Films versus Books; My Imagination versus Theirs!

Davidjb

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I am rereading and watching the Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell which is quite topical as the series has just started. I am always amazed how dissimilar films and TV are when compared to the books. I don't always understand though why a TV series or film is made based on a great book, which is then rewritten! Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

Last Kingdom is all about Uhtred, a Saxon boy, who is captured and brought up among Danes whereas the TV series after episode 2 has him grown up already. I'm interested to see what is left in the book that they can use to make 3 more of the series. Having said that, the TV series is good and made me want to reread the books so that's also good. Imagination is great and I always think books are better than films but occasionally a film (eg Lord of the Rings) really works and it is incredible to see things become real.

I think you can't beat your own imagination and a book always wins out. However, occasionally it's the other way around and Stardust is my favourite movie and I wasn't enthralled by the book. Does that depend which you see/read first?
 

Heir

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People always claim it is about what you see first, but since I started reading only after I'd pretty much watched every great fantasy/sci-fi based off a book, I could never really feel the same way. There's Patrick Rothfuss' Kingkiller books which might be getting a movie/tv show, and I would hate to see that ruined. But my idea of 'ruined' isn't 'I don't like change'.

I understand that television and movies are like their own language. I think most readers don't quite grasp the intricacies of it, and we've gotten used to the idea of just blaming Hollywood because it's Hollywood, (which does tend to be the case), but sometimes it's just a matter of managing the source material the best you can, whilst also adapting it to a new medium and also making it accessible for a wider audience. So many book readers want the movie to be an on-screen version of the book, from beat to beat. That wouldn't work for various reasons, least of which is that it'd be extremely boring.

The example you've used above is the kind of thing that I don't mind. If it's a mini-series (which it sounds like it is), then it only makes sense they'd have to compress the novel's undoubtedly longer narrative. Things would be cut even if it was 15 episodes, it's more about what they cut and what they may add.

To me, an adaptation is successful when it captures the essence of what made the book what it was. But the reason why this tends to not work, is because what that essence is tends to be highly debatable. Everyone comes into a story hoping to be entertained, but not all of them get the same degree of entertainment from it, and of those who do, they don't even always attain it in the same ways, however slight the differences. And so, what a story means, or is to one person, may completely contradict what it is to another.

I think LOTR does well in getting across the setting of the books, and that's one of the things which most people who've read the books can agree makes them what they are, and that's probably why the movies are held up as one of, if not the greatest book-to-movie adaptations. Game of Thrones also does a great job of conveying the gritty, almost mundane nature of the world of ASOIAF but without going on tangents about the food. My personal favourite would have to be the first Harry Potter movie. I'd say it done a phenomenal job of capturing the magical and wondrous nature of the book.

All that being said, I would probably say that yes, it does depend on which you see first. But it also depends on how you approach it. I never expect a movie adaptation of a book to be the spitting image of what I imagined, nor do I expect it to have every scene that I happen to want in it, or every character or sub-plot. After all these supposed 'failed' attempts, you'd think that maybe people would stop having such ridiculous expectations...
 

Davidjb

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To me, an adaptation is successful when it captures the essence of what made the book what it was. But the reason why this tends to not work, is because what that essence is tends to be highly debatable. Everyone comes into a story hoping to be entertained, but not all of them get the same degree of entertainment from it, and of those who do, they don't even always attain it in the same ways, however slight the differences. And so, what a story means, or is to one person, may completely contradict what it is to another.
I think the TV series is working then as it's pretty good. As I say, I'm halfway through the book and wondering what is left for the series so that should be interesting.

I am still waiting for the Silmarillion as a film!!
 

Heir

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I think the TV series is working then as it's pretty good. As I say, I'm halfway through the book and wondering what is left for the series so that should be interesting.

I am still waiting for the Silmarillion as a film!!
That's one thing I've not read from Tolkien (blasphemous, I know). I've heard it would be really hard because of budgeting, supposedly they'd need a LOT of CGI. Somehow, that's selling me on reading it a lot more.
 

Davidjb

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That's one thing I've not read from Tolkien (blasphemous, I know). I've heard it would be really hard because of budgeting, supposedly they'd need a LOT of CGI. Somehow, that's selling me on reading it a lot more.
It's a very moving tale with lots of stories that are interlinked. The first dragon when it appears is awesome and the consequences very sad!!
 

J Riff

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Films and TV have an entirely different agenda, and audience, than books do. The money has to come in first, the advertisers have to work out product placement (a dozen Pepsi machines visible in Terminator for ex.- more important than a plot point) and of course there's the demographics of the target audience to look at.
A lot of $ goes on the line making a movie,, the story is the last thing that is considered. How can we make IT fit the projected audience, NOT how can we bring this book to life. A movie only cares about making it's money back, a Book, despite immense work input, is all on its own in comparison. It doesn't HAVE to make the money back. That changes everything.
 

