Will We Ever Learn to Love Film Adaptations?
Ever since the release date of The Perks of being a Wallflower was announced, I haven’t been able to sleep, due to the sound of teenagers around the world anxiously chewing their fingernails. I haven’t been affected by this latest dosage of film-adaptation-panic, perhaps because I read the cult classic in my moody teenage stage where I dismissed all critically acclaimed books as being pretentious twaddle. But that doesn’t mean I can’t empathise. The announcement of a film adaptation of a novel I love tends to leave me weeping for days upon end. I know that my delicate interpretation of the book will be shattered by the evils of Hollywood. My faceless heroine will suddenly have a face, and it will be that of Scarlet Johansson. Nevertheless, I book my ticket online and then turn up at the cinema with four tubs of Ben and Jerry’s (comfort food). I work myself up into a blind rage during the previews. By the time the opening credits are rolling, it’s all too much, and the next thing you know I’ve been banned from every cinema in the UK. Apparently it is never acceptable to smash up the screen, even when protagonist of the film has got the wrong shaped nose. I tried to explain to the police that I didn’t realise the ice-cream was still frozen, but would they listen? I often hope that I will grow out of my film prejudices with age, just as one grows out of not liking vegetables. Then again, I haven’t eaten a vegetable in two years.
Of course, there are some simple-as-porridge reasons as to why film adaptations aren’t as good as the books. Straying from the original plot is a fine example. When I was a wee child of seven, I devoured Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess with great relish. It taught me a good few lessons about class structures, death, and the appropriate evening-wear for a porcelain doll. But then the shitty Warner Brothers version came out and not only had they made Sara blonde, but they also got her father to magically return from the dead, just like young Jesus! No wonder the youth of today don’t know a thing about hardship. Grapes of Wrath looked promisingly gritty (something I may have only thought because it was black and white), but the bit at the end where Rose of Sharon breastfeeds a dying man is completely cut. Good lord, I thought, throwing my hands in the air. How are the biblical allusions to the Virgin Mary going to be obvious without that critical moment?
Sometimes, though, you can’t blame your dislike of a film on plain old plot alterations. The problem often is less obvious that than. Take One Day. You can pretend you haven’t read it as much as you want, I know you’re lying. We’ve all succumbed to its charms on a summer afternoon, just as we once did with (whisper it) Twilight. I told people that I was only going to see the film to laugh at Anne Hathaway’s dismal accent, but secretly I wanted a couple of hours of romantic escapism. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was a disappointment. The whole segment-a-day thing only seemed to work on the page. When brought to life, it turned into a puddle of clichés. It was exactly the same with Northern Lights, re-named The Golden Compass because Americans are more important than British people. Despite the plot being vaguely adhered to, the magic of the book was nowhere to be seen.
On some occasions, the public’s negative reactions have nothing to do with the films inadequacies. Take the much hyped up HP, for example. I had been claiming that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was my favourite movie long before it was released. That’s how much love I held for the novel. When the big day finally arrived, I had the shock of my life. “That is not how Mrs Weasley wears her hair!” I yelped in indignation. “Is this film trying to say that my interpretation of Harry Potter is a lie?! And why is everyone pronouncing Hermione wrong?” As it turned out, it was me, not ‘everyone else’ that was pronouncing Hermione wrong (I thought it was Hermoyne), but that is not important right now. As I sulked through the closing credits, it dawned on me that I didn’t even have a proper idea of how Ron’s mother should do her hair. I didn’t even hold a concrete image of her in my mind. It’s not as if I thought she was bald, I’m just not a very visual person. This is the problem with films. They colour in your favourite characters, and the crayoning never stays inside the lines.
After a few chats with similarly fussy acquaintances, I’ve decided there is nothing wrong with aggressively hating every film adaptation of every book you’ve ever read. It’s not snobby, it’s good sense. Most thinkers in the post-structuralist tradition place the written word above any other form of communication. And if you think of how possessive you get over the novels that adorn your shelves, then have a moment of contemplation for the poor authors! J. D. Salinger did what any sensible literary recluse would do: he locked himself in his room for eight years, drank some of his own urine, and then banned his work from being made into film adaptations. His books don’t even have cover art. Maybe we should take a leaf out of his (well-written) book and refuse to accept the dominance of the visual image.
Before I go, I’ll let you in on a little secret. The Perks of Being a Wallflower made me cry like an oversized baby. I didn’t even cringe when all the characters kept repeating the cheesy line about accepting ‘the love you think you deserve’. Maybe it’s because I read the book four years ago. Maybe it’s because it was nice to see Hermione back in action. Who knows, not I. Do let me know if it left you barfing in your popcorn packet, I don’t want to think that I’ve gone all soft.
What are you favourite movie adaptations of books? Which left you feeling betrayed? Join me in the comments!
Written by Phoebe Eccles