From Book to Film: Interpreting Story on the Big Screen

So in about a week the new Hobbit film is coming out.  I admit I’m already planning on seeing the film with my little bro and maybe, just maybe, dressing up like Bilbo when I go (I dressed up as Frodo for Return of the King, so I might as well make it a tradition.)  That is, assuming it doesn’t snow.  Hobbit feet don’t exactly feel too good on ice and gravel…

Anyways, I’m already hearing from others about the addition of a few characters in the film that were not in the book.  You may recall (if you have ever read “The Hobbit”) that there was no rear-kicking lady named Tauriel defending Mirkwood like an Elvish Katniss Everdeen.  And though Legolas (*insert fangirl swoons here*) was a major part of The Lord of the Rings, he was not a very present character in “The Hobbit”.  The spotlight instead settled on his father, Thranduil, since he’s the king of Mirkwood and a major player in the quest for all that Dwarven gold hoarded up in Erebor.

Though these changes may not compromise the entire plot of the story (I’m fairly sure we all know that Smaug, Bilbo, and Thorin’s fates will remain the same as in the book), many fans are not happy that such a change has taken place.  The book was a success for a reason, they state, and rather than add a potentially poor plot point to sour a story, why not keep the good story there already is intact?

Film adaptations of a book are a tricky subject.  Some film adaptations work really, really well.  An example could include The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter.  Some film adaptations, however, do not work so well.  (I’ll let you insert your own films in this one.)  Regardless, adapting a book to film is tough because not only do you have to please the fans of the book itself, but also try to win over an audience who either didn’t read the book or didn’t like the book after reading it.

I’ll confess that I did not read The Lord of the Rings before seeing The Fellowship of the Ring in theatres.  I hadn’t even heard of the story until seeing a copy of the book on display in the mall with a movie tie in showing off Elijah Wood holding Sting.  After seeing the film with family, though, the movie got me so intrigued that I went out and bought the trilogy and read the books over the course of a month.  Now being familiar with both the story and the movie, I didn’t mind that Tom Bombadil didn’t make an appearance and the Barrow-Downs were skipped over while the Hobbits made their way to Bree.  It was a part of the books I didn’t mind to part with because the film (for me) still stayed true to the overall story and was so well done that it left me with wanting to know more about the characters and story universe.

Now when The Two Towers came out, it was a tad different.  I was already familiar with the books and the second part of the trilogy was my favorite part of the series.  It introduced my favorite character, Faramir, and I already had some pre-conceived ideas of how that whole scene with Shelob was going to be.  And let’s not forget the Battle of Helm’s Deep.  That was going to be epic.

When I eventually saw the film, I enjoyed it.  Gollum was well done (that scene with him and Frodo talking about “Smeagol” was breath-taking film work.)  I also enjoyed the introduction of Eowyn and Eomer.  But once we got to Faramir and Helm’s Deep, my opinions started to change.  Faramir was quite different in the film than he was in the books (you’re taking the ring to Denethor?  Whaaaaaaaaa?) and then Haldir (my favorite Elf) died at Helm’s Deep?

Yeah, I didn’t like that part.  Considering he wasn’t even there in the books.

It was then that I learned just how tricky adaptations could be.  Don’t get me wrong-I loved The Two Towers.  It was a great film.  But those slight changes sort of lowered my affection for the film when compared to the first movie because it changed something that I really loved from the books.  That being said, I know others who are familiar with both the books and the films and they swear that The Two Towers is the best film of the trilogy, changes or no.  Faramir’s character shift and Haldir’s death didn’t bother them in the slightest.

So with The Desolation of Smaug coming out, I don’t doubt that there will be some fans who are disappointed with the addition of Tauriel and Legolas while other fans will love it.  Right now my own opinion is indifferent until I see the movie.  But even though I know going into the film there’s going to be some changes from the book, I’m going to be asking myself these questions:

  • Do the changes add, take away, or do nothing to the overall story?
  • Does the overall message of the story remain the same?
  • Does the visual story impact me as much as the literary story?

If the changes add to the story and if the messages remain the same, then in my opinion, the changes are a good thing.  If the changes take away and the overall message does not remain, then the changes are not a good thing.  And as far as the visual story goes, for me the purpose of film is to connect with an audience primarily using the senses of sight and sound.  With reading a book, you’re interpreting what’s being read and imagining what it looks and sounds like.  Is the film pleasing to the eyes?  Do the actions of the actors, music in the background, and sights/sounds/visuals of the setting create a visually pleasing world for the story to grow in?  If they do, then you’ve got one good film adaptation.