Why Do We Watch Film Adaptations of Favorite Books?

“The movie is never as good as the book,” has become almost an adage these days. This phrase is repeated every time a favorite novel is turned into a big-budget Hollywood movie. So why, then, do people flock to see the film if they know it won’t be as good as the book?

In the coming months, there are quite a few movies coming out that were adapted from novels: The Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, The Book Thief by Markus Zusack, and The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel. Not only are some directed by award winners such as Martin Scorsese and David Fincher, but they are packed with stars. Leonardo DiCaprio, Emily Watson, and Cate Blanchett amongst others will lend their acting talents to these adaptations. So if the direction and acting are bound to be exemplary, why is the audience oftentimes furious at the adaption?

As an aspiring filmmaker, I can attest to the difficulties in adapting beloved novels into movies. The average screenplay is about 95-125 pages long. Most novels come in at a minimum of 200 pages, but can range to 700. This poses quite a difficulty in bringing a book to the big screen. Screenwriters are bound to miss something, and the audience is always furious when they do. But realistically, if someone were to make a shot-by-shot adaptation, the film would be around ten hours long. That’s a lot of soda and popcorn without a bathroom break.

In the last few years, there has been an influx of Young Adult fiction adapted to film. Some have even been turned into immense franchises. Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Twilight have all enjoyed grandiose box office earnings. Each time a new film comes out, however, fans complain about some aspect of it. Just ask any Harry Potter fan to tell you about the pitfalls of The Order of the Phoenix. But this doesn’t seem to deter people from watching them. Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games books are so popular on their own that the film version broke the record for most presale tickets purchased for a non-sequel. Harry Potter fans went back to see eight more movies, even after the crushing disappointments of previous ones.

Is there anything to be done to help these adaptations not fall flat in comparison with the book? Recently, production began on the movie version of the Young Adult novel, The Fault in Our Stars. Throughout the process, author John Green has made his way onto the set almost every day to help guide the cast and crew. Will having the author there alleviate the deviations that almost always occur? Even so, it is impossible to include everything, no matter how hard we try.

So why do we go to see adaptations of movies? Experience has told us that they are often nowhere near as good as the book, no matter who is in them or who directs them. Do we go see the movie just to say that it wasn’t as good as the book? Do we go in the hope that we’ll be wrong about that new adage? Or do we go just to torture ourselves? Either way, when a movie comes out based on the book, the sales of that book skyrocket, which supports the author whose work may soon be ruined.

– Emily Eufemia


One comment

  1. Seems to me readers go see the movies more out of curiosity than anything else – I know that’s why I watched the Twilight Series (to my disappointment, but that’s a soapbox for another day), I am watching The Hunger Games (though Suzanne Collins had a part in writing the screenplay, as she was a screenwriter before she wrote the books), and while Order of the Phoenix and Half Blood Prince left a LOT to be desired, I think that overall the HP Movies stuck as close to the books as they could considering the large scope of the world JK Rowling built…

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