Do film adaptations ever live up to the book?

Roseanne Field,

When the film adaptation of the best-selling novel Life of Pi was released, it was extremely popular. It received glowing review after glowing review, with an average Rotten Tomatoes critics’ rating of eight out of 10. It scooped four awards at this year’s Oscars, including Best Director for Ang Lee and Best Visual Effects.

It also lead to many people reading a copy of Yann Martel’s book (something I’m still in the process of) which consequently lead to comparisons. Whilst I can’t yet make judgement on this particular case, it got me thinking: do film adaptations ever live up to the book they’re based on?

Life_of_Pi_coverEveryone I know who’s read Life of Pi is adamant it’s better than the film. It’s now sold over 7,000,000 copies worldwide and has won four books awards, including the coveted Booker Prize in 2002. Having been a book-worm pretty much since I learned to read, you might say I’m biased. On the other hand, I can also be a film-buff, so I’m being pulled both ways in this debate.

When thinking about the book vs. film debate, the first thing that immediately jumps to my mind is the Harry Potter franchise. I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when I was about nine-years-old and absolutely fell in love with it. I then read each following book at the soonest available opportunity, enjoying every minute of my escapism to the world of Hogwarts. Needless to say, I was over the moon when the first film was released – I couldn’t wait to see the characters and world I’d grown so fond of come to life on the big screen.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, and every film that followed. However, as I got older and my understanding developed, I found I was also left feeling a little let down each time. Something was missing. The character development and depth, the little descriptive details – it just wasn’t there. They say a picture tells a thousand words. I disagree. The words written to describe every scene in the magical world of Harry, Ron and Hermione tell me far more than the panoramic shots in the films ever will. And what’s more, they interest me in a way that goes beyond anything the film can give me.

Don’t get me wrong; I still love the films. In fact, when it comes to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I actually prefer the two films. I read the book whilst away on holiday, but to be completely honest I struggled to finish it. To me, it felt as though JK Rowling had lost her way a little and Harry and co. were suffering. It felt needlessly long and complicated. There also seemed to be a lot of unnecessary components – the big falling out with Harry and Ron, the multiple deaths at the end… Killing off characters I’d come to know so well was just frustrating. However, the two films – the last of which is without doubt one of the most powerful films I’ve seen – take the important parts and deliver a truly magnificent spectacle, which actually answered a lot of questions I had after finishing the book.

I think a relevant factor when deciding this debate is which you experience first. Generally, I think that’s where the heart lies. For example, I watched – more times than I can count – The Devil Wears Prada far before I read the book. It’s one of my all-time favourite films – mostly due to my fascination with and desire to work in the magazine industry. Certain parts of the film stray from the story in the book. I know I should instantly think this is a negative, and in any other case I probably would, but my fondness for the film means I have to stick with that. That’s the version I’ve come to know and love, and that’s where my loyalty will always lie.One_day_-_david_nicholls

Taking a reversed example, I read One Day a couple of years before the film was released. It’s one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. I looked forward to watching it’s on-screen adaptation – despite heavy criticism of Anne Hathaway’s Yorkshire accent. To my dismay, I was bitterly disappointed. Attempting to pack 20 years of Emma and Dexter’s lives in to 108 minutes was evidently impossible. So much was missing I actually wondered how anyone who hadn’t read the book could follow it. I didn’t really know who they were from watching the film – it was so rushed and they changed so often it was difficult to keep up. It was this that finalised it for me. Films will – in most cases – not live up to the book they’re based on.

Of course, the answer to this question is really down to a matter of opinion. But being someone who’s pretty much on the fence between book-worm and film-buff, I have to fall to the side of the book. I will almost always get lost in a book, sucked in to it, in a way that I won’t with the film. Books have hours; days; even weeks’ worth of description and story in them. Films have only two hours, give or take. It’s just not long enough to do the writing justice… although there is of course the odd exception. When it comes to the much-anticipated Fifty Shades of Grey film, there is nothing any scriptwriter, actor or director can possibly do to make that writing any worse.

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