What is it about books that make them so hard to translate to the screen? The first thing that pops into my mind is the depth of a book. There is so much occurring throughout the pages that to force the book into the constraints of a movie certain things must be forfeited. No one will sit through a six to eight hour movie, it just won’t happen. Rarely, a movie will run very close to a book, in fact I have seen it happen only a couple of times.
The first time I saw The Princess Bride, I remember not wanting to watch it; but, a friend of mine told me that it was a good movie, so I sat through it. It still is one of my favorite movies today. It was just a phenomenal, if campy, story. Almost fourteen years later I discovered that this movie had been a book first. So I immediately purchased the book for my kindle and started to devour it. The book is set up as an abridged copy of a story written by S. Morgenstern, with the notes of William Goldman (the novel’s real author) peppered throughout the story.
As I read the book I was amazed at how close “Morgenstern’s” tale was captured since that is the heart of the tale. I am not saying that Goldman’s annotations weren’t entertaining because they were. I think the movie was able to capture the book partly because Goldman wrote the screenplay, but also because the movie set it up as a narrated story. In the end this magnificent story exists in two different types of media and should be consumed in either format.
However this example, I think, is the exception that proves the rule. As I mentioned earlier there is just too much going on to force a book into the mold of a movie. But what is so often unattainable with a movie could be attainable with a series. In a previous article, Books to the Silver Screen, I mentioned that I had recently seen The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, a movie I highly recommend, and was later amazed at how true it was to the book. But was it? It turns out that it only adapted a part of the book to the screen. In fact, the book is to be made into a three movie series.
I wish more translations would follow the series path rather than the tried and false path of a single movie. With either a television series, a mini-series, or even a series of movies there is enough time to explore the twists and turns that occur in single book. Even with this time, though, there is no guarantee that it will be a complete or acceptable translation. It takes more than time to achieve what these two examples have. You need both the time to delve into the complete story as well as someone who wants to preserve the story in a new media, instead of creating a new tale while shredding the original.