We all love stories, to sit back and enjoy a good yarn.
But, where do we get those stories? More and more, those stories are coming from all sorts of different places. It could be plays, musicals, books, blogs, TV, movies, radio, podcasts, YouTube videos, and I could keep this list going forever and ever and ever…
But, what I want to address is books and movies. I gotta say – I love me a good book, but also love me a good movie. I’ll never be a filmmaker, but I can write a book, so I do have a somewhat vested interest in how books are re-translated to the big screen.
The issue came up for me today as I started showing a film in one of my classes after we read the novel together. The book is the 1964 Civil War novel, Across Five Aprils, that tells the story of one family’s experiences as they see sons leave for the war in rural Illinois. It received a Newbery Honor when it was first released, and has some great historical lessons. I wouldn’t say it’s a great book, but it isn’t bad.
But, then I found out there is a movie. “Great!” I thought. I can do the book and show the movie to cap the unit. One problem – the movie is terrible. I hate to criticize movies that are derived from books, but this is as much “based” on Across Five Aprils as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is based on Ol’ Abe’s life story.
There’s a point when you are no longer telling the story the author set out in the first place or when you are telling a whole new story. That latter camp is where Across Five Aprils finds itself. The characters are weak at best, the acting reminds me of a class project I might have shot on a weekend when I was in 8th grade and the plot is convoluted. The book, while is simple at times, at least has a clear and concise plot that is easy to follow.
In other words – it is terrible.
There are always going to be differences between the source material and the movie, but finding that balance is the trick. All of the Harry Potter films toe that fine line and, I think, come away for the better. Are they the same as the books? No. But, do they work as a movie and tell much of the same story? Oh yeah. As a companion to the books, they work amazingly. They get the key plot points dead-on and don’t mess with those who have longed to see their beloved characters on screen.
Not every book can be made into an effective movie. Well, at least that’s what I thought when I read World War Z. As a direct adaptation, it would have been unmakable as a film, but tweaking the plot and giving the story a main protagonist made for a very effective movie.
I get a kick out of watching movies with my daughter after she’s read the book first. This summer we watched the two Percy Jackson movies. She polished off the PJ books back at the end of last school year and was eagerly anticipating the new movie all summer. We watched it and the entire time I got, “Well, he wasn’t supposed to look like that!” or “They didn’t do that in the book,” or “Wait…that’s not what they did in the book.”
At a certain point we all need to step back and separate books from their movie adaptations, but filmmakers also need to sometimes do a better job of recognizing if the source material is better than the stuff they are filming.