Adaptations are everywhere in modern media – from book to film, from film to comic, from comic to novel. Many stories are not „original“, but that doesn’t make them uncreative or even inferior to their source just by the mere fact that they are adaptations. Often people dislike a film from the start because „it’s not like the book“ or they are convinced „the book is always better“. While that may be true in some cases I just want to try and make a case for films – and books alike.
I’m a person that enjoys both books and films. I was a serious bookworm as a kid and have kept my love for books up to now. Along the way I really got into films as well (I think The Lord of the Rings had a great part in that…) and like many other people often compared the book and film versions of a story of the same name. For me these two have always been two separate pieces of work, though. The book stays what it is, even when someone uses the core idea for a film version. In my opinion an adaptation doesn’t replace or supress the original material. Quite the opposite – in some cases it might even add to or complement the story.
For example the world of Harry Potter. Ofcourse all of it started with the books back in the 90s. Many fans have grown with the books and have had everything in their head. How people look like, how they sound like, what Hogwarts feels like. It was all in their imagination. I can understand that some people opposed to the film versions that started in 2001, because they were showing people a definite and universal version of Harry Potter’s world. For me it was just part of the whole magic. There was more of that universe I could enjoy and just another take on it. I could go back to the books whenever I wanted and return to “my” Hogwarts. A part of that is probably that I am the same age as the main actors and kind of grew up along with them and the films.
Another example from my personal film-book experience is The Lord of the Rings. Now this is very special to me and I will write a lot more on it and Professor Tolkien in the future, but for now let’s look at the adaptation. I first saw the film back in 2002 and I remember being completely drawn in and enchanted by the whole creation of Middle-Earth. I had heard about The Lord of the Rings before and I had read The Hobbit, but that hadn’t properly caught me. But there I was at the cinema crying at Boromir’s death (which I still do, after the nth time I’ve watched it) and it had me converted. I read the books, The Silmarillion and anything else having to do with Middle-Earth I could get my hands on. And it really changed my life, in a way. I might have picked it up sooner or later, but the films brought me to the book and in my opinion added something to the wonderful myth of Middle-Earth.
An argument I often hear and read as part of a case against a film is that it’s different to the source. These differences are described as bad or stupid. I completely understand that someone might get upset that their favourite part of a story hasn’t made it onto the screen, but that shouldn’t automatically lead to the conclusion that the whole adaptation has failed. Some things might be lovely to read, but just impossible to show. Here it is very important to understand that book and film are two completely different types of media and a story has to undergo certain changes in order to work in its own medium.
There are a few medium restrictions. In a book time can be manipulated much easier. Every second can be stretched to infinity or decades can go by within two words. That can happen in film, but for most story-driven films it’s usually best to keep the timeframe as tight as possible. A book can have any number of characters, but a film has a budget to consider, so often roles have to be cut, merged or re-written. It’s great when the main character of a book has a group of 9 friends – their film version probably has to do with 4 or 5 (speaking roles are expensive…). Budget or practicality is sadly very often the reason for change. But it isn’t always a disadvantage in my opinion. This can focus the action and the emotional plot more and just helps the film work as film. Sometimes the writer has a specific twist on a story and can’t say everything with the existing characters, so they add one. Another budget-related cut are limited locations. For example in a (BBC) TV show you will find seldom more than 15 locations (usually with places that are used in other episodes as well). There are many other factors to be considered in the making of a film that you are seldom aware of. As a novel writer it’s just you on your own and the imagination is your limit.
Now, I can’t defend every single adaptation out there. There are some that simply don’t work. That’s fair enough. But in my opinion that doesn’t mean that the whole concept is faulty. I really like the concept. People make adaptations because something has drawn them to that story, just like you. These people work in the creative industry and have the ability to present their take on that one story that’s really important to them. Some of these interpretations might not strike a chord with you. But your version might not impress them in turn. That doesn’t mean that anyone is wrong or right, you simply have different opinions. The thing is that the other person is making a film and you are keeping the entire world in your head.
It’s okay not to like adaptations, but I think a film shouldn’t be hated just because it’s different from the source material. An adaption is different by nature. A slight twist, a little tweak doesn’t obliterate the treasured original from the surface of the earth. You can choose to watch or not. For me there will always be two (or three or five) stories of the same name, but I will always treat them as a different and separate story. That way you might discover some films aren’t all that bad and it might add to what you love so dearly – just in a different way.