Are film adaptations always worse than the book?

Anyone that’s ever loved a book will, at some point, have expressed deep disappointment at its film interpretation and will likely talk avidly for hours on how they would have done it differently, how the filmmakers were unsympathetic in their translation from book to screen: mercilessly hacking at the  integrity of the plot in search of the next money-making blockbuster. But are film adaptations always a poor attempt to reclaim the magic of the book?

The trailer for Ang Lee’s adaptation of the Booker Prize winner, Life of Pi, by Yann Martel was released recently. I had heard rumours that the book was to be adapted but was unsure as to whether it was a wise decision or not. Despite knowing about the twist at the end of the novel before reading it, I can honestly say that this was one novel that has haunted me ever since I finished it. If ever anybody asks ‘what is the point in reading?’, then this would be the book I would recommend they read. It is quintessentially what writing and reading is all about and will leave the reader haunted, horrified and in love with the power of storytelling by the time they’ve finished. Whether this effect will translate to the screen in as powerful a way as the book is yet to be discovered.

Yann Martel’s Life of Pie

Usually, I try to read the book before I see the film, so that I get the whole story and I’m not influenced by the actors playing the characters, which is inevitable for anyone that reads the book after they’ve watched the film. However, this year I watched The Hunger Games before I got the chance to read the books. I thought that, as a stand alone film, it was fantastic but wasn’t sure how I would feel after I read the book. I was not disappointed at all, this was one of the best adaptations I have ever seen, the director and screenwriters  were incredibly faithful to the story and the fans of the novel will not be disappointed. I struggled to find any large bits of the book that had been omitted and felt that both the book and film complemented each other well. Nevertheless, true to Hollywood form, the trilogy of books will be converted into four films (no doubt a money-making scheme) so as to the success of the next three films, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Another book that I have read recently is Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient. Of course, I’ve seen the film, directed by Anthony Minghella, which is a feast for the senses, it is both visually stunning with a fantastic script. It is a faithful adaptation of the novel to an extent as all films are. Yet I felt that the novel lacked something that the film was able to make up for. In the novel, the protagonist’s affair and love story is rather limited to a few chapters whereas it engulfs the film in a powerful way. Perhaps I should have read the book first but I definitely felt that the film was much more affecting than the book in terms of pathos towards the English Patient and his story.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I am not advocating, by any means, that every film is better than its source material or that people should stop reading to avoid disappointment. One of my favourite novels, The Time Traveler’s Wife, was brutally butchered for the cinema. It’s one thing to omit details in favour of brevity and a concise story, it’s something else entirely to change the story altogether! I’m also incredibly proud of myself for retaining my own personal version of Harry Potter. The films were enjoyable and easily watchable but there’s absolutely nothing that compares to reading the books. No matter which one I read or however long it’s been, my Harry is nothing like Daniel Radcliffe. He remains separate, in his own magical world, way apart from his big screen twin!

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