Monday, 16 April 2012

N is for Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller (a rant)






The Goodreads entry
I read this book once. I thought, "Not bad, quite good". I took it back to the library and thought nothing more of it. I assume you are all book-lovers, so you'll recognise how insipid this reaction was. But, read on...

This post isn't really about Notes on a Scandal. As I was struggling for an N post I picked on this book, but in truth I could have picked any number of books.

Today's post is actually about books that are made into film. Now, I maybe in the minority here - and I do love going to the cinema and watching films - but what annoys me is later, after I've decided a film is my all-time favourite, finding out that it was actually a book first.

Internet Movie DataBase
Books and films are different media. You can do different things with them; you can use different devices to tell the story. A full novel will never fit neatly into 120 minutes. Plus a lot of the time, the film doesn't even follow the storyline of the book, or it changes the ending so completely that people debate whether the book or film was better.

(I realise that on C day, I talked about Fight Club - a film I like, which was first a book - so I hope this doesn't come across as too hypocritical. I was just as disappointed to discover Fight Club wasn't an original screenplay.)

It often seems like the film is cashing in on the success of the book, and the author cashing in on the success of the film. Fair enough, I concede that money is important, we need to buy food and fuel - that's not really part of my argument.

The real complaint I have is if you're the scriptwriter tasked with the adaptation, why change the story? If you want to do that, why not write your own original script? Worse, if you're the original author writing the script, why tinker with the plot you thought was perfect? (That last example may or may not have happened, I'm just covering my bases on that one.)

Some authors claim that the film is a separate entity so they don't mind what the director does with it, but I'm not sure if I could detach myself like that. Maybe one day I'll be in this position myself, but hopefully I'll have the strength to say stick to my story, please.

Because today's post isn't a recommendation, I'd love to hear your opinions on books being turned into film. If you're a screenwriter, I'd love to hear from you too.

42 comments:

  1. I don't mind finding out that a movie I loved was once a book, as long as I haven't read it. If I've read the book, I will spend the entire movie being annoyed at the changes lol!

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    1. Are you a mutterer? Do you annoy people by voicing the film's alterations like I do, or are you more sedate?

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  2. It's a fascinating debate. I don't mind books being made into films as I'm a visual person, but I'm still not sure if I prefer to read the book first or afterwards. Two examples. I absolutely loved the film The English Patient and was totally absorbed into the story and cinematography. Then I read the book. A lovely book, but it wasn't completely the same story as the film! In this case, I thought the film made the story better.

    The other example is The Horse Whisperer. I read the book first and loved it, then I saw the film. Still loved it, thankfully - but I thought the ending of the film was much better than the book, and truer to the character. I could go on for ages! But I watch the film of a book knowing it might be slightly different.

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    1. I just wonder where the original ideas are hiding.

      I haven't seen or read either of your examples, so I can't comment. But I'm sure with both of them I realised they were books after the films were being widely advertised.

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  3. I don't mind slight changes, but I think if it was me I'd probably demand they stick to the story! Most movies are remakes, sequels, and based on books these days, it's a lil disappointing :)

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    1. Exactly. It seems like original ideas have packed up and gone on holiday!

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  4. It always bugs me when they change the story for books made into movies. Sometimes I can see the neccesity, but sometimes it just seems pointless.

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    1. Especially the ending. They changed the ending of Fight Club, and the book makes so much more sense!

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  5. The first time I saw that was with Lord of the Flies. The book ends with a man coming onto the island and talking to the boys. In the film, the man comes onto the island but no words are spoken. It annoyed me at the time, but now I think the film's ending was very powerful. If the book had been written in that way, it wouldn't have had the same effect. I expect filmmakers usually have reasons for change, even when we don't know what the reasons are.

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    1. That's a good point. Silence on film can be very effective, but hard to convey in prose.

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  6. A recent example that came to mine was how they changed how Katniss got the pin in THE HUNGER GAMES movie as opposed to how she got it in the book. If I hadn't read the book, I wouldn't have known the difference, but I have to be honest, it bugged me. I always hesitate to see a movie based on a book I loved - I take a lot of things into consideration - who wrote the script, director, actors, etc - before I decide to go. Sometimes it works out wonderfully (THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION), sometimes it's okay and others...ugh.

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    1. If it's a book you know and love, yes it's much harder to see it changed. As proven in this challenge, I don't to read books that are popular enough to be made into films. I can only think of two: To Kill a Mockingbird and The Color Purple! I'm sure there must be others...

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  7. The film is a very different medium and I can see why some scripts are changed from the original book. However, J. K. Rowling, so they say, insisted that no changes be made to her books. I suppose she had the strength and position to do that.

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    1. I think any changes in those films would have had huge knock-on effects. She was probably right!

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  8. I'm a visual person so I admit I like seeing a book come to life. When it's done right of course. If either of my books became movies they better not mess with the storylines!

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    1. Your books (I read CassaStar, not CassaFire yet) are very visual, almost as though you were imagining them on screen as you wrote!

