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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Discussing Published Hooks & Books » A Loss in Transition?

   
Author Topic: A Loss in Transition?
Crystal Stevens
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The Ender's thread in "Grist for the Mill" made me think of how some movies don't have the impact of the book even when they're faithful to the book. Two movies came to mind that I've seen in the past year:

The first was "Water for Elephants". I talked with Sara Gruen (the author) shortly after this book was released and waited several years before reading it. The book was incredible, and I couldn't wait to see it on the screen. The movie adaptation stayed true to the book, but unless you'd read the book little things mentioned in the movie most viewers would totally miss the significance brought out in the book. I think a lot has to do with the transition to the screen. It was just too hard to show why these little snippets in the book added so much.

The other was "Deathly Hollow Part 2". I thoroughly enjoyed both movies and had no problem following what was going on. But my cousin got lost when watching Part 2. Now my cousin is sharp at following story plots and picking things out. We have fun disecting movies and books on occasion. The only difference was I'd read the book. Again, I believe some details and/or vital parts of the story just didn't come across with enough impact on the screen.

All this makes me wonder if I've watched movies with similar problems and thought the movie mediocre or even terrible when I missed something vital brought out in the book version that I never read. Sure makes you wonder.

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JenniferHicks
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I went to see "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" this afternoon with two people who haven't read the book. I have read it. For me, the movie is both true to the book and characters and also fantastic in its own right. There were a couple of big omissions and one major plot change, but it worked. My companions who didn't know what to expect were shocked by the brutality but both agreed the movie was very well done.
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LDWriter2
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I think Crystal has a point.

I haven't seen any of those movies nor read the books but I have seen movies where things were lost in transition. Sometimes it doesn't have the impact, partly because we can't get into the characters hearts like we can in a book.

Hmm, "Andromeda Strain" might be one. I think the section that is a flashforward where they figure out why the alarm didn't sound, was more confusing in the movie. At least it took me a few seconds to figure out what was going on. The same where they said that they had missiles trained on the helicopter when it first went in.

It's the nature of the beast one might say that sometimes things don't work so well on screen as it does written down.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Find copies of William Goldman's two books: ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE and WHICH LIE DID I TELL? MORE ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE. He wrote THE PRINCESS BRIDE and the screenplay for BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, among other scripts, and he has very interesting things to say about how a screenwriter turns a book into a movie.
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Robert Nowall
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You're bound to get difference between source material (book) and revisionist entertainment (movie). Since movies have to "show, not tell," things that are told in a book must be changed to be shown or omitted altogether. And the somewhat limited time frame (say, two hours on the average) means some things must be sacrificed just to save time.

I immensely enjoyed Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings, and felt most of the changes were along the lines of "show, not tell." A lot was moved and changed around...dialog was transfered from one character to another...incidents were added...whole sections (Tom Bombadil, Glorfindel, Ghan-buri-Ghan, the Scouring of the Shire) were omitted altogether. But I felt the only major botch of the whole thing was in the character of Aragorn.

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Crystal Stevens
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quote:
Originally posted by Robert Nowall:
You're bound to get difference between source material (book) and revisionist entertainment (movie). Since movies have to "show, not tell," things that are told in a book must be changed to be shown or omitted altogether. And the somewhat limited time frame (say, two hours on the average) means some things must be sacrificed just to save time.

Oh I quite agree, but sometimes it makes it hard to follow what's going on in the movie... like I explained when my cousin watched DH2 and hadn't read the book when I had. I'm sure I would've felt the same way if I hadn't read the book.

It's just a shame that the movie time frame, and how it transfers to the screen, can really take away from the quality of how the story was originally meant to be... as in print.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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This is why I recommend Goldman's books. He talks quite a lot about the problem of transferring the story from the book into a movie.
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Robert Nowall
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There's another side to it...the David Lynch (I think) version of Dune was completely unintelligible unless the moviegoer actually read the book. That makes that movie a failed experiment, unlike The Lord of the Rings movie, where you could understand what went on without having read the book (I am assured of this by several people who didn't read the book until after they saw the movie), and which, also, by and large, kept Tolkien's ideas and themes intact.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I totally agree on Lynch's DUNE (haven't seen any other versions). I read and loved the book when it first came out, and reread it after seeing the movie. Even though it had been years, I knew what was going on, but I had to explain everything to my husband as we watched it, because he hadn't read the book.

