Sunday, September 14, 2008

On books, film, and adaptation ...

Originally published on March 3, 2008. 

Novels are still more respected than films. I think there may be a time when a young person reading that would laugh. A time when biases I find peculiar are so foreign, they would inspire laughter. In the same way that so many comedians now use racism as a form of over-the-top sarcasm. When thinking of things to be made equal, books and films are probably pretty low on the list.

I don't say these things from a desire to advocate movies over books. I see equality in two mediums that compliment each other with their specific strengths. A good decision for a book is not necessarily a good decision for a movie; likewise, the other way around. I hope, in my heart of hearts, that one day "the book was better" will be a nonsensical statement; because, I apologize, it is a nonsensical statement. As if the goodness of a book can negate the goodness of a film. There will be a time, I hope, when a film based on a book will not be set back with some sort of comparative judging before its even been made. Shouldn't a work be judged against the parameters of its own medium?

Adaptation can be a beautiful art. I think the first step to accepting that concept en masse will be to promote film as exactly what it is: no more or less literature than anything ever printed. They hold the same literary place in our lives, and deserve the same attention. They have the same potential and similar restraints. Every art has restraints. Every picture needs a frame.

I love books. I love movies. There will always be stories that can exist in both worlds. There will always be elements of these stories that are made just as powerful, or more so, in the transition. Likewise, there will be elements unfit to exist when adapted. They won't pay off; they won't make sense, they won't fit. For example, in the transition from text to film, one must find cinematic equivalents to the same end as the textual effect of a story element.

Another weird feeling I find running rabid in my discourses is exemplified in the following: "The movie ruined the book!" I would like to think that one's fandom of a book could not be demolished or wavered by something as simple as an adaptation. Have the books been burned? Your memory erased? They haven't. In fact, attention has likely been brought to them, re-opening the doors of discussion and discovery for a wider audience. It makes me question how much they liked the book in the first place. I find this attitude to be true is cases of authorship as well. Alan Moore's reaction to the film version of his book V for Vendetta was nothing short of deplorable, and I expect the same with next year's Watchmen.

A movie should be judged as a movie; a book as a book; and both with equal respect. My insistence and dedication to these feelings does not come from some illusion of superiority, but from a genuine hope that others can be as touched as I have by these works. One can be enlightened, one can be inspired, and one can be forever changed.

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