Some Films Are Like Having Your Favourite Book Shouted At You

It’s curious how when a film is made in to a novel people are cautious to compare them. I’m not sure if it’s out of fear that one might be ruined for them or one might annoy them but it’s always a grey area talking about a film that’s based on a book someone near you loves. I have be to cautious when I talk about ‘The Hobbit’ series of films currently being made because I’ve read the book and dislike them, and yet I know a lot of people who haven’t read the book and love them. I think despite what people say, the book does matter.

There’s this common idea floating around that you shouldn’t compare the film to the book, or that the book doesn’t matter because the film stands as something independent merely based on source material. I don’t think this is the right way to go about things, if you feel passionate about a novel then surely you want to see a film make respect it too?

I’ve always found it quite difficult to watch a film a bad film that’s based on a good book, because it takes something you care about and twists and breaks it right in front of your eyes. Just recently when I sat down to watch the latest instalment of ‘The Hobbit’ I found myself liking it and disliking it at the same time. I liked it because it brought to life the world of such a magnificent book that has such vast landscapes that were captured beautifully on screen, but then I disliked it because the action was always going to be the main focus to reel in cinema audiences. For me the book was a display of human spirit and the idea of wanting to be free to have an adventure so I wanted the film to capture that idea and show the real leap of faith we all want to take, but because there are dwarves with an all manner of weapons, they suddenly become the focus to get people’s interest. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the film is terrible, but I was disappointed. My full review of the film can be found here if anyone missed it and is interested to see my full view explained: https://adamdlester17.wordpress.com/2013/12/24/the-hobbit-the-desolation-of-smaug-the-film-is-long-meaning-my-review-is/

I think it’s the old case of the wrong element of a novel being emphasised. It’s almost as if some films adapted from novels are too loud and it pushes the boundary so it’s like having your favourite book shouted at you as opposed to read to you. The best example I can think of to give for this was the latest big screen adaptation of the classic novel ‘The Great Gatsby’ last year by Baz Luhrmann. I think I would go so far as to say that Gatbsy is my favourite book, it is a masterfully written look at what love does to humans and what love actually is, with such powerful characters and detail that pulls you in to a world very close to our own. So you can imagine how annoyed I was when I saw the recent film. It was a technicolour splattering of over the top visuals and a soundtrack that was so misplaced it still annoys me today. The book has so much substance based around dialogue and characterisation and yet Luhrmann’s approach was to throw it all in your face and turn it up to eleven when it just wasn’t necessary. He emphasised the party scenes and the fast cars so much it completely took away any depth the characters had and the deeper meanings behind the plot. I don’t even know if I can say I was annoyed about it, I was just disappointed. Again I don’t want to take up more room talking about it so a full summary of my views can be found in my review: https://adamdlester17.wordpress.com/2013/06/05/the-could-be-better-gatsby-no-spoilers/

When a novel is adapted for the big screen you assume that the director and writers for the film have read it, understand it and most importantly appreciate it, but it seems as though some film makers still jump in and ruin thing. At least with Peter Jackson making ‘The Hobbit’ he’s read the book and he appreciates the source material, there are still people who don’t appreciate the source enough to make a good film. This was exactly the case when my old favourite Zack Snyder attempted to make a film based on the classic graphic novel ‘Watchmen’ in 2009. In fairness it is a challenging source to make a film from, but if you approach it focusing on the visual element that you’ve lost my respect I’m afraid sir. There is so much more to source material than just tight costumes, violence and uncomfortable set pieces. He even admitted recently that he made the film for himself, and that he likes to watch it because it’s his favourite film he’s made. This is an example of how we don’t make films ladies and gentlemen. Although from the man who brought us ‘300’ I’m not entirely sure what else we were expecting.

On the other hand, there are the odd occasions where I find the opposite happening, when a film manages to live up to the book or indeed surpass it. This happened quite nicely just over a year ago with the release of ‘Silver Linings Playbook’, based on the novel by Matthew Quick but not a direct copy and paste job to the big screen. It was quite different from the book, but to be honest I preferred it. David O. Russell took a novel that was quite good, nothing too special, and made it funnier and a really uplifting film. The humour he added to it worked really well and he focused on just how human the characters are. Sometimes film makers get so caught up in making films based on out of this world characters and set thousands of years away from our time that they forget humanity, the one thing that can make a film hit the audience. The character of Pat in the novel was quite interesting, but the way it was brought to the screen by David O. Russell was something special, because it was uplifting and made me feel positive. There are times when I laughed at him, times when I wanted to throw things at him on screen but nothing beats the times I smiled when he was thinking positively. That was something the book missed out on.

It’s not all doom and gloom I’m glad to say, there are obviously films made from books that are very good and are successful for a number of reasons. There are just the odd times that a bit of a stinker comes along. There are examples such as ‘No Country For Old Men’, based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy that was very good, and I think one of my favourite films adapted from a novel is ‘There Will Be Blood’ based on the novel ‘Oil!’ by Upton Sinclair. It took a novel that was based around greed, family struggles and political matters and made it darker. I admire Paul Thomas Anderson greatly for making the film because it showed how someone can be inspired by a novel to make a good film without trying to make it a direct match.

And even after all of this, I still do not know how to feel about ‘The Hunger Games’. I don’t know if I’ll ever like it.

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