So, what about 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY? I found that it really helped to not only have read the short story before seeing that movie, but it also helped to have read a whole bunch of reviews and commentary. Without that, the movie was just a "trip."

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redux
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One of the most painful transitions from book to "film" was Sci Fi Channel's adaptation of Ursula K. Le Guin's EARTHSEA. I felt like the producers and scriptwriters didn't bother truly reading the books and simply thought it was some sort of Harry Potter but on islands.

One of the better book-to-film adaptations I've seen is the ITV/BBC SHARPE series based on the books by Bernard Cornwell. Some changes were made, but they are unmistakably Sharpe's adventures.

It might be a matter of personal preference, but I find that most anything the BBC adapts tends to be more faithful than any Hollywood movie based on a book.

[ January 02, 2012, 11:09 PM: Message edited by: redux ]

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Robert Nowall
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As adaptations go...the BBC Radio version of The Lord of the Rings was much more faithful than the movie...even adding things from Unfinished Tales...but still left out things like Bombadil.

2001: A Space Odyssey is something of an odd duck among movies-to-films...it was written simultaneously with the scripts and the filming; it would be wrong to call it a novelization, I think. More of a collaborative effort between Kubrick and Clarke, I guess. But there were still things in the book, particularly the parts after David Bowman entered the Star Gate, that didn't relate to things in the movie at all. (I saw part of the original in 1968, but my grandmother, who took me, had us walk out halfway through the "HAL goes crazy" scenes---I read the book shortly afterwards, and didn't see the rest until it was on TV about 1977.)

Clarke complicated things in his sequels by moving the action from Iapetus (eccentrically-spelled Japetus) around Saturn (in the book) back to close to Jupiter (as in the movie).

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Crystal Stevens
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quote:
Originally posted by Robert Nowall:
There's another side to it...the David Lynch (I think) version of Dune was completely unintelligible unless the moviegoer actually read the book. That makes that movie a failed experiment, unlike The Lord of the Rings movie, where you could understand what went on without having read the book (I am assured of this by several people who didn't read the book until after they saw the movie), and which, also, by and large, kept Tolkien's ideas and themes intact.

This is what I've been saying, Robert... that if someone has not read the books, a lot of the movie is lost on the viewer. That's my whole point for starting this thread.
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redux
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To me movie adaptions exist in a world of their own - they either enrich the written story through visual story telling and sometimes essentially create another universe for the same story or end up being complete and embarrassing messes.

In my opinion, David Lynch's DUNE exists somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. Personally, I believe DUNE is simply one of those books that cannot be adapted to the big screen. This is an unabashed subjective opinion given that I don't particularly like DUNE, but neither do I dislike it. The world building is spectacular, but for my tastes there is simply too much going on. Lynch's effort was certainly heroic and casting Sting as Feyd Rautha was so bizarre as to be borderline genius.

I believe I actually saw the movie before reading the book and thought it was all very strange, much like watching the Baron salivate over his nephew Feyd. It was all morbidly intriguing.

Overall, I don't mind it when things get lost during the transition from book to movie or shuffled around. What always bothers me is when producers, scriptwriters, etc. suddenly feel compelled to change something integral to the story. Sadly, this is precisely what the Sci Fi Channel did to EARTHSEA. They literally whitewashed all the characters. One could certainly follow the plot of the miniseries - no one needed to read the original books to understand it - but if they did they would be shocked by how many unnecessary changes were made.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY was actually based on a short story entitled "The Sentinel" (I think).

OSC wrote a "novelization" for James Cameron's ABYSS concurrent with (though, in part, previous to) filming. He considered it more of a collaboration, and maybe that's how the book, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, should be considered as well.

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Robert Nowall
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To bring up another thought...compare these adaptations of novels to, say, movies adapted from real events, with actors playing real people and so on. I've been obsessively watching Tora! Tora! Tora! these past few weeks, and have just obtained recent the Blu-Ray edition. It deals with the planning and attack on Pearl Harbor. (It's arbitrarily based on two books, but the producers and company did their own research, too.)

