Adaptations from the book to the film – Is it the same character?

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Córa-Laine Moynihan

The film industry has been taken by storm with book adaptations in recent years, however, while many of them have been successful, others remain forgettable. Genre of movie after genre of movie jumped on the book adaptation bandwagon and experienced this creative inspiration. From teenage fiction to horror giants like Stephen King’s novels, the film industry has taken a deep look at written fiction to test its on-screen potential.

Earlier this week I spent my evening watching Pride and Prejudice (2005) for the umpteenth time as “further reading” for my evaluation. It was an entertaining movie to watch; classic regency-era flair satisfied my need to escape to film country, and it was a joy to watch Elizabeth Bennet and her family once again in their search for potential husbands. However, this time I struggled to stay submerged. After reading Austen’s entire book Pride and Prejudice, Instead, I spotted things that had been left out of the film’s narrative.

The novel’s entire cast had been demoted to substantive extras, with Miss Charlotte Lucas and Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle offering short cameos, and Elizabeth being center stage to explore her conflicting feelings for Mr. Darcy. As stylistic as the shot was, Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth spinning on her swing in somehow perfect twists wasn’t as engaging as reading about her relationships with her close friend and aunt.

Too many characters and storylines would have been too much for an audience to focus on

The demotion of characters and the change in their personalities that occurs during conversion to the cinema is a common problem in book-to-film adaptations, an issue that has come to light in recent years.

In Pride and PrejudiceThe main differences between the film and the novel were the removal of occasional narrative events and the removal of characters from the spotlight, but their characteristics have remained fairly similar. This could simply be attributed to the plot having to adapt to the conventions of a film in the romance-drama genre. Too many characters and storylines would have been too much for an audience to focus on. So how did other book adaptations fare in other genres?

I watched Mortal Engines a few months after its release and was disappointed

In 2018 we saw the release of Deadly Engines, an adaptation of my favorite childhood book series by Philip Reeve. Based on a dystopian future where a “sixty-second war” ravaged the Earth, resources became extremely scarce, forcing cities to adapt in order to survive. The tale follows a young historian, Tom Natsworthy, and an assassin, Hester Shaw, as they oppose corrupt government bodies and attempt to survive their mortal world. A fairly classic dystopian teenage novel. Yet what made me become so attached to this series compared to many other dystopian teenage novels are its unconventional characters. The tale was gripping and suspenseful at every turn, but it was the variety of morally questionable and unique characters I encountered along the way that got me hooked. Hester Shaw was not a conventional heroine, and Tom was by no means the mainstream hero. Then the movie changed that.

I watched Deadly Engines a few months after its release and was discontinued. The setting and the world the movie was set in was great! It closely mimicked Reeve’s creation and was believable. But the plot and the characters have diverged considerably from their originals.

Its deformity and its effects are what fueled its revenge… Instead, the directors chose to take a safe path and conform to the attractiveness of the heroines of the adolescent genre.

Tom was reduced to love interest. His role in the film could have been withdrawn and that would not have made a dent. Hester took her place as the protagonist and embodied a feminist icon – she was strong, determined, and desired justice. What the hell is wrong with that? Nothing at all, but for a fan of the books, the Hester Shaw that readers first met was a terribly immoral person – her main motivation in life was revenge. This is probably what attracted me to her. She wasn’t Katniss (The hunger Games), or Tris (Divergent) – she was this emotionally damaged and ruthless young woman. Oh, and horribly disfigured. She was recognized as being deformed – with only one functional eye, a crushed nose, and a scar all over her face. Her cinematic counterpart had a clean scar on her mouth and cheek but remained attractive, like many other heroines in the genre. The reasoning behind this was because the directors believed his deformities would distract audiences too much from the narrative and romance, as Peter Jackson (director) told EW:

“I think if you literally made the scar as it is in the book, you wouldn’t be able to watch the movie with anything other than being totally distracted by the scar all the time.”

For the script and the watchability of the film, that makes sense. How can you keep watching a movie when you can’t even watch its main character? Yet it hijacks Hester’s attitude, her deformity and effects are what fueled her revenge, acting as a reminder of the horrors she faced. It was something that was essentially a part of her in the novels. Instead, the directors chose to take a risk-free path and conform to the attractiveness of the heroines of the adolescent genre.

Whether it’s ignoring the characters altogether or tweaking their attitudes, book-to-film adaptations still have a long way to go.

May be Deadly Engines would have been better suited to the horror genre, where book adaptations have generally thrived.

Stephen King’s novels have been favorites with horror readers for decades, and easily gained the same admiration when they moved to theaters. In recent years, we’ve seen well-received adaptations of his novel This, but his best adaptation from book to film remains The brilliant (1980).

The plot follows Jack Torrence and his family as they move into a secluded, haunted hotel and soon face paranormal and spooky events. King’s writing is terrifying in its own way, keeping you trapped in his descriptions of conflict and not wanting to let go of the book. The film adaptation even more. I rarely put my pillow down. Fans really enjoyed the movie, especially its realistic portrayal of Jack’s descent into madness. The movie is one of the highest rated horrors of all time, receiving an 8.4 from IMDb.

Could this be considered a successful book adaptation?

Stephen King disagrees.

Talk to The Parisian review in 2006, King shared his aversion to the adaptation of Kubrick, saying he found it “Too cold.” No sense of emotional investment in the family on her part. I felt like the treatment of Shelley Duvall as Wendy — I mean, talking about insulting women. She’s basically a screaming machine. There is no sense of his involvement in family dynamics.

It seems the tendency to ignore characters from the character book is also found in the horror genre, holding back adaptations. The emphasis on Jack’s downward spiral has left other characters forgotten in the Writer’s Room and their on-screen portrayals lifeless and cliché. Who doesn’t love a woman who always screams during her horror movie marathons?

Whether it’s ignoring the characters altogether or tweaking their attitudes, book-to-film adaptations still have a long way to go. You can play around with the plot of a novel, the set created to represent whatever the director wants, but the characters are what makes or breaks these adaptations.

Will the directors ever realize it?

Córa-Laine Moynihan

Image courtesy of freestocks via Unsplash. License to use the image found here. No changes made to this image.

In trailers for the article courtesy of Movieclips Classic Trailers and Universal Pictures and via YouTube.

In the article image courtesy of the official brilliant via Instagram. No changes made to this image.

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