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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Book Was Better . . . Or Was It?


We've all left film adaptations of favorite novels muttering about how "the book was better." But is that always the case?  ♦ 
There have been a countless number of novels turned into full-length feature films over the years. In fact, I was browsing through a list of books that have been brought to life on the big screen and was surprised to realize that big films like P.S. I Love You, World War Z, and The Firm were all written on paper before big-name actors and actresses performed them. In spite of the massive box office successes of these adaptations, I think most people believe that the book is almost always better than the movie . . . but I'm not convinced that's really the case.
   To start off, I should probably inform you that I was completely obsessed with The Twilight Saga and had so much anxiety and anticipation leading up to the release of Breaking Dawn: Part 2, the last film in the series, that I could make a coffee addict hyped up on caffeine look calm. What if the director changed one of my favorite scenes from the book? What if he did not even include a certain favorite scene in the film due to time constraints? All completely normal concerns for anyone in this predicament, but nonetheless, I wanted the movie to be perfect because it was the end of the series, and there'd be nothing new to look forward to with the end of these character’s stories.
   My friends and I headed to the theater a week after the film had been released, and I couldn't believe that, after these quick two hours, something that'd meant so much to me would be over. Near the end of the film, the leaders of the vampire race, the Volturi, descend upon the “vegetarian” (because they hunt animals and not people) Cullen clan because they have been told that two of the family members, Bella and Edward, have created an immortal child. These immortal children are vampires turned at an age where they cannot control their bloodlust and, therefore, draw attention to themselves and their feeding rituals. However, Bella and Edward’s child, Renesmee, is half-vampire, half-human, so she has the capacity to learn to control her thirst and poses no danger to the human race. All the Cullens run around the world trying to locate their vampire friends and ask them to bear witness to the fact that she grows like a human does.
   In the movie, the two sides stand on opposite ends of a field and the Volturi leader, Aro, calls people forward so he can use his special talent to read their memories, effectively stopping any attempt at lying. One of the other Cullens, Alice, has the ability to see the future and shows up late to this confrontation because she was searching for another person like Renesmee, to prove that she will not be a danger to society. When Alice shows Aro what will happen if he decides to attack the Cullens and their witnesses (his death, along with many other key characters' on both sides of the battle), the director of the film makes it seem like it is actually happening until the end when the audience comes to find out it was merely Alice’s vision.
   But, before that's made clear to the audience, I, as an avid Twilight fan, sat in the theater so upset that the director thought he could kill off so many important characters to the story and ruin the “happily ever after.” In this sense, as a first-time viewer with no idea what was going on, I hated the movie for a brief moment because I was always rooting for the happy ending, and it was seemingly taken from me by a director who'd gone rogue. It was a risky move on the director's part, a risky interpretation of this moment . . . but now I actually look forward to this moment in the film, because I think it really makes the audience feel what it is like to be in Alice’s shoes, and we can see more of her side of the story that is lost in the books.
   There are several occasions where directors have neglected to put scenes from a book into its film adaptation due to time constraints, budget, and the overall flow of the movie. In fact, in the original Twilight novel, there are two different scenes where Bella and Edward each have a day to ask the other one any questions they want, though neither of these made it into the film. One of the criticisms of the movies is that the characters go from virtually not talking to dating in a super short amount of time, but if the producers of the film would have added these scenes, we would've gotten to see how they grow together and learn more about each other.
   Another film that took some creative liberties from its source text is Me Before You. The book as a whole is a story about a quadriplegic young man, Will, who misses his previous daredevil lifestyle, impeded by a motorcycle accident, so much that he wants to go through with an assisted suicide. The man’s mother hires a young woman, Louisa, to be his caretaker and bring him some happiness prior to his death, without telling her his plans. The pair initially butt heads but finally come to fall for each other. After Louisa figures out Will’s intention and the amount of time she has left with him, she makes all sorts of plans to go on a full range of adventures with him, to try to convince Will that life is worth living.After Will tells Louisa that he cannot love her the way he wants to and is still going to have the assisted suicide, the pair get in a fight and end all communication. On the day of Will’s planned death, Louisa rushes to the facility the procedure will take place in, the pair make last amends, and Will gives her a letter to read after he is gone.
   In the movie version, the directors focus much more on the relationship between Will and Louisa than the fact that author JoJo Moyes was trying to make a statement about assisted suicide. Yes, the topic is much darker than a story about two young people falling in love and overcoming obstacles, but isn’t that the point? Moyes’ novel was supposed to be a real look at the life of someone who cannot be the person they want to be or had been, and how hard it is to live with that, yet Hollywood made it into a fluffier version of a love story.
   It’s hard to say whether a book is better than a movie as a blanket statement—they are, after all, very different forms—but this brings up the question of what criteria might exist for making such a claim in the first place. Is it about how closely the movie follows the book? Is it about bringing the characters to life? It is about how down-to-the-details directors match up their props and settings to the environment of the book?
   I don’t know about you, but I think that the examples above show both sides of the coin. In some instances, films can struggle to fully bring a book's ideas or conceptions to life, and this is where a film might do well to creatively move away from the text. On the other hand, directors (and studios) want to sell movie tickets, so they sometimes have to change the storyline to be something more pleasing to a general moviegoing audience . . . even if, in doing so, they might be misrepresenting the point of their source material, or missing the point altogether. Either way, I think it's ultimately up to the audience—of the book or the movie—to decide which told the story best.
  • About the Author
    Ellen Kahle is a sophomore Journalism and Sports Management double major at Miami University with a passion for North Carolina basketball. She hopes to eventually work in UNC's basketball offices but knows that is a pretty big aspiration. Therefore, Ellen is shooting to work at the ACC network or help in the creation of ESPN's 30 for 30 films.

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