I think I said not long ago I had an opinion about why so many people see a movie based on a book they loved and leave the theater going, "Meh, the book was better."
Here's why (and I am no expert; just a chick who digs stories, so take this with a grain of salt): When you read a book, you're in it like Gwynneth (before her conscious uncoupling). You're in the minds of your characters (who and how much depends on point of view the author chose), you've got foreshadowing, back story, lots and lots of descriptive narrative, etc and so forth. In addition, you're the movie maker: you're casting the actors, coming up with the set design, you're the experienced camera guy who knows the perfect angles, and all that. All inside your own big brain. Your amazing, movie projector brain.
Not to mention you have the luxury of re-reading parts you didn't quite get, or just really loved, and the storyteller had a good 200+ pages to tell you the story. And you can make notes! (Not on an electronic reader--do it on paperback; far more scholastic.) And if that storyteller was a master weaver, she or he knew about good character development as they wove their tale, and was able to pull you right smack dab into a character's life, heart, and soul. Because everybody knows most stories have already been told one way or another over hundreds and hundreds of years, so what really causes us to fall in or out of love with a book (or a movie; any story, actually) isn't just good (or bad) writing, but also a writer's ability to create believable, wholly formed, really good protagonist(s) and antagonist(s). Everyone knows this, yes? Yes.
That's what makes you love a really good book. (Or maybe you actually prefer graphic novels. In which case, god love you. I don't understand. But there's a niche market for everyone, and god love you.)
The problem with translating a lot of books to movies is that you only have a finite amount of time to get in, get the story told, and get out of there. Two hours, tops. Maybe three if you somehow managed to con a major movie studio company out of 250 million bucks or something. Which means you probably also have contacts in the Mafia. (I'm not Hollywood, so I don't quite know how that works; I just know I read it Mario Puzo's THE GODFATHER and saw it in the movie version. But if it gets a movie made, I'm open to it.) (Wait! No no! What am I saying??? I watched The Sopranos. I saw THE GODFATHER parts 1-3. I know about family blood pacts and all that. So no, I'm NOT open to The Mafia! I only like The Mafia on TV or the movies. The TV Movie Mafia.) (I'm sorry. I'll get back on topic.)***
So you only have 2 hours to tell your tale. And what do you leave in? What do you cut out? (Assuming you're the writer, director, AND editor.) (Quite frankly, as an overworked teacher who does about 5 people's jobs August-May, I don't know why the heck you'd want to do all 3 jobs, but I suppose somebody's got to. Hopefully, Hollywood will pay you better and you'll get treated nicer by the US Dept of Education.)
I think the deciding what to put in/leave out would be the hardest part for me to do; what I really love about a book is often very different than what moved Friend A who also read it, and Friend B liked (or disliked) other things about it. A lot of times, Friends A & B and I all love the same part(s) of a book...and we are INCENSED beyond all human reason if what we loved all together gets left out. That's when you get on imdb.com and start leaving troll posts that make no sense, have poor grammar, and are spelled so ridiculously nobody even knows what the hell you're talking about but they do know you're mentally ill. (I don't troll imdb.com. My handle on imdb.com is amylynne223, and I promise I just stick to what I know: which is lurking so I can silently judge other people who do post stuff on imdb.com. The End.)
At any rate, that's also part of the beauty of reading a book--the connections you make in them.The things you love (or hate) best about characters and incidents in any given story are due to personal connections you make. In 2nd grade Reading Workshop, we call this text-to-text, text-to-world, or text-to-self connecting; you do that all the time when you read. Personally, I think it's what draws us to certain stories and repels us from others.
So basically: Time's a-ticking; what to cut? what to include?; you're IN the book when reading; you're in the THEATER when watching a movie...you're in the store while reading a book; you're window shopping at the movie. All of it equals hard to adapt books to movie. Not impossible, just really really hard. I think people who make movies who give you a sense of losing yourself while watching a movie (based on a beloved book) somehow manage to tap into those connections we have--they get you to the shop's threshold, and it is AMAZING. Like a Victoria's Secret sale where everything is 95% off. (No? Not a Victoria's Secret fan? Okay...like everything's 1 cent at the Dollar Tree.) (Heh. Teacher wet dreams.) You're a part of the action, even though you're sitting in a theater with a lot of fallen popcorn in your bra, maybe sitting on a melted Junior Mint, too (here's a cinematic tip: NEVER wear white to the movies, Things Amy Learned circa 1992). But you don't care! This is a freaking beautifully woven story, on paper AND film. It's a testament to how amazing human beings can be when that happens.(And yet we continue to melt the polar ice caps. *sigh* yin. yang.)
I think the Harry Potter films mostly do an excellent job with this. I'm not a big Harry Potter fan, but I have friends who are obsessed (OBSESSED! In weird, are-you-okay?? kinds of ways), and they assure me movies based on books don't get more magical than the Harry P. ones. I thought Interview With a Vampire also did a good job (in spite of Anne Rice's tirade against its casting of Tom Cruise in the lead role...and be honest: weren't you all, "Yeah, Anne! What the hell?!" right along with her? But then Tom did okay. And also, there was Brad Pitt. And Antonio Banderas (in a bad wig). It all came together and worked, somehow. High five, Neil Jordan! And Anne Rice, who adapted her own book to script...which may have contributed a lot to that.) (Later, someone adapted Rice's Queen of the Damned, which is a good example of how NOT to translate a book to a movie. I notice Anne didn't take out any full page rants in the NY Times over that...sometimes, you just take the check, get on a plane for Maldives, and pretend it isn't happening. Is what I'd do.)
Was this a boring blog post? I'm worried this was a boring blog post. I tried to make it as entertaining as possible, and apologies if you fell asleep or you've already clicked over to tmz.com (stay off of that site! you'll rot your mind!).
In more entertaining news, summer break is a mere 6 days away. Six! Days! Away! I have a lot of plans, because Miss M is headed off to theater camp, bug camp, princess/fairy tale camp, and (gigantic pause for cinematic effect) The Swim Nazi (do do do!). Yes, it is true. We found a Swim Nazi. Don't tell her people call her that. We do it behind her back. What she does is...well, first of all, you can't stay. You have to wait in her driveway in your car. She suggests blasting music and wearing headphones so you don't hear the screams. But apparently, by Day 3 (you go all week: Monday through Friday) they're over their fear of putting their heads underwater. It's worked for countless children, I'm told.
I have a good child psychologist number at hand, though, for in case. Just in case. (Does anybody know if children can get PTSD?) (I'm slightly nervous about this, I don't know if you can tell or not. But desperate times call for desperate measures and so. Let's hope kids can take Xanax or something.)
***Speaking of movie mafia...I'd think another difficulty in adapting a book to a movie would be the people holding the money bags. It seems to a lot about ROI (return on investment) these days in Movieville. Bookville, too. But especially Movieville. I like it when people just want to tell a good story. In PublicEducationville, it's also become a lot about ROI, and I can tell you the results are pretty sad. Some day, I'll write a blog post about what happens when ROI takes over the world and nobody cares about connecting anymore; they just want their damn money back times 10,000. (Hint: zombies are involved.)