Since the turn of the last century books have been adapted into screenplays and onto the big screen with adverse results. In recent years, book to movie adaptations seem to rule the box office. Films like The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Harry Potter, Twilight, Watchmen and, most recently, The Help have been box office smash hits. Along with those hits have come other adaptations that have not fared as well, such as The Lovely Bones. Yet just because a book-to-movie adaptation is a box office hit doesn’t make it a successful interpretation of the novel. Is success measured by the avid followers of the book who rush to see the movie because they have already enjoyed the book? Or is it measured by the movie itself and whether it attracts or doesn’t attract a crowd?
I’d have to say a director can recreate the plot of a novel and make it into a box office hit without creating a successful adaptation. A great book-to-movie adaptation is more than just a summation of all the events that took place in the book’s plot. It has to give the book life. Take Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lovely Bones, for example. The characters were recreated just as they are described by Alice Sebold for the reader to imagine them, the plot-line was followed accurately, and yet it certainly can’t be considered a great book-to-movie adaptation. While the avid fans of the novel all ran out to see the movie, it didn’t gather a much larger audience because of the more abstract way Jackson framed the plot. Without the book the movie couldn’t appeal to a general audience.
Meanwhile, Peter Jackson made the Lord of the Rings trilogy a box office hit and one of the most successful book-to-movie adaptations. He was able to recreate Tolkien’s stories in such a way that the characters were flawlessly revealed, and the plot was molded and altered in a way that captured the essence of the books into a successful visual adaptation. His film appealed not only to all of Tolkien’s devoted readers, but also to a larger general audience that had not necessarily read the novels.
In essence, it’s as if the director is offering a book review, setting up the frame, plot, and characters and portraying them in the way he thinks they should be visualized. He takes the pieces he think work well, stays away from the ones that don’t, and puts them together to create a new piece of art. The director wants to make his newly molded piece into something that can attract new “readers,” not only the ones who are already avid followers of the author.