When I ask a good friend of mine whether she has read this or that book, her go-to phrase is “No, but I saw the movie”. A perfectly logical response, if you think about how many movies are adaptations from books. In fact, just to name a few, this month theaters are proudly showcasing Hugo, a box office leader at the moment, based on The Invention of Hugo Cabret; The Three Musketeers, a flop based on the book of the same name by Alexandre Dumas; and Twilight: Breaking Dawn, of Stephanie Meyer’s infamous saga.
Clearly, adaptations achieve various degrees of success and approval, and gather different responses from critics, book fans, and the mass populace. There is much contention of what makes a good film adaptation, and it is exceptionally hard to generalize its essential components.
However, in my opinion, one of the best broad reasons for a satisfactory adaptation comes from the Examiner’s Michelle Kern: “The key to a great book to movie adaptation lies in the film’s success at concentrating and magnifying the feelings readers have when they read the book.”
As such, this is a very elusive statement: after all, each reader could presumable have a different experience upon reading a certain book. And when then to do with the people that do not read?
But I feel like the general idea Kern expresses is the true: a good movie adaptation should take whatever made the book worth reading, focus on those essential elements and then convey them in film in such a way that not only the readers will be able to connect with it, but even those who perhaps have never even heard of the written work.
This can explain, for instance, the travesty that is The Three Musketeers: instead of working with the original text, it seems that the director attempted to transpose Pirates of Caribbean onto 17th century France, keeping just the names of the characters. The end result is so bad even the trailer is painful to watch. On the other hand, Sherlock Holmes, while straying tremendously from the original, still preserves the spirit of Doyle’s famous sleuth with his impressionable deductive techniques and considerable devotion to solving mysteries.
Personally, I believe that the advantage of book vs movie adaptation should be determined on a case by case basis. Yet I sincerely hope that, for future films, screenwriters and directors should take care and preserve the quintessential elements of the print work, instead of getting no further than the title page.