I intend herein and in the next few posts to ponder the personality of adaptations; specifically, of the paper-to-celluloid variety. Though certainly less controversial than politics, or religion, or which is the hottest Victoria’s Secret model, it is nonetheless a hotly contested country, and one that requires a certain degree of passion for admittance. As it happens, the topic is one of particular interest to me, as my philistine predilection towards flickering images continually directs me to the cinema, out towards books, and back again to the pretty pictures. Jackson’s stellar adaptation of The Lord of the Rings sparked my love for Tolkien, and of fantasy in general.
So in light of Jackson’s latest scouring of the shire, I thought it might be worthwhile to look into the whys and the wherefores of cinematic adaptations, raise some interesting questions and dismiss common misconceptions. For example: ought a film be faithful to its literary source at all? What does textual fidelity mean in the first place? What are some of the challenges involved in translating between the two mediums? In what ways are the mediums different, and is one inherently superior to the other?
The one question that rarely pops into my head is the one so most often asked by my fellow cine-bibliophiles: “which was better: the movie or the book?” (In the case of The Hobbit, of course, the answer is self-evident.) This query is usually offered in lieu of any actual analysis, so let’s go ahead and get a few of the obligatory cage matches out of the way.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Winner: Movie narrowly defeats book via split decision
Winner: Film KO’s book in second round, after appearance of T-Rex
Winner: Movie forfeits before fight has even begun
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Winner: Not even close, book KO’s movie in first round
Perhaps with a larger sample size, we could scientifically demonstrate which medium is the overall victor. You may contest the results through peer review and/or replicate the experiment by staging your own battles in the comment section below.
Based solely on the umbrage levels, it would appear that novels are on average better than their cinematic counterparts; readers often end up sounding like jilted lovers when they see their beloved books adapted to the silver screen, harping about fidelity and broken vows. The implicit assumption is that an adaptation ought to be faithful from that which it is derived, and that the filmmakers are failing to properly translate it—but is that so?
Next week: Part 1 – Literary Infidels