Saturday, 28 March 2015

Book to Film

I don't know how many times, over the years, I've had a student reject a recommended book by saying:  "I've already seen the film".  With this in mind, TRAC's latest book list is focused on books which will be making their way to the big screen soon.  If you are the type of reader who won't read a story once the plot has been "spoiled" for you, then we would like to alert you so that you can get to the book first.

Some of the books on our list, for instance DUFF and The Seventh Son (based on Joseph Delaney's The Last Apprentice/Wardstone Chronicles series) will be released in the next few weeks.  (Both films have recently been released in the US).  Others, like John Green's Paper Towns will be part of the summer film schedule targeted at teenagers.  Then there are the complex fantasy worlds of popular YA novels like Mark Frost's The Paladin Prophecy and James Patterson's Maximum Ride series.  These books have been "in development" for a while, and may continue to languish in Hollywood purgatory throughout 2015.

I never have the "book vs film" problem for a variety of reasons.  If I see the film first, and like it, then I'm always keen to read the book and fill in all of the extra details.  No film, no matter how long, can ever be as comprehensive as a book.  Years after I began seeing the Harry Potter films with my (then) young children, I read the books.  Even though the films do a faithful, even magical, job of bringing the stories to life -- I still preferred the books -- which felt so much more "complete" in their detail.  There are a few films which manage to improve on their source material, but the majority of them don't in my opinion.

Unlike many readers (or film-goers, for that matter), I don't read primarily for plot and the story isn't ruined for me if I already know what happens.  I actually enjoy seeing how the book and film versions may differ, rather than being annoyed by changes.  Perhaps I'm in the minority in this opinion, though.  My daughter hates it when anyone "spoils" the plot for her, and a casting decision which strays from the written description of a character can send her into a frenzy of complaint.

Most films made from popular series (The Hunger Games, Divergent, etc) tend to be pretty faithful to their source material -- presumably to avoid reader revolt.  But it also depends on authorial clout, which tends to be proportional to the novel's success.

Lesser-known novels can get so bent out of shape by the movie-making process that their storyline and/or characters are nearly unrecognisable.  DUFF is a good example of this kind of book-to-film transformation.  Written by an 18 year-old author named Kody Keplinger, DUFF (the book) has an edginess and a darkness that the film definitely lacks.  Dysfunctional parents are an important element in the book's plot.  Main characters Bianca and Wesley both have absentee parents; his are removed from their children's lives, and Bianca's are major emotional liabilities.  The film makes the main characters next-door neighbours and almost entirely remove the parents from the plot; the entire dynamic of Wesley and Bianca's friendship/courtship is changed.  In the book, frankly casual sex is presented as an escape mechanism from emotional problems.  I can understand why the film-makers smoothed down the rough edges, and made the story more acceptable for a younger audience, but it is hardly the same story.  Sex is taken out of the equation in the film, with social media providing whatever conflict still exists in the plot . . . and it's not much. You might enjoy the film, which is rather sweet and silly; but it's no substitute for the book.  In my opinion, that is nearly always the case.


  1. I prefer to read the book first as much for character as plot. I'd rather form my own image of the characters than ones beautified, sanitized and sometimes white-washed by Hollywood.

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