When Words Come to Life: Film Adaptations of Novels

The footsteps thudded across the empty street. You could almost hear your own heart thumping as she twisted through the sharp turns and stumbled over the little pebbles and the slight changes in altitude that kept getting in her way. And then a thud – a sound that echoed right through your brain. Your eyes glazed over in horror, as the villain was cut from the scene, and the protagonist stumbled away, more intact than she should have been.

For a fiction enthusiast, there is no greater pain than the ordeal of having to watch a movie poorly adapted from a favourite book. Fans of the Percy Jackson series begin to fume at each mention of the short-lived film series that was supposedly inspired by the books, a sentiment echoed for almost every young adult adaptation produced to date. Predominantly around two hours of shoddy direction with the casting as far from the character descriptions as possible, these adaptations are merely weak attempts at gauging public demand. Surprisingly, however, this very public demand has been around since the inception of the film industry itself and does not seem to be in any hurry to make itself scarce.

In 1924, director Erich von Stroheim attempted to create a faithful adaptation of the book 'McTeague' by Frank Norris. The first draft of the resulting film 'Greed' was a black-and-white affair that lasted nine and a half hours. To most directors, this exercise was a testimonial to the futility of trying to include every aspect of a novel. Eventually, adaptations got bolder in the narrative liberties they took, and Peeves never got to annoy big screen audiences. 

Television adaptations tend to run the other way, yet still manage to ruin stories. They have a larger canvas, and they often try to fill in spots that should have been left empty. The phenomenally popular show 'Game of Thrones' encapsulates just that, as its downward spiral began almost immediately after it roamed away from the trajectory of the novels.

Mutilating plotlines, however, is not the only reason book adaptations fail. Most books with first-person narratives tend to focus more on internal thoughts than on dialogue. The character stands with the audience, as opposed to staring back from a television screen. To translate inner thoughts and observations is a challenge that most adaptations do not manage to overcome. Moreover, directors prefer graph predictions to content, which is why films like 'I Am Number Four' and 'Paper Towns' exist.

A rant on terrible adaptations could go on forever. However, the plethora of award-winning adaptations mustn't be ignored. 'A Clockwork Orange', 'Gone Girl', 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo', 'Silver Linings Playbook', etc. are all acclaimed motion pictures that are firmly rooted in paper. Moreover, despite their many faults, the 'Lord of the Rings' franchise and the 'Harry Potter' films are certainly well-beloved. A lot of novels are even adapted into miniseries, making them more faithful to the original creations, and also more detailed and captivating products for the audience. Gillian Flynn's novel 'Sharp Objects' was an award-winning effort by an ensemble cast, and from 'Pride and Prejudice' in the 90s to 2017's 'And Then There Were None', BBC has an impeccable record.

When everything boils down, films and prose are merely stories told differently, and the story is all that a person needs. It's horrifying to witness a favourite story change, but every reader yearns to see real faces on the vague images in their heads, and real landscapes in place of the green screens on their grey cells.

And finally, as she dances away to victory, you sigh with a smile and turn off the television. Tomorrow, you will meet your regular group of friends and rant about how she was supposed to be dead, that it was stupid to make a three-part series out of what was supposed to have been a standalone tragedy. For now, however, you are content with a simple Google search - 'Part 2 Release date'.