Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


Book to film challenge

When I was growing up my mother had a rule that I had to read a book before I could see the movie based on the title. Movies were for the most part seen only in the theater. They were not available "on demand;" no one had their own private "queue." The return of a classic film was a much-anticipated event.

The summer before I started seventh grade my mother gave me a summer project, Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind. The movie was coming soon and Mom wanted me ready. Gone With the Wind was the longest book I'd ever read and subsequently the longest movie I'd ever seen. It was also the first time I consciously compared a written work to a film adaptation. Even 238 minutes was not enough time to capture all of Mitchell's subplots. I remember being upset that Scarlett's other children were left out of the screen version.

I rarely choose to read a book if I have already seen the movie. I want to discover when I read. I want my own fresh canvas where I can paint my own mental images. I dislike book covers that feature movie characters. Moreover if I really love a book I don't want to see a movie rendition until much time has passed; I want to hold onto my inner vision of the story. A movie automatically replaces this with someone else's vision. I wonder if picture book authors go through a stage of grief letting go of their imagined characters and scenes once a book takes form with an illustrator's interpretation.

First impressions can be strong. When I see a movie first, that becomes my measure of the story. I saw Mary Poppins as a child, but read the P. L. Travers series as an adult and could never reconcile the sour governess in the books with Julie Andrew's portrayal.

Like Stephanie I'm reaching back toward an older book and movie adaptation to discuss. Unlike Stephanie, I'll pan my choice. Our family read aloud Philip Pullman's wonderful trilogy, His Dark Materials. The movie version of the first book, The Golden Compass, boasted an amazing cast—Nicole Kidman, Sam Elliot, Eva Green, Dakota Blue Richards, and Daniel Craig. We were hopeful the film version would do justice to the book. What a disappointment! This review sums up my sentiments:

"By failing to trust viewers to stick with a story and pick up on things as they become relevant, it winds up over-explaining, oversimplifying, and dropping into klutzy exposition mode.

So The Golden Compass film tells you baldly up front everything that the novel is trying to get you to wonder about and to explore slowly."

The film has a rushed pace. Compressing a complicated novel into a movie length meant extensive editing. The story doesn't unfold. Exposition, the shortcut, just doesn't engage and respect the audience on the same level. The characters were not developed enough and I didn't care about them. Special effects abounded, but they couldn't substitute for a good story.


Stephanie said...

I have never read GWTW, although I've seen the movie a dozen times I suppose;)I always try to read the book before I see the movie. Last year I read The Descendants before I saw the movie, although I knew the cast and pictured George Clooney as I read. Wow, I cannot tell you which I liked more. They were both fabulous. But I remember reading Bridges of Madison County and then trying to watch the video. I fast forwarded through a lot...

Edie Hemingway said...

Christy, I agree that I always try to read the book before I see the movie, or if I do see the movie first, I lose interest in reading the book. Your mother started you on a great rule to live by. I, too, was disappointed that Scarlet's other children were left out of the movie version of Gone With the Wind!

Lauren said...

Last year my book club read Gone With the Wind-- What a book! Then we watched the movie together and the movie lacked so much compared to the book- however, the movie is such a classic that I can definitely appreciate both film and book as separate entities. Your choice of The Golden Compass is another book that I loved so much that I refused to see the movie.