Coping in the age of adaptation

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Contributed Image

With the release and critical acclaim of David Fincher’s new film adaptation of the bestseller novel Gone Girl, the sheer volume of book adaptations in modern cinema is once again brought to our attention.

Ever since the beginning of the 2000s, with the enormous intake of the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings films, there has been a surge of books being turned into movies in the hopes of being the next big thing, with some being successful — The Bourne Identity, The Hunger Games — and others such as Ender’s Game and Let Me In not as much. Of course cinema has never been a stranger to media transference.

After all, how many movie versions of Dracula or any of Shakespeare’s plays have been made in the past hundred years? But with this decade-plus boom, the ultimate question arises: is taking a book and turning it into a film a good thing for the content of the original material?

I would say it is, but it depends heavily on the approach of those making a film. Iconic French director Francois Truffaut once wrote, “I demand that a film express either the joy of making cinema or the agony of making cinema. I am not at all interested in anything in between.” A similar principle applies to the art of adapting a work. When love and respect for material shines through, it can actively heighten what made the original work good, while at the same time condensing it for a more approachable consumption.

Likewise, when the adaptors take a harshly critical look at the source, it can create something that won’t please fans but work as an effective piece on its own terms.

Take the aforementioned Lord of the Rings trilogy. Considering the amount of passion and effort that went into bringing Tolkien’s creation to life, from the set designs to the audacious directing approach, it’s clear that Peter Jackson and company had a strong desire to do justice to the source.

Still, they could see what wouldn’t work in a movie and what just flat-out didn’t work in the original books, such as ultimately extraneous characters and tedious descriptive asides, and had the wisdom to leave it out. By being critical of the thing they love, they were able to get to the heart of what it was trying to accomplish as well as improving upon it.

On the opposite end, you have The Wolf of Wall Street, which in turn was essentially a book-length brag into an analysis of Jordan Belfort and what his success means for society. Like Lord of the Rings it understands the original material, but unlike those films it has a firm distaste for that material. It portrayed Belfort as selfish, buffoonish and downright abusive, with his cohorts not being much better.

Where something like The Godfather took a book and cut most of the material to focus on the good parts, The Wolf of Wall Street looks at the original text and spends three hours scoffing at it.

However, with this criticism comes daringness comparable to the text-admiring — but still individualistic approach — Alfonso Cuarón took to

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Love can be just as strong a feeling as hate, and both can do wonders when presenting a take on a subject.

What we as book-readers and film-goers have to fear the most when it comes to adaptation is not divergence; it’s apathy. Year after year listless and uncaring adaptations like The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and every Twilight after the first one — which at least had some semblance of a unique touch — come out and feel like nothing more than magnets for fans and you can just sense the lack of interest in the source material from everyone involved. Authors are able to show their love for what they craft easier than filmmakers because of how much lone creative control they have, but for the people making these movies, to not care at all is their biggest crime against the original work.

If you go in with an open mind, films based on books can be great because of what they change as well as what they don’t. So fans of the book Gone Girl : go with an open mind. Adaptation can be good for the source materials — we just need to get the right people to do it.


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