Overread

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I think there a few things to consider:

1) A visual medium and a written one are totally different. Some things convey better in written form than in visual; in a written book you can go into the thoughts behind characters, bits of historical importance, narration etc.. You can pad out a 5 second event into pages of important information that brings the reader more into the experience.
These things are harder to convey in films, especially since narration has fallen significantly out of fashion. Heck consider that StarWars is one of the very few films that uses a scrolling text at the start to give a basic introduction to the setting. Most films would never use such a method to convey anything of the sort; and yet Starwars made it a "thing" for itself.

As such change has to come to either replace events within the scene to convey a deeper meaning; leave out the deeper meaning (which can feel shallow or random) or add new scenes to convey information that would otherwise have been narrated.

2) Time constraints; books don't translate well to visual media in a very predictable time frame. A single book might be 1 films worth of content or it could be several or less. This creates pressures to help either extend or condense content to fit. Things have to be chopped and changed and even in films produced purely from a script and no source book content gets cut from the final version (Aliens 3 was famously cut so badly core parts of the story didn't make full sense until many revisions later).

3) A film is not always trying to be even remotely faithful to the source material. We, as fans of written material, often expect that a director/film produced on something we love would aim to " get it right " however many times this is just not the case. Many times they are not concerned about getting every or even many details correct and we can all name films where we can see that the blurb on the back + character names is about all they've taken.
Why this happens can be for many reasons:
a) The script originally wasn't intended to be faithful.
b) The script got changed significantly from completion to final working version at multiple stages - resulting in a significant shift in what it finally ended up in as a film
c) Theories based upon studies which suggest certain courses of action or characters or such are presented to ensure certain end results. Eg in The Northern Lights the diminishing of the Catholic religion as the "bad guys" and the imposition of a new "neutral" evil faction instead.

4) Shifts in society; sort of like point 3, but in general we are more accepting of different (older) styles of writing than we are in visual presentation. As such sometimes older stories are "modernized" so that they fit into a modern audience who is not expected to have much worldly background into the world setting. In short people do not want to google during a film to find out what something is - thus the film either has to tell them or change it to be something they can recognise.



Honestly I find that Hollywood seems to want to keep doing the same thing. They want to write a film about what they want which is more inspired by a book or other reference. Which is exactly what they do do; however they slave the film to an established book or other source material to try and ensure its got some "history" to it; history meaning instant fanbase to help ensure that, at the very least, during the box-office weeks they get bums on seats in the cinema.
Even if its bad they know a large number of people will just go to see it and find out - whilst it also makes marketing easier if the film already has established marketing already out there in the world.
Lord of the Rings is a big film and even without marketing telling you what it is most people will go "Oh Lord of the Rings I know what that is!" or at least have some vague memory of hearing about it once before.
 

J Riff

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That's right. It is usually quite possible to duplicate the book, but often the title is enough, if it is well-known. That will put the people in the seats, the money comes back (or there's trouble) unlike a book which may sit for years before being discovered. Independent films can cross the line, take a chance, and that's how we get some of the best flicks. Anything high-budget has so many considerations besides just the script, that you never know what to expect.
I just watched a 'making of' - of Alien3. They fired the director and a few others during the filming, and got to the point where they were filming one page at a time, while writing up the next onn.e. If that can happen on a heavily-financed production, then it sure is a long way from sitting for months chipping away at a novel, yes?
I've read a good number of motion picture scripts - they often differ vastly from what hits the screen. All part of the fun.
 

Overread

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Riff and yet the fact that so many can influence the script is why we have such weak scripts today. When we see major films that do well often its because the writer of the script is the director or co-director or they have worked very closely with the director.
It's one of the reasons there was that script writers walk out a while back; the system isn't working as well as it should and whilst it is acceptable that scripts will need changing, it seems that the Hollywood engine is stuck in a rut where its changing so much its spoiling the end result. It's very hard to setup long arcs of suspense or a deep story if all subtle elements are chopped and changed around.

Even actors can change bits and they have their own agendas as htey want to promote themselves and their "brand" as well as they can in a film
 

Davidjb

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What's the best film to go to film and which is the worst (most disappointing given that the book was good)

My favourites are Lord of the Rings and Stardust

My worst, Tarzan films never followed the book and although some were entertaining they really were a mile away from the books. Conan did not follow any book and I hated it at the time but then grew to like it.

I can't comment on Hunger Games having not read the books
 

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