We’ve all heard about books being “ruined” by movie adaptations. We’ve all felt the fiery pang of nerd rage when a bumbling director defecates upon a literary masterpiece. We’ve all listlessly scrolled past journalistic masterpieces such as “Think you know ‘Game of Thrones?’“ Well here’s what these seventeen characters should REALLY look like! (You won’t believe number 929405!).” Hating adaptations has become a cultural pastime, but I think that adapted movies get more hate than they deserve.
There are, in essence, two ways of looking at adaptation. You can look at how faithful a film is to its source material, or you can look at it as a stand-alone work of art.
So, how should we look at adapted movies? One thing to consider is that book and film are completely different mediums. It’s impossible to experience a movie in the same way you’d experience a book. When you’re reading a book, you’re essentially the one constructing the world in your head. When you throw that story up onto a movie screen, the experience changes. You instead experience the world directly through sight and sound.
What I’m getting at is that it’s fundamentally impossible to create a perfect adaptation. What’s important is that the story is told right, not whether Glorfindel the elf-lord is the one who takes Frodo to Rivendell. When you make a book into a movie, you’re going to have to abridge, compress, transform, and add a lot of things in order to make a watchable film. Let’s look at some examples to see what I mean.
A glowing example of a good adaptation is “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. As much as I want to go into specifics of why it’s such a good adaptation, I don’t think my editors would appreciate me turning in a 3,000 word blog post about Tom Bombadil. They manage to be wonderful movies without losing too much in the adaptation process. Sure, quite a bit was cut from the books, but it doesn’t feel like too much was lost. Yet, you can’t stray too far from the source material. Otherwise you’ll end up with a sub-par movie and a whole lot of angry fans.
Take “The Hobbit,” for example. They wanted it to become another “Lord of the Rings,” but realized that the children’s book wasn’t quite “action blockbuster” material.
Instead of saying, “maybe we shouldn’t turn this lighthearted tale into an epic struggle between Good and Evil for the fate of the world,” they added in a number of convoluted subplots, including (but not limited to) a rabbit-pulled sled, the Lord of Darkness, and an embarrassing and unnecessary love triangle. Sure, the movies were entertaining, but they weren’t really that good. The attempt to balance the lightheartedness of the book with the epic tone of “The Lord of the Rings” resulted in a confused and shambling mess of a franchise. In order to avoid turning this into a rant, I’m going to gracefully slide into the next
So what went wrong? Why do fans love “Lord of the Rings” and hate “The Hobbit?”
I can’t speak for the entire fan base, but here’s my reason: its producers were trying to make “The Hobbit” into something that it isn’t — a summer blockbuster. As a result, the story lost a lot of what makes The Hobbit such a wonderful book, and what makes The Lord of the Rings trilogy such wonderful films. They didn’t stay true to the spirit of the story, and now all that’s left of “The Hobbit” is a smattering of angry fans. “The Lord of the Rings,” on the other hand, left a lasting legacy.
A lot of people need to realize that it’s not always worth getting angry over this. I’ve come to realize that great adaptations more often than not make great movies, even if they change a few things. Every artist’s retelling of a story is going to be different, but the best ones are the ones that are remembered.
I mean, let’s be real. Nobody’s still talking about “Eragon.”