Most writers love the idea of a film company bringing their books to life. However, if past movies based on books serve as examples, most authors can’t count on their stories being presented with complete accuracy, hence, the phrases “adaption” and “based on” the novel.
Take the book Elmer Gantry, written in 1926. Sinclair Lewis, an atheist, wrote a satire about a minister who should never have been a minister.
One adaptation of this book, a 1960 movie, was controversial enough that the opening cautioned against allowing impressionable children to view the film. Note that the book also stirred controversy and was banned in Boston.
The book includes conversations about the religious conflicts of the day, which are similar to today’s. As a reader, I appreciated the conversations. However, arguments don’t always translate well to film, so the filmmakers ditched them.
In the film, invariably characters are altered and eliminated. For instance, an essential character, Lulu Baines, played by Shirley Jones, appears early in the book but not until late in the film. Her character combines two women, and Lulu is a prostitute in the movie. She is not a prostitute in the book. Although the film works, it’s not accurate to the book. Other characters are changed to fit how the medium works.
Also, consider that film is visual, whereas a book engages the inner imagination. To that effect, the drama must be observable. For instance, an angry congregation pelts Elmer Gantry with eggs in the film. I don’t recall this happening in the book.
Because film as a medium is visual and compact, nuance is lost. A book has the luxury of offering a character study. Character nuance is rare in cinema. Movies must take shortcuts and convey personalities and situations as stark to express their points.
Rare is the author who controls how her book appears on film. So, as the expression goes, “Be careful what you wish for.”
Do you enjoy movies adapted from books? Why or why not?
What is your favorite adaption? Why?
What is your least favorite? Why?