What Are Adaptations?
I may be cheating slightly by including “adaptations” as a genre. In general, genre refers to stylistic and artistic categories—something that has been adapted could come from any genre background. However, there is an art to taking written works and making them visual. Even adapting visual literature like graphic novels into film or television comes with a gambit of complicating features, and it is for these reasons that I feel the time is right to talk about book-to-movie/TV adaptations.
How many times have you heard someone say something to the effect of “but the book was better?” I’ve even said it, though I find myself less and less likely to blithely assert that the book is better regardless of what the final product looked like. The assertion of value judgments that are so prevalent in our culture has a lot to do with this, I think. Reading is a better hobby than watching, even if the content is the same, apparently. Also, you can include more in literature than you can visually. If a narrator is sharing their innermost thoughts in the text, we can only access those thoughts in a film if they are changed to dialogue or voice-over, and this does not always work in terms of the plot or action. You can lose detail, background, characterization and fan-favorite moments when attempting to streamline a story into a 2-hour visual medium. It’s no wonder many fans fear their favorite books being turned into movies or TV shows. I grew up with a number of fan-favorite series recklessly adapted to the silver screen in a way that nearly physically hurt the fandom (fandom is the fun word used to define an emotional investment in a particular franchise. To be such a big fan of something that there is an entire subculture dedicated to the discussion and additional content creation of the fans). Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan and Eragon by Christopher Paolini had incredibly large and dedicated fan bases at the time of film adaptation, 2010 and 2006, respectively. However, if you ask any fan of either franchise about those films, you will not receive positive responses.
More recently, HBO’s final Game of Thrones season. Now, some of the issues with the televised GoT adaptation began in the early seasons. While season 1 was remarkably true to the tone, feeling and plot of book 1, by seasons 3 and 4, showrunners had begun to pivot the show in a different direction. The book series has long stood unfinished, and at some point, HBO ran out of direct source material. Knowing they would have that problem, their adaptations of earlier seasons begin to move away from the books ahead of time.
Adapting is not simply about taking the exact words on a page and putting them on screen. Capturing the feel of a character, the imagery of a locale and the sounds of an environment can be incredibly difficult. The way one reader envisioned a narration may not be anything remotely similar to the way another person viewed the same words. Instead, adapting a book is about capturing the essence and the feel. What about the book drew readers in, and how can we capitalize on that on-screen? For example, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is often considered one of the greatest book-to-film adaptations of all time, not just of LOTR films. The combination of scenery, casting decisions, musical score and deep commitment to background lore worked together to create films that stand the test of time. Despite cutting entire characters, Tom Bombadil, the Ent Wives, Jackson responded to the bigger picture. His choices of which scenes to cut and which to change, which to keep and which to film exactly, reflected a deep understanding of not just the primary source material but all the background material set in Middle Earth. Cutting scenes and characters must happen. Think about how long it takes to read a novel and then to watch a film. If Fellowship of the Ring is 187,790 words long and the average adult reads at 238 words per minute, that means it takes over 13 hours, on average, to read Fellowship. The film has a run time of 2h and 58min, or 3h and 20min for the extended cut. That means a loss of ten hours of the source material.
I want to take a look at some of the best, worst and forthcoming adaptations, according to my own tastes anyway. The second half of 2022 has some exciting releases slated, what better time than now to see what we may have missed?
Some of my favorites that can be checked out from the library include:
Other adaptations releasing this fall include: Where the Crawdads Sing, Salem’s Lot, She Said and A Man Called Otto, among many other titles. Certainly, we’ll have enough to keep ourselves busy as we decide which adaptations work and which don’t. I think Interview with the Vampire will work. I am less hopeful about Salem’s Lot. What about you? I’d love to hear your thoughts about adaptations if you see me at the desk! And, as always, fill out the personalized recommendations form online if you’re stumped about what to grab next.