Whenever I hear that a novel I’ve read has been adapted for film, I’m always a little skeptical about the results. I wonder how closely the writers will adhere to the events of the book, and how well the actors fit the roles they auditioned for, and how much of the actual essence of the story will be preserved. Of course, I’m hardly a film critic — although I’m not easily impressed, I do appreciate the hard work that goes into movie-making and will generally enjoy anything with a sound story-line and compelling characters — but if a favorite book of mine has been considered for a movie, I usually pay close attention.
When I found out that Sara Gruen’s novel Water for Elephants (one of those books that has inspired me as a writer) would begin filming in May, I’ll admit that my feelings were mixed. With Robert Pattinson cast in the lead role, I feared that one of my favorite books was about to be transformed into a fluffy companion to the Twilight saga. I dreaded the onslaught of fifteen-year-old screaming fan girls who would comprise the movie’s main audience. And because I couldn’t imagine Rob as anyone other than Edward Cullen (even though I really liked him as Cedric Diggory), I immediately assumed he was going to ruin the movie. (Don’t get me started on my early disdain for some of the other casting choices.)
But then I had to reevaluate my initial assumptions. For one, the general audience of a movie should never be the deciding factor as for whether or not you go out and see it. After all, what makes one person any more of a high-brow audience than anyone else? To say I’m not a fan of the sparkle vampire franchise is definitely an understatement, but why should that affect the way I feel about a movie that’s entirely unrelated? Besides, even if the script deviates a little from the book, it doesn’t mean the movie is going to be a train wreck!
It’s like when a new Harry Potter movie comes out. Although I’m a huge fan of the books, I really enjoy the creative liberties that the writers have taken with the movies, because they still maintain the essence of what the series is all about. If I wanted a literal version of it all, I’d reread the books! Every time one of the movies hits theaters, I always get into the same arguments with my friends who have seen it. Many of them argue that “this scene never took place in the book,” or “they completely cut out the scene where ____ happens,” but if every second of the movie were 100% faithful to the books, we wouldn’t be able to leave the theater for days. I doubt if I could handle that… could you?
These days, I’m trying to take a different approach to the way I watch movies that were based on books. Take it from Gail Carson Levine, the author of Ella Enchanted (whose film adaptation I actually kind of hated, even though the book remains one of my all-time favorites). In an interview with KidsReads, she advised that readers of any book should “regard the movie as a separate creative act. You might want to think about the choices the screenwriters made and why they may have gone in the direction they did. But I hope you have the breadth and sense of humor to encompass both movie and book.“
Even if a movie totally butchers the plot of the book it is based on and is a film disaster, it can never replace the feelings you had when you read the original. That being said, when Water for Elephants hits theaters in 2011, I plan to go in with an open mind and hopefully embrace any differences between the book and movie.
What are your thoughts on book/movie/television adaptations? Any that you love or hate?