Adaptations are movies too

Hollywood loves source material. Novel, comic book, television show, stageplay; if there’s a pre-built audience they’re bound to take a peek.

After seeing “insert name of most recent novel adapted into a movie” I had a conversation with a friend that went something like this.

“What’d you think of the movie?”

“Meh. Not great. It dragged on after it the resolution. It just wouldn’t end.”

“Yeah, but you gotta understand, that’s how the book was.”

Wait, what? I have to judge the movie based on the book? I don’t think so. Movies and books are different animals. When I watch a movie I have certain expectations based on the ten million movies I’ve seen before. If I didn’t read the book I have no expectations for the story.

Adaptation means making adjustments. Adjustments that allow you to pour the source material’s story into the format of a movie. Let’s face it, you can’t cram a whole book into a movie. It’s not possible. Choices must be made. The job of the screenwriter is to make smart choices that convey the spirit of the book into movie form. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not giving carte blanche to the screenwriter to add dinosaurs and cyborgs to a Jane Austin novel. But so much importance is placed on the source material that many times people forget it’s a movie. What I’m saying is: respect the medium.

Movies are magic. They thrill and inspire. They make us laugh and cry. They bring people together. Movies have a specific format; American movies at least. The audience knows when a movie is bad and they aren’t forgiving just because, “that’s how the book was.” The movie should retain the feel of the book (to satisfy the existing fan-base) while conforming to movie form (to satisfy those who didn’t read the book). Because at the end of the day that’s how the movie will be remembered.

I want a great movie first and foremost. Then maybe I can have a conversation like this.

“What’d you think of the movie?”

“It was awesome!”

“You think that was good you should read the book.”


Author: Jeffrey Stoltzfus

Filmmaker. Author. Artist.

One thought

  1. I would agree with this if perhaps movies would respect the source material they are using. They use books and such for the built in audience. If you wanna make a movie based on the book/play/show but not use any of the plot or characters as they were written, then maybe you should just write a movie that’s similar and change the name. (i.e Clueless, Bridget Jones Diary, The Last Man on Earth)

    While no one should expect for everything from a book/movie to fit into a 90-120 min movie, screenwriters/directors should not remove the things that made the book awesome in the first place and expect fans not to complain.

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