But I've also read widely in the literature about Pearl Harbor, and know that some actions aren't present in the narrative, some are distorted, characters are omitted, and dialog might reflect the sentiments of the characters but are not necessarily direct quotes. (Roosevelt isn't even on screen as a character.)

And Tora! Tora! Tora! is a movie that made a great effort to stick to the facts...there are movies out there that play fast and loose with them, sometimes for the sake of the story, sometimes for time considerations, sometimes for certain reasons that I won't go into detail here because we agreed to keep political discussion to a minimum.

So if movies can't or won't stick with facts, why should they be expected to stick with fiction?

*****

I heard about the "literal whitewashing" of Le Guin's Earthsea---but when I read the books, it was something I missed altogether. Went right over my head, or maybe under my preconceptions. I don't have an excuse, but I don't know what their excuse was, either. (It's not a terribly uncommon phenomenon in Hollywood, actually...)

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redux
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quote:
Originally posted by Robert Nowall:
I heard about the "literal whitewashing" of Le Guin's Earthsea---but when I read the books, it was something I missed altogether. Went right over my head, or maybe under my preconceptions. I don't have an excuse, but I don't know what their excuse was, either. (It's not a terribly uncommon phenomenon in Hollywood, actually...)

Here's an article by Le Guin explaining her discontent with the Sci Fi Channel changes.

I understand her point entirely given that her ethnicity scheme was purposeful - she consciously set out to make it that way in her story. I can only guess Sci Fi Channel was worried about ratings if they deviated from the stereotypical "Nordic look" of fantasy fiction.

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Robert Nowall
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Think I saw Le Guin's essay when it came out...never saw the Sci Fi Channel series, having been warned off of it elsewhere.

I'm informed that the protagonist of Heinlein's Tunnel in the Sky is of a, er, certain ethnic persuasion (a phrase involving a color and a certain playing card comes to mind). There was a fuss, and an alteration, to the artwork on an audiobook of it recently. I try to compare this information to what I visualized when I was nine or ten and read this book for the first time...it does seem the protagonist is maybe kinda this, er, ethnic persuasion...but I can't say what set that in my mind. (A rereading might help.)

My own stuff? Well, I suppose since the characters largely come from within me, they're much like me, down to ethnic types. I've tried to mix it up from time to time. But anybody is free to project what they want onto my work; the details aren't that fixed---and play no part in the plot.

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Treamayne
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Find copies of William Goldman's two books: ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE and WHICH LIE DID I TELL? MORE ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE. He wrote THE PRINCESS BRIDE

I beleive he wrote both the novel and the screenplay. And that was one of the few times I could say I really liked the movie much better - the book was nearly impossible for me to finish.

One of the most painful transitions from book to "film" was Sci Fi Channel's adaptation of Ursula K. Le Guin's EARTHSEA. I felt like the producers and scriptwriters didn't bother truly reading the books and simply thought it was some sort of Harry Potter but on islands.
I understand her point entirely given that her ethnicity scheme was purposeful - she consciously set out to make it that way in her story. I can only guess Sci Fi Channel was worried about ratings if they deviated from the stereotypical "Nordic look" of fantasy fiction.

It's hard enough to translate a book to film, but here they seemed to squash book 1 and 2 together, then mangle the resultant into one of the worst adaptations I have ever sat through. I felt so sorry for Ms. LeGuin after seeing it. But I had never read her take on it until now. Thanks for the link.

In my opinion, David Lynch's DUNE exists somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. Personally, I believe DUNE is simply one of those books that cannot be adapted to the big screen. This is an unabashed subjective opinion given that I don't particularly like DUNE, but neither do I dislike it.

The Dune books also have alot of extra hidden layers as well. For example, if you speak Arabic, there are nuances (like the name he uses for the addicts means "slave" in Arabic) that you can pick up that are lost (but not significantly important) without the right cultural/linguistic background and references to draw those parallels. So, naturally, in that kind of layered novel even more is lost when translating to the film format.

Another odd example is Jurassic Park. The book was good, the movie was good, too, although missing key plot points. However, the ends were more than a bit different. When the studios put pressure on Crichton to write a sequel (Lost World) you tell tell the second novel is really a sequel to the movie and not the first book (then the Movie for lost world was even more jumbled... as we joke at work here with bad sequels. Like Highlander, there should have been only one).

