Another Wednesday, another heap of Woe for you! Today, I shall be ranting about a topic that has actually bothered me for some time. I will often be talking to my friends about films (yes, I do talk about films a lot- they can attest to that) and the talk of big franchises often comes up. So many of our beloved franchises are based on books and comics that we also adore: Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, James Bond, to name just a few. Whenever we talk about these films, one common complaint I will hear is, “The book is completely different so I didn’t like it.” Whilst your enjoyment of the film is entirely subjective, here is my view on why that sort of opinion is not approaching things the right way.
Films based on source material must be adaptations. This is a simple fact of producing a film because when a screenwriter is faced with turning a book or comic into film, they are faced with a Herculean task. They cannot simply take all the lines of dialogue in a book, copy them out on their typewriter (not sure if they really use typewriters anymore) and wipe their hands clean of it. Perhaps that is how some chose to do the task but that is, for the large part, definitely not how it is done. So, they have to trim, cut and edit the dialogue and story until they get something workable for the screen. That’s because a completely faithful version would be 20 hours long. And that’s just the first bit of adapting. Next, the director will get their hands on it and begin filming and the actors involved will have their own interpretation of it, before the director and editor sit down and cut down the film further, changing scenes around or removing them entirely. By the end of post-production, the film is likely to be a different film than the one the screenwriter envisioned and certainly different than what the original author wrote. But, and this really is key, the filmmakers are trying to make the best film possible. Maybe with some pieces of crap that studios churn out, this might not seem the case but they really do try their best. Nobody wants to make a bad movie. (except perhaps Uwe Boll) Sometimes it doesn’t work out, often in fact, but it isn’t because the film is dissimilar from the book. Let me show you a few examples why.
I’m going to start with a franchise I know very well- Harry Potter. The first three films stuck relatively closely to the story from the books, with the main parts removed being classes and such. I don’t think many people would say that those films would be better if they included History of Magic classes with ghoulish Professor Binns. It would be dull. Fine though, that is a petty example from the series but there are certainly more. One major adaptation from the book is the lack of Dobby in the middle of the series. If you hadn’t read the books, you may be unaware that he started working in the Hogwarts kitchens. From his position, he is the one that provides Harry with Gillyweed in the Goblet of Fire and his labour instigates Hermione’s SPEW campaign (Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare). The lack of Dobby may have been monetary which is fine because movies are part of a business at the end of the day and as long as financial decisions don’t negatively impact the film then it is okay. However, does the inclusion of Neville providing Gillyweed not provide a nice character arc from his lesson with Mad-Eye and make the latter’s unveiling at the end seem a little more wicked? I would argue so. As for SPEW? It is pointless for the films since Hermione is a well-rounded character without it- we understand her position against harming creatures from just a few lines of dialogue, not ten chapters worth of plot. I understand your position, however, if something was removed that you enjoyed. The last two films are very faithful because they adapt one book into two films but they removed a couple of scenes for me that bugged me. Nevertheless, the film was not worse because they were taken out. It was just a plot point that was not needed for the film. If this final point about Harry Potter doesn’t get you, then nothing will- think a Potter movie marathon is tough now at about 24 hours long? Try a marathon that is 100 hours long!
To me, Harry Potter was incredibly well adapted to the screen but there are films that are not well-adapted. Furthermore, there are several where they have arguably been too faithful and it has made the movie worse because of it. My prime example for this is the last Hunger Games film, Mockingjay Part 2. Almost universally the least liked of the series, I argue that some of those decisions came because the filmmakers stuck too close to the novel. Personally, I have not read it but, from reading the synopsis and knowing several that have read it and who tell me that it sticks pretty close to the story, there is one major part that should have been changed and that is close to the end. Katniss is knocked out and is unconscious for the entirety of the final battle. Whilst in a book, that might be acceptable because battles don’t easily translate to text. See the Song of Ice and Fire series– Game of Thrones to normal folk- where many fights are mentioned, not seen and the plot is none the worse for it. The TV show changed a lot of battles, amongst other things, but I don’t hear many complaining that the programme is not faithful enough (probably because it is bloody brilliant). For The Hunger Games, including that final battle would have been much more satisfying. Would it fix the whole film? No, but it would have helped.
All in all, I hope I have helped you perhaps come around to the possibility that films do not have to be faithful to their source material. There are bad films that are well adapted and good films poorly adapted and everything in between. Yes, Batman and Superman kill people in the new DCEU, despite their usual heroic codes of conduct. But the Caped Crusader does it because he has been pushed so far and Superman kills Zod because he is caught between the ideas of his human father and his Kryptonian one, ultimately siding with the innocent. That may not be a good film in my eyes, but it isn’t the adaptation choices that bothered me. In Watchmen though, they are probably too faithful again though and the film became long and bloated (plus Hallelujah sex scene? No… Just no…) And if you really want to find a franchise that is unfaithful to its source material, look at the Bond franchise. Almost the entire book was scrapped for each film with names and a handful of ideas being taken from each. In the film, Dr No dies in radioactive water after a gruelling fight. In the book, he drowns in seagull droppings. Enough said.