So, a few weeks ago I made a post with some thoughts on The Giver, which people seemed to like, and that’s great. However, I noticed that a lot of people tagged their reblogs with “This is why the book is always better,” and, well, I take issue with that. (Probably) not in the case of The Giver because as far as I can tell from the trailers, the book is better. However, I think a lot of times us more literarily-inclined* people like to pat ourselves on the back for having read the book (whatever book that might be) without thinking about what it means to adapt a story from one medium to another.
Books tell stories with words. Movies tell stories with a combination of image, light, sound, and dialogue. Okay, so I know you know this, but think about it. Really think about it. A long interior monologue might work fine in a book; in a film, it may be condensed to a single glance or gesture. And it should be—what did you want, a voice-over? That could get cheesy if carried on for too long. A soliloquy? What are we, Shakespeare? The fact is, what makes for great storytelling in print often makes for lousy storytelling on film. Actually, even a play or a comic, both of which are technically visual media, don’t even tell stories in the same way film does. Very different, nuanced things make them tick, which is why there are a lot of terrible stage to screen adaptations and video game to film adaptations.
So what makes a good adaptation? It’s not lifting the words off the page; it’s lifting the spirit off the page. What we’re seeing in YA-adaptation films seems to be an attempt to adapt a book so that the movie fits within a recognizable Hollywood trend. It’s a Dystopia? Make it look like the Hunger Games! It’s paranormal? Make sure the photography has the same color palette as Twilight! A very long time ago, someone tried to adapt the classic children’s book The Borrowers. Instead of paying attention to the source material, they tried to make it fit in with a bunch of popular slap-stick comedies such as “Mouse Hunt” (Mouse Trap? I don’t even remember).
A bad film adaptation has nothing to do with cutting out material. Sometimes a book works better on screen if certain scenes are cut out because those scenes don’t translate. The problem is when the people behind the film aren’t focused on the source material, thinking about what the story does, why it does it, and how to translate that feeling to the screen.
*It’s not that I don’t like film; I do. I just honestly respond to books more for reasons that I can’t figure out and have more to do with me than either medium.