I love books and I love movies. I can get equal enjoyment out of them and can be a bit of a culture snob when it comes to what I think is worth my time. It seems every second movie released in the last decade has been a book adaptation. Whoever thought that word “adaptation/adapted” could make one so fearful. I can count on one hand the movies I have seen that have done their adapted stories justice. Some of these are among my favourite books, including Like Water for Chocolate, L.A Confidential, Sherlock Holmes (though I prefer the most recent BBC series best), The Secret Life of Bees, but to name a very few… OK, maybe on two hands.
However, far too many have fallen flat.
In 1999 Doubleday published the incredible novel Chocolat. This book made for voracious reading and provided characters, both good and bad, that you could love. The story was mystical, magical and centred a great deal on the history and beliefs of the main character. Her beliefs and challenges of faith are in fact integral to the story. In 2001 Miramax released Chocolat the movie. Promising cast….. Yet it had sadly been poorly adapted. The integral parts that made Vianne so incredible and that the story centred around had been taken out! What was the point of the story if the script became so Hollywood-ised it was not even the same?
To be honest, after giving it about six months I saw the film again. When you remove it entirely from the book and accept there may be some resemblances here and there, it’s quite a nice and enjoyable film. But only if you can forget for the length of the film that it has anything to do with the novel. That’s anything at all.
I don’t even know where to start with Hitchhiker’s Guide. I will say I wanted to stand up and walk out, but I don’t think much else CAN be said…. except I knew better. Deep down I knew better. Not even Martin Freeman or Sam Rockwell would be enough.
A tricky one to compare is The Book Thief, particularly as it is my favourite book. With such beautiful narrative and having created a world of outstanding imagery and possibility, I was intrigued as to how this world of Liesel’s would be portrayed cinematically. I was worried so much could get lost in translation, that upon hearing the movie was planned, I was in a panic about it until they released the cast list….. Surely Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson wouldn’t start doing shithouse films now? Actually, I feature this film at the tail end of the list unfairly. My expectations of how the film should be and my absolute adoration of the novel (and in fact anything Markus Zusak touches) make my judgment clouded. Yet I enjoyed the film greatly. Of course, there were moments described by Death in the book that had not been carried into the narrative of the film, and other moments that on the page popped out and hugged you around the heart; understandably these could not be adapted into visuals.
So though they changed things as little as possible, I should be thankful and leave it alone. But it amazes me how such seemingly superfluous things can reach right into us and mean so much that, simply by changing the tiniest thing, we reinterpret what it is.
If only Shakespeare were alive, I’m sure he’d get what I mean.