How Book-to-Movie Adaptations Fail Because of Pacing

Being disappointed in the film adaptation of a book you love is part and parcel of a book lover’s character arc. Film adaptations fail for a number of reasons, but a common problem is how they handle the pacing of the story.

Let’s start with an example of rhythm managed correctly – the Harry Potter movies. The movies are relatively longer than your average movie, but somehow hold the attention much better than much shorter movies. And they had to be long to bring the events of the books to life. Some scenes were slow and some fast. The variety helped improve the film. Kudos to the creators for their excellent job of translating the pacing from book to film format.

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The Harry Potter the films perfectly illustrate the impact of runtime on the success of an adaptation.

Tight runtimes have killed so many potential stories, like the Percy Jackson movies. The movies ignored essential world-building. Most of the plot holes could have been avoided if this problem did not exist.

The Divergent The series had the same problem, although a little less glaring in terms of the world-building aspect. The character-driven portions of the book were overwhelmed by fast-paced action scenes that added neither depth nor intrigue to the films.

The pacing issues don’t just bring down stories set in fantasy worlds. The kite runner, for example, was as close to reality as fiction. The scene in the movie where Hassan and Amir part ways was painful to watch. Although the boring acting played a huge role, the speed at which the scene flew by made it worse. Every emotion and nuance in the book has been erased. In genres centered on emotions, the rhythm is the crucial point. This is why many good horror movies have long running times to build suspense and fear and end up delivering satisfying payoffs.

You have to care about the characters to be afraid of what will happen to them. We also need to know enough about the setting to want to know more about the story and how it unfolds. However, movie makers seem to overlook this aspect when adapting books, especially those in the romance genre. It takes time for the audience to care, love, and root for the characters.

In the film adaptation of Six feet away, the Watchers were thrown into the story with no reason to care about the main character. We meet the second main character before we have time to like or care about the first. The two characters’ journey felt like the third ride of a roller coaster; the story was constantly moving but we still felt nothing.

Six feet away is not alone. Many romance book adaptations feel like a series of interactions because the movies didn’t allow the characters time to really shine.

Rhythm affects the structure of the narrative. Half-hearted attempts by movie producers have definitely reinforced book-lovers’ suspicions that book-to-movie adaptations are usually made for profit, not for love of the source material.

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