I once read that a basic rule in script writing is 100 pages of novel roughly equals 1 hr of film time. So many script writers will compress the novel to (in their opinion) the most essential 200-300 pages, then use that material to build the Script from. It seems much easier to adapt a short story or novelette (like Legend, though they changed that alot too) by adding and expanding than to pare down a longer work by cutting and changing.

I have my own theory though. I think adaptations follow somethign similar to the MICE idea. When a work is being adapted, they decide what the original work was, and what they want to focus on. Example, I think the Legend Adaptation was a Milue story. They wanted to adapt the world and the changes in it and so kept that as the main focus and felt free to change everything else. Les Mis is a hefty book. I think the Movie (Liam Neeson version) was a character adaptation and they meant to keep Val Jean, Javert and Cosette as close to the book characters as possible and felt to do so they could eliminate Eponine and cut events to make it fit the time frame. However, I think the Musical was more of an event adaptation, trying to show or reference more of teh events and feeling of the story rather than spend as much time on characterization and milue.

Just my thoughts though.

V/R

AT

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MattLeo
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So many aspects of a written story have corresponding aspects in cinema that it's easy to underestimate how different novels and movies are. Yes, both written stories and movies have plots, but movie plots are different. They're much more constrained and they have to march to a stricter rhythm. A fairly straightforward pedestrian novel plot if translated directly to screen would feel bizarrely non-linear, digressive, and bloated.

Or take narration. Movies are largely narrated by the camera, although seldom in the pages-blowing-off-the-calendar mode. Even when movies use voice-over narration, that narration at most drops a few hints about what's in the narrator's mind. It doesn't get us as much into the head all but the most distanced third person narration.

Which leads us to point of view. POV is something that even the most avid readers aren't really aware of, but conscious and skillful use of POV is absolutely fundamental to making any written story work. Like every other element of storytelling it probably exists in movies, but if so it's an utterly different phenomenon. We see through the eyes of the camera, and seldom through what we'd call the scene's POV character.

Just as I suspect that as plot is far more flexible in a written story, POV seems more malleable in movies. The audience is on the outside looking in and it's not necessarily clear who we are identifying with. I recently saw the movie *Rise of the Planet of the Apes*, which was very good in my opinion. One clever thing the scriptwriters did was pull a POV bait-and-switch. We start out identifying with the James Franco character, but as we go into the second act the story subtly shifts, and by the end of the story it's the chimp Caesar we identify with. In the final scene between Franco's Dr. Rodman and Andy Serkis' Caear, the emotions we feel are driven by Caesar's experience.

You *could* do that in a written story, but it would be a lot more obvious. A reader would be more *conscious* of the shift in the identity of a novel's main character.

POV is absolutely fundamental to storytelling, and with that being so different in movies, it's clear that a movie has to be a very different beast -- not a translation, not even a *paraphrase*.

If you made a sculpture inspired by a piece of music, you wouldn't expect somebody who wasn't in on the idea to walk up and say, "Oh, look, that's the second movement of Beethoven's 6th." On the other hand nobody says, "If the spiky bits of brass represent the pizzicato cello part, they're playing too fast." You have to judge the sculpture first as a sculpture, second as a statement *about* the symphony. You wouldn't dream of evaluating it as a translation of the symphony into solid shapes, even though that idea is the inspiration for the work. Even if you *could* do it, it's a pointless exercise.

The same principle applies to a movie made from a book. It must first be judged as a movie, then secondarily as a statement about the book. For example I think that for the most part LotR movies were as successful a representation of the book as one could expect them to be. Where they failed, it wasn't changes to the story per se that went wrong, but places where they got the something wrong about the story's ethos, or simply failed as a piece of screenwriting. I thought putting so much of Tolkien's alliterative poetry in Theoden's mouth worked brilliantly, but the entirely new inspirational speech given to Aragorn in the last movie was an abysmal failure -- not because focusing on the Aragorn character was wrong, but because the speech was so conspicuously less beautiful than Theoden's speeches. Likewise the well-intentioned "change of heart" scene for Faramir undermines some of the basic Tolkenian ideas about human character. It's not that Tolkien necessarily thought people *never* thought better of their actions, but in LotR salvation is through divine grace.

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