Mediums of Storytelling: Movies

I have written a blog in the past about how I feel it is absurd for people to be surprised by the fact that movie adaptions of books are almost always different.  In that post I covered both television and movie adaptions, but here I would like to focus solely on movies.  Films may not have the length or depth of books, but they are viable means to tell a story, especially if there are time constraints.

Movies have a problem of time, something novels general don’t have to worry about.  Films typically do not exceed three hours because many people do not have time to sit through something that long or have that extensive of an attention span.  Books take time to consume, movies do not, and for authors sometimes we need quick bursts of inspiration.  Films fulfill this role.  Aside from the shorter length, the visual stimulation that comes from movies is unparalleled.  Reading is essential to being an author, but sometimes being well-versed in movies is as well.

With the advancement of technology, the cinematic experience has evolved and has enhanced movies beyond their campy, stilly status decades prior.  With these enhancements compiled with a different vision, directors almost universally decide to change their version of a story that originally was a novel.  Those who read the books typically get upset over the differences, and these changes can affect the movie’s critical reviews.  It blows me away that people still get upset over the fact that movies and books are usually different.  This has been the case for decades.  Why are people still surprised by this?  Just because there are differences doesn’t mean the movie is bad, sometimes the changes are good.  Movies and books are two completely different forms of art, and by extension of that reality inevitably tell stories differently.  Both are still equally legitimate.

In the writing community, books are praised, and movies are either forgotten as sources of inspiration or looked down upon.  I feel this might be partially because of the differences between movie and film adaptations of the same stories and the stigma that goes along with it.  It is possible to appreciate all forms of storytelling, including the old and modern.

How Dare Book Adaptions be Different!

Ever notice how book adaptions, either movies or television, differ greatly from their source?  This happens so often that if a television series or film does stick close to the book they are based on it is incredibly rare.  Most people know this, however there is almost always universal outrage when a film dares to take liberties with the story.  Why is that?  Why are people surprised by this?

When we read a book, we set up certain expectations for the story.  Things look and feel slightly different in the story for each reader.  This individual experience creates an emotional bond with the characters and world created within the book.  That’s perfectly fine and to be expected if the author did his or her job correctly.  When the story is adapted into another medium there are changes and inevitably some people become disappointed.  Disappointment isn’t bad, and some adaptions of stories are indeed subpar.  I feel the constant backlash and surprise when an adaption differs is silly.  Film is a different medium than books.  A movie or television series due to the very means in which they tell a story must differ from a book or comic.

A book’s job is to show, not tell, to be descriptive while allowing room for the imagination to fill in the blank as much as possible.  A film still needs to show, but relies much less on imagination than a book.  Subtle details are impossible to avoid in a movie and on top of that it must hold the viewers’ attentions and leave them with wanting more.  Sometimes, the source material doesn’t go very deep due to its target audience and film makers want to flesh out one-dimensional characters.  The movies may not succeed at their goal, but I can acknowledge their intent.

The Hobbit films are often criticized as terrible adaptions.  It is a trilogy of movies based off a short novel written for children.  There are quite a few deviations from the book, the same can be said of the Lord of the Rings movies as well though, which are not criticized nearly as much.  This isn’t about defending The Hobbit films, I respect why people don’t like them.  They are a perfect illustration for my point.  They are films that are very different from the book they were based on.  The book was written before The Lord of the Rings and had a very different feel to it.  The elves were silly, the goblins were less-than threatening, and you have talking animals.  The entire tone changed so much with its sequel that it leaves quite a bit of continuity errors.  I adore Tolkien, but the explanation that Bilbo wrote the first book and Frodo wrote the sequels is something I’m familiar with.  I feel that is a weak explanation.  The Hobbit films tried to rectify that in some areas, some of which I feel they did a good job, while others not so much.  Whether someone agrees or disagrees with me is fine, but anyone would have to admit there are more factors going into the disappointment The Hobbit films wrought than merely not being true to their source.  These films made a bold decision to draw out the story longer than it was, and show other sides to characters, and because it didn’t meet many people’s standards they are maligned.

Perhaps we need to stop being so surprised when film makers take liberties?  Movies and Television are different means of telling stories, and we should expect as much.  The option is always to stick with books because they are generally better than any adaption anyway due to their ability to go deeper and not be constrained to a certain time frame.