“Books and movies are like apples and oranges. They both are fruit, but taste completely different.” – Stephen King
There are those among us who have a taste for books. Whether the preference is for the musty pages of a first edition, or the crisp freshness of a new release, book worms enjoy nothing more than taking bite-sized chunks out of texts whenever the opportunity presents itself. For such a species of people, satisfaction spurts from each passage as they chew on each syllable to extract every possible flavour, every sentence simmering in the mind before they can digest it fully.
Movie lovers are equal in their desires. A true film connoisseur analyses each frame, studies each interaction, and searches for satisfaction in the substance instilled on to the screen. The lighting, the colouring, the framing – every element adding seasoning to what they view as the most delectable dish.
Both mediums provide bursts of inspiration and seek to satisfy an un-satiable appetite. The combination of the two though, namely the representation of a book on the big screen, can either be a recipe for disaster or delight.
The task of taking on a beloved book for the big screen is a hefty feat, but is debatably the most popular substance for scripts throughout film making history. The appeal is obvious, the story is simply sitting there, waiting to plucked off the shelf to be transformed into visual form. The buzz created when beloved books are chosen for such surgery never dies down, as an inevitable butchering must take place in order for the process to begin. The culling of characters, the dismissal of (allegedly) dreary dialogue and the extraction of embedded metaphor is to be expected, as hefty texts are whittled down to satisfy the audiences ever-shrinking attention span. Even though all the changes, in the most basic sense at least, are justifiable in the move from one form to another; the debates and indeed, the outrage it causes sometimes borders on biblical.
If we choose to look at the experience a book provides, in its purest form, the feat which it undertakes is truly incredible. Words, these signifiers of a language which we have given meaning, are strung together in a way which provokes thoughts and emotions greater than one can often comprehend. If you are yet to shed a tear or gasp in shock as you read, you are reading the wrong material. Despite the complexity of these reactions, the greatest achievement of novels is the visual world which your imagination can produce in response to such a simple structure. Dickens, with his wordy descriptions, aims to create a fully formed visual for the characters whom he employs. From their brows down to their belt buckles, the imagery is so clear that Oliver Twist could be plucked fully formed from your brain and set off scampering into reality with little exertion. Other novelists, Sally Rooney being a fitting modern example, favours descriptions on the emotional plain, but a physical character is conjured up in our brain with just as much substance as the first. These creatures live in our heads, and in many cases, we grow to treat them like friends. We possess the same desires as they do, or perhaps we insert ourselves into the narrative beside them, acting out the part which most fits our personality. The imagination is a powerful tool, and perhaps this is why it is such a push to allow Hollywood actors to replace them.
In the lead up to movie adaptions, eager-eyed readers refresh blogs to get a first glimpse at the casting lists, the producers, the directors. Leaks are likely, and the buzz around teaser trailers rivals that of election night. Movie critics also line up to bat, as all parties are keen to discover whether the endeavour will create a concoction which is palatable to such an array of finely attuned tastebuds.
However, despite the foot-stomping and the struggle, sometimes the film adaptation can live up to even their greatest imaginative counterparts. Or in some cases, rare as they might be, can eclipse them.
Marvel fans are eager to shout from the rooftops about how the movie world, and the prowess of those in power, brought comics and storylines to life in a way the human mind couldn’t possibly comprehend. Technology and our ever lauded and ever-advancing adoption of CGI means that the impossible now appears to be possible, and the visual cacophony which is produced arguably does more than words ever could in such a circumstance.
If we are looking for more things to add to the plus column, as if Hollywood is in fact waiting for the go-ahead, certain books which are brought to life on the big screen, expose storylines and unveil characters to an audience who would have never otherwise encountered them. Jane Austen serves as a prime example for an author whose work has served as ample fodder for many a movie masterpiece. My own mother had never been exposed to her work, and when I recovered from the shock, I bought (yes, actually bought, not streamed) ‘Pride and Prejudice’ for her immediate consumption.
Admittedly, mouthing along to every word in her peripheral vision may have been slightly distracting, but even so, my Austen collection found a temporary new home on her bookshelf. The dreamy image of Mr.Darcy, in this case portrayed by Matthew Macfadyen, proved ample enough reason to divulge in to the literary equivalent of such a depiction. The delight here is one’s ability to hear the words which we pored overexpressed eloquently on the lips of these actors, hardly an exclamation excluded, the list of changes mercifully short. The question remains whether such loyalty to the text is the overriding virtue, if this is the key to pleasing both sides.
If you own a Netflix account, or like myself, are scrounging a subscription off an unwitting family member, then you couldn’t have missed the rollout of ‘Rebecca’. The book which forms the basis of the film, by Daphne Du Maurier, was fresh in my lockdown memory, and an instant favourite among my classical repertoire. The trailer looked promising, as from a reader perspective, the casting seemed to meet expectations and the styling looked inarguably superb.
Those who watched the film without any prior exposure to the text regarded it as an enviably stylish interpretation of a romantic thriller. Those of us who watched it as a representation of a beloved text, could not have been more disappointed.
The greatest culling in the screenwriter studio seemed to fall to the complete absence of character development, emotional complexity or in fact, coherence. We can forgive them for casting the beautiful Lily James in a role which was meant to be reserved for a girl whose absence of beauty instilled her with self-doubt. We can even forgive them for forcing a romance between herself and Maxim, a few steamy scenes a surefire way to spice up the formula. However, the way in which they chose to portray style over substance, or indeed suspense, is less forgivable.
The missteps are so great in fact, that an astounding amount of people have commented about how “beautiful Rebecca is”… A nugget which is interesting considering that *spoiler alert* the only time said character features is as a corpse. Such a colossal misstep on the part of the audience is excusable due to the fact the characters lack any real building, in comparison to the kind of emotional basket weaving which Du Maurier had the time to undertake. The key thing, once again, which keeps me from boiling over into a heated rant about this particular adaption, is time. Movies have an allotted time frame under which they are allowed to operate under, anything over that we argue for certain scenes to be left on the cutting room floor. While those who wield our books around beg to understand why such a massacre was carried out on key elements of the prose composition.
I personally do not envy the people who have to sort through the hate mail which lands at the door of the director. Even though my own bias for books may have seeped into my suggestions, the fact is that striking up a balance between the two modes produces content which will never suit everyone’s tastes. The battle between the book worms and the movie nerds will never cease, but perhaps this only speaks to the passion which both forms incite.
Films which are adopted from novels are strained through the cogs and mechanisms of a merciless movie-making machine. The question of the brilliance of the representation (accuracy aside) lies with what is left in the strainer, and if such content is sweet enough to suit all tastes. Classics will forever be remade, every release striving to be bigger and better than the last. New authors will engage in struggles to sign over the film rights to their novels, and that thirst for content will never be quenched.
I guess we’ll just have to wait in anticipation for who will be cast in the movie version of the lockdown lore which is currently being crafted. The popcorn is on me.