Home Arts & Lit Debate – Did it live up to the book?

Debate – Did it live up to the book?


Its a debate! Iona Bepey and Ifeoluwatolani Omotola conclude our look at the success of film adaptations as they outline their opposing views…

Iona Bepey sympathises with filmmakers who have to deal with crazy fan reactions.

hg filmWith film adaptations, the phrase ‘didn’t live up to the book’ has become fairly commonplace. We’re lucky enough to live in an era where barely a piece of print meets publication without talks of a movie being spawned from the pages, but can a ‘Page-to-Screener’ really ever do the original work justice? Is it pure sloppiness on the part of cast and crew that sees so many filmgoers leaving the cinema feeling let down? Or are we of a generation who simply underestimates the gravity of responsibility and pressure when it comes to the difficult task of producing not only a film in and of itself, but of material with a pre-existing, fiercely-loyal fanbase..?

I’m of the opinion we ought to pity filmmakers; that is, any filmmaker charged with adapting a popular novel into an international Hollywood blockbuster. Try to imagine the expanse of the task: 391 pages in Catching Fire, and two, maybe two-and-a-half hours to shoehorn them all into a format satisfying enough to appease the legions of The Hunger Games fans the globe-over, simultaneous to scoring the Big Time with critics, and even selling the story to those who haven’t encountered the original media before. As Suzanne Collins herself might say, the odds are most decidedly not in your favour.

A point of reckoning most of the novel-to-film genre’s harshest critics tend to forget is that if what you’re after is a page-by-page reading of the original book, these are not the droids you’re looking for. Lionsgate Films, I imagine, would have had a hard time meeting their $700 million box office landslide with Jennifer Lawrence reading an audiobook of the original The Hunger Games novel. The solution: learning to take what’s given to us at face value.

As a big fan of visual as well as purely transcribed storytelling, I’ve never balked at the idea of a favourite novel setting course for the silver screen, aware though I am that the book is usually better. However, I’ve made my peace with the fact that not every detail of the novel will make it into the script; annoying, certainly, but it shouldn’t detract from your enjoyment of the film for what it is – an adaptation.

Perhaps it’s as simple as changing the order you approach material; if we saw the film before experiencing the book, would we be as disappointed post-cinema?

My advice is see the film first; join the thrumming crowds of moviegoers and reviewers, ranting about ‘Terrific, sophisticated comedy’, ‘Film of the year’ and ‘Rated ‘Thor’ out of Five’ (with thanks to Empire Online) before you attempt to read the original. When you inevitably discover the book was better… well. At least you can walk away with the knowledge that at one point at least, you enjoyed the film too.

So let’s try for some sympathy, in particular for the poor sod charged with turning Fifty Shades into something almost watchable. Perhaps we’ll hit a benchmark wherein the film adaptation is actually the better of the two… Forgive me, though, for not holding out too much hope!

Iona Bepey

Whereas Ifeoluwatolani Omotola argues that films and books just shouldn’t be compared.

hunger games bookWhen a studio or author announces that a beloved novel is being translated for screen there is a rush of criticism, some good, some bad and some hysterical. Often readers don’t want their beloved characters altered in the page to screen translation. Alterations to a character or plot often occur as a result of cost or time, helping to cater to a wider audience since not everything in a book can work in film. The best part of a book is the imagination factor since, barring extremely vivid descriptions, with a book the world is your oyster and each person has their own subjective imagination. How I might imagine the hunky hero is very different from the physical characteristics my best friend may picture. In my opinion this is one of the key reasons for negative fan reactions. Most recently there was a small wave of controversy following the casting of the leads in the upcoming Fifty Shades of Grey film. When we attempt to solidify the vague literary imaginings that occur of the page (by defining what characters, places or even accents actually are like with films) it’s bound to contradict with someone’s own subjective idea. After all, one can’t please everyone.

Some films adaptations even have no similarity whatsoever to the books they claim to emulate. For me this was especially obvious with World War Z. Beyond the name and the concept of zombies the film was completely different from the book – although I did enjoy it. But once in a while I come across a film adaptation I find so terrible I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at what has been done to what might have been a great book. This was the case with my favourite book, The Host by Stephenie Meyer. I have read and reread that book dozens of times and, although it’s not by any means perfect, I love it. So when I found out it was going to be made into a movie I was initially sceptical. Anyone who has read the book before will know that there is a lot of internal thought and character reflections, so I couldn’t help but worry how this would work on the big screen. I was thrilled with the trailer, which was amazing. But I can honestly say that The Host was one of the worst films I have ever seen; the plot and concept just did not fit the medium of film.

So as The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is released to the general viewing public, I will be there front and centre, fingers crossed (much like I was with the first one). I sometimes feel that the books vs film argument is an unfair comparison. Books can be hundreds or thousands of pages long. With films something is usually lost in translation and that is why when someone asks me which I prefer I will always stick to the original.

Ifeoluwatolani Omotola

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