Hollywood ending or to have all the loose ends tied up. And while I got most of the emotional closure I needed, something felt missing.

So Jenny and I sat down for the movie. We thought it was going to be nearly empty since it was Superbowl Sunday, but I guess there were a bunch of women who had the same idea as us--let's catch the chick flick with our friend while everyone else is focused on getting ready for the big game. Unfortunately there was a group of elderly women right near us who talked for a few minutes as the movie started until everyone in the theater was shushing them. They also made that awful obvious commentary throughout, like "Don't go in there! Oh no, she's gonna go in there..." Ugh. I'll probably have to see the movie again at some point just to see it without that obnoxious soundtrack. And I also think I need to see it without thinking so much about the book.

I could tell pretty much right away that they were going to make changes. When they stated the age of one of the characters (Susie's love interest, making him older than her, not the same age), I knew they wouldn't be doing the whole ten year time span thing. That's okay, I told myself. It would be hard to do in a movie anyway. But the problem was I kept waiting for certain parts that I'd loved from the book to show up... and then they wouldn't. Much of what they chose to cut was the stuff I loved the most, the stuff that showed how the characters developed and changed after the narrator died. Jenny and I felt that the mother in particular was overlooked. (My mother's response to that: was a man producing it? Um yeah actually.) The other thing that bugged me was they completely changed Susie's heaven into something that could be visually spectacular, ie good for the movie and full of special effects etc. I thought the heaven that Alice Sebold gave Susie was perfect: it involved the things in life she missed the most, like the high school she would never get to attend. It was another thing I'd really loved about the book.

So those were the main two things that bothered me. Some of the time compression was to be expected, but fewer over the top visuals and more of a focus on developing the supporting characters would have been appreciated. However, Jenny and I both loved the ending. They didn't change it from the book, but they did actually make it better. Something about it being visual gave it the emotional oomph that I felt it was lacking in the book. It makes me wonder if an extra line or two of description in the book would have made it more powerful. Not that I'm going to be critical. I know how damn hard endings are to write!

Anyway I will watch the movie again at some point and try to see if I can separate it from the book and judge it solely that way, though I don't know if I can. I think I'm kind of a stickler for staying close to the original text. Obviously a 2 hour film equals 120 pages and books are much longer than that, but the most important scenes need to be chosen. I feel like the Harry Potter books have been translated to film quite well. And, as I was discussing with my mom since Shutter Island is about to come out, Clint Eastwood did an amazing job with Dennis Lehane's novel Mystic River. That, to me, was about as perfect an adaptation as you could get. I was about to say that maybe only genre fiction translates to the screen well, but Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting is another book that worked very well on the big screen.

Yeah, I guess being both a writer and an avid reader makes me insanely picky when it comes to adaptations. I took a semester of film courses about adaptation and one of things that I will always remember is my professor saying, "Shitty books make the best movies, working with a good book is really hard." In those courses I learned a lot about the business of film but also about the art of adaptation. It's not an art I'd trust myself at. People ask me if I'd like to see my books made into movies, and my answer is yes, absolutely. I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, I think would make a good film in particular (though I hope this doesn't mean it's a shitty book, pls no mean comments that it is, I totally opened myself up for that...) and a friend of mine from college is in the early stages of trying to make that happen. Both she and other people have asked me, well, would you want to adapt it? And my answer to that is no, absolutely not. Because adaptation means re-envisioning. My books are written exactly the way I envisioned them. I couldn't make the necessary cuts and changes and I couldn't reinterpret it for that medium. I can only hope that one day I'll be in the position where I can see someone else's interpretation of my story on screen... well, maybe... I can imagine that it might be like my Lovely Bones experience times a million trying to watch that...

Anyway, where do you stand with books on film? Are you often disappointed or usually pleased? What was your favorite adaptation? Your biggest disappointment? And what would you love to see on the big screen? (For me, it's Wicked Lovely.... I know there has been a deal so I really really hope that one gets made and fast! Though it's so dear to me, I will be grumpy if it is done wrong.)


John K said...

It really depends on the book. Catch 22 was a great transition even though they left alot out, but it didn't feel like anything was left out. Fight Club and American Psycho are the best book-movie transitions I've ever seen. Same for Holes. Holes was a good transition.
Then theres the transitions that are still good movies on their own, but not good adaption. Like Speak and Girl Interrupted. In speak (book) theres a lot of smartass-ness and humor that doesn't come through in Speak (movie.) Girl Interrupted is one of the funniest books I've ever read and the movie transition is melodramatic and nowhere near funny at all, but it's still a good movie.
Joey Ramones would make a great movie, but they might have to change up whos telling the story ie: If they did it in a rockumentery style, it would give Emily a place to be telling the story from, but it might screw up the continuality to other parts.
I like book to movie transitions, but, like anyone, I don't like shitty ones. I would like it better to see a four hour movie of a book where nothing is left out, but i'm pretty sure i'm the only one who can sit through a four hour movie with out getting bored.

Andrea F. said...

I have learned I need to keep books and movies separate. Especially since I read a lot of comics and you just can't stay 100% true to those. That way I'm usually pleased.

My biggest disappointment was Queen of the Damned. I'm a HUGE fan of Anne Rice and the movie was slaughtered. Major characters and events were left out, characteristics were changed. Even the appearance of the characters were wrong. Ugh. Horrible. I cry inside when I compare it to the book. However, not comparing the movie to the book - it wasn't that bad. I actually own it. However, the first movie Interview with the Vampire was very close to the book. There were some changes, but nothing too major. This might be my favorite adaption.

I was somewhat disappointed and kind of not with the adaption of Stephen King's Secret Window. They changed the entire ending and the deal with Shooter. I got back and forth with this one a lot. I'd still watch it again though, haha.

I liked the adaption of K-PAX. I read the book months after I saw the movie, but from what I remember it was pretty spot on. The book just swayed me a different way than the movie did since it had a few more scenes.

I'm going to the library soon to pick up Shutter Island. I'm not a huge fan of DiCaprio; so I kind of want to see if the plot makes up for that. That way I won't be upset if I decide to see it in theaters.

What I really want to see on the big screen is Anne Rice's Memnoch the Devil - the fifth of her vampire novels. It's my favorite one. I'd really love to see how they portray all the...paranormal things going on. But they'd need to do the other books before that for the movie to make sense. I'd also like to see the Book Thief, but I don't see how they could have Death as the narrator. If they leave him out the movie would be ruined.

Liviania said...

Adaptation is the best of the lot. ^_^ I love Charlie Kaufman's scripts, and it's an excellent, post-modern way to deal with the issue of adapting a book.

I think film adaptations work best when they try to find something new in the text. For instance, Fight Club and Secret Window (both already mentioned) changed the ending, which emphasized different aspects of the story. Forest Gump changed the tone. Romeo + Juliet changed the setting and costuming, but kept the language. If the movie changes one big thing, it can explore different ground from the book while still being based on it. I find that much more satisfying than a straight adaptation.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

You guys all gave me a lot to think about! And I love all of your picks!