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  9. You're so right. They are completely different and it's always a gamble which I'll like best. (usually the book)

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    1. Same here. There is so much that could be done with film, scriptwriters should be given a much freer hand to write something new.

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  10. I've given this a fair amount of thought, but not enough to where I feel comfortable articulating what I really think. I believe this was a super topic for a blog post, though, and think you will get some worthwhile discussion out of it.

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    1. I'm not sure I explained myself very well. I need you all to pop round for a coffee so I can start again :-) It is an interesting subject - I think I'm in the minority, again. But I'm okay with that!

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  11. I like adaptations when they are done well. I know that if I were to have one of my books made into a movie though, I'd like to involved and not sit back and leave it up to the director to make the changes he/she feels is necessary.

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    1. Being involved in the process would be much better than leaving your characters and story totally in someone else's hand. You're at least there to fight for the vision you had of the story.

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  12. They are different mediums, and for the most part if I know a movie being released was first a book I hold off on viewing it until it's read. You can do so much more in a book, get a better understanding for things, so that I feel like it's usually the better of the two. There are exceptions, I find the Lord of the Rings movies better than the books, because Tolkien's prose is difficult to get through. And while Wicked is a play and not a movie, I enjoyed the Broadway production better than the book.

    But if I ever got the choice to have something turned into a production, I'd jump on it. I consider it an honor, that someone liked the original material so much they want to share the story. So of course, I'd have to be somewhat involved and make sure things are changed significantly. But I expect some changes, to fit things in with the film medium.

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    1. Being completely involved seems like the sensible option - I'd be ready to fight for certain things though, like the ending!

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  13. I agree! I hate finding out a movie, good or bad, was originally a book. I wrote about that in my N post too. Good post!

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    1. Thanks. I've already checked out your post.

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  14. Interesting! I don't mind it that way round but hate to read and love a book and then see it mangled into a film! The only film I can think of that is really true to the book and vice-versa is Cold Mountain - I loved both equally. The Help book is MUCH better than the film (as you said, you can't squash a book into 2 hrs of film). The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which is an adaptation of Deborah Moggach's 'These Foolish Things' is barely like the book at all, apart from being set in a hotel in India with some old people. Most of the characters are different, the action is different... they obviously just wanted to use the general 'idea' of the book! Don't know exactly where I was going with that now, but great post!

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    1. Ooh, that's interesting about The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - we've just bought father-in-law the book because he liked the film!

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  15. Movies that do a book justice are great, like Accidental Tourist. The few times Harry Potter veered were annoying. I haven't seen it yet, but a lot of people who've seen The Hunger Games say that seeing what's going on with the commentators during the game added dimension.

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    1. I guess the thing that disappoints me most is the lack of imagination that makes people want to tell the same story in different media. I want creativity to be at the forefront.

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  16. If I've read the book, I rarely like the movie. Some Jane Austen adaptations being the exception.

    The directer gets their own vision and is the true author of the film. And they can only execute part of what the novel covers. Short stories might do better for movies.

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    1. I wish I had more examples, but the only short story I can think of right now is The Birds by du Maurier.

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  17. i believe they do it to try and make it more exciting in the short amount of time & money they have. some may do it because they think they know best, but i doubt thats what happens most of the time. i've attempted screenplays and getting the same umph across is tough with just dialog and action and scene - cant read whats in their heads like in a book... i compare, but dont expect much from the movie & then i'm happy if its good =)

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    1. You've made a good point about the umph! Novels, by nature, will have a lot of internal conflict which can't be shown on screen - unless the actor has very active eyebrows, maybe :-)

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  18. It depends on the film. Sometimes, I really hope they're just like the book. Others, like Harry Potter, I experience as a separate entity so any differences don't bother me. I still haven't figured out why I feel differently about different books though.

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    1. I also have different and unexplainable feelings like that.

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  19. The girl with the dragn tatoo came off better as a movie than the actual book. My humble opinion. Great pst

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    1. Thanks. I haven't seen or read that one. I avoid hype like the plague, and that was very hyped! Thanks for the follow :-)

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  20. I think that turning a book into a film would be a HARD job! Like you said - you can't fit an entire novel into 120 minutes. Isn't going to happen. Some people can pull it off well. I usually enjoy these films MORE if I haven't read the book... because I don't notice everything that's missing. But some people still do well on making a movie out of a novel and I appreciate that! :)

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    1. I suppose the film takes the bones of the story without the depth of the novel. I don't begrudge people making money, but it seems like a cynical money-grab if it's a very badly done adaptation.

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  21. I hear you! Both my son and wife ranted endlessly after we saw the Percy Jackson movie. Apparently the movie and the book we NOTHING alike! Why?????

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    1. My son was the same, in a more laid-back way. If it's totally dissimilar, then why use the Percy Jackson name - that smacks of the cynicism in my reply to Leigh. If you want to film an epic fantasy series for kids, why not make something up?

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Please comment - I love a good chat!