Musings on the Wild World of Writing & Editing

Maladaptive Disorders

So the Oscars are coming up, apparently. I wouldn’t really know, because I never watch them (yeah, that’s right). I have no particular vendetta toward the Oscars; I look at the results the next day and the pictures on the red carpet. I’m just not invested enough in the results to care. I spend whatever disposable income I have on books, not on going to see movies, no matter how Oscar-worthy and promising the film may be. So when the Oscars roll around, I look at the nominations, think “Oh I should see that,” check my bank account, and go buy the book without ever seeing the movie. Many of the pictures nominated have a common thread: they’re based on books. According to the OOM Blog on Scholastic, “In all, six of the nine films nominated for Best Picture are based on books:  Hugo, War Horse, MoneyballThe Help, The Descendants, and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” (full article can be found at http://oomscholasticblog.com/2012/01/the-oscars-love-movies-based-on-books.html). In an article I read in Entertainment Weekly while in the waiting room at my doctor’s office, book adaptation is listed on the Oscar formula for success. And of course, people want to read these books not only before the Oscars but before seeing the movie itself.

Stuff White People Like expands on this phenomenon–particularly amongst white folk, apparently: “The other problem is that these announcements [for movies based on books] create a ticking time bomb where by a white person must read the book in ADVANCE of the release of the movie. This is done partly so that they can engage in the popular activity of complaining about how the movie failed to capture the essence of the book. But more importantly, once a book has been made into a movie, a white person can no longer read that book. To have read the book after the movie is one of the great crimes in white culture, and under no circumstances should you ever admit to doing this. Literally dozens of white friendships have imploded when it was revealed that someone read Fight Club after 1999” (full post here http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/2009/07/13/127-where-the-wild-things-are/). It’s true that people do have a fanaticism bordering on mania about reading the book before they read the movie, which leads to the movie tie-in. For those of you not familiar with the term, a movie tie-in occurs when the cover a book/its title is changed so that it matches the movie. Good recent examples are Memoirs of a GeishaSlumdog Millionaire (originally titled Q&A), and Being Flynn (originally Another Bullshit Night in Suck City because for some reason that’s an inappropriate title for a general audience). Apparently, back in the 80s–I can’t speak with authority because I was born in ’91–movie tie-ins on book jackets had a bad rap. People wanted the original book without all that marketing/advertising/PR nonsense. I wouldn’t say that this sentiment is confined to the 80s, because I’m one of those people who would infinitely prefer to have the original cover art. When I bought The Namesake, I could have bought the movie tie-in book, but I insisted on buying the original. But other people don’t share my conservative purist streak and are fine with whatever cover is out there. Whatever form it comes in, they’ll take it. One of these days I’ll be writing a post about the lost art of cover art. But I digress. More info on tie-ins at http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/book-news/tip-sheet/article/50665-questions-for-a-bookseller-hollywood-s-diesel-books.html

The movie tie-in speaks to a greater trend: the movie adaptation. It’s not hard to put together why there are so many adaptations out there: 1) good books have great stories, 2) bestselling books make for blockbuster movies, and 3) many bestsellers are written in a format that translates easily to film (The Firm, anyone?) Even die-hard Harry Potter fans convinced that the movies would never, ever live up to the books flocked to see the movies (including yours truly). And there’s the old adage, “The book’s always better than movie.” Well, of course it is. Rather than 2 to 3 hours maximum (excluding the outlier of Lord of The Rings) for a movie, a writer has hundreds of pages to develop setting, characters, exposition, rising action, climax,  falling action, resolution, etc. Books have room for complicated plots and subplots and have the luxury of enriching the scene and character development. Movies are on a tight time schedule, so cuts of bits often seemingly essential to the book disappear.

I’m a book purist, so when I know a movie based on a book is coming out, I pledge to not re-read the book before I go see the movie. If I do read the book, it has to be at least 3 or 4 months in advance. That way, I forget enough of the important details and more subtle nuances that I’m not disappointed when I see the movie. I used this strategy when seeing The Help and Water for Elephants with pleasing results. I’m out of luck on Harry Potter, because I’ve read the books too many times for even the slightest nitpicky details to slip my mind. My boyfriend, who has a BFA in film, and I have extended conversations about whether or not Part 8 of the movie series lived up to the book. But what I forget about adaptations is that they’re just that–an adaptation, an actual change of medium from print to screen. Changes have to be made, because the restrictions and conventions of a novel are so different from a movie. I’m a lover of the zombie apocalypse subculture, and I have read World War Z three times. Brad Pitt is producing an acting in a movie adaptation. The book is essentially a series of short stories of different characters around the globe through a series of interviews. But a movie can’t be a series of short vignettes for an action-oriented audience, so the movie will use the interviewer as a central character to tie it together. When I go see the movie, I will have to remind myself over and over that the movie cannot be “true” to the book–the demands of film are different than the demands of books. Both media are intended to entertain, but the type of entertainment from sitting down and engaging a long text versus sitting and watching a two-hour long film are vastly different.

So yes, I’m one of those white people who likes to read the book before the movie comes out, and if I do go see the movie, I do complain, often at length, about how the movie dismally did not live up to my expectations. But my boyfriend is a film major, and as he teaches me more about filmmaking and screenwriting, I have a better appreciation for the changes a screenwriter must make when adapting a book. I understand more the restraints of how the genre, the characters’ names, even the title of the book must change. And sometimes, seeing the interpretation of a book on screen is worth seeing. However, I will digress and make a side point–bad books rarely translate to good movies, with the exception of Forrest Gump. Books like the Twilight series cannot be redeemed on film. Books as atrocious as those cannot and will not make good films.

But I’m going to stick by one thing: Part 2 of The Deathly Hallows focused too much on action trying to be a summer blockbuster rather than focusing on the major themes of the book. And nothing’s going to change my mind.

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