Books and their film versions

edited February 2015 in - Reading
I've just had the great pleasure of watching the 1962 film of "To Kill a Mockingbird", to assess how it conforms to and differs from the book. I did the same with the two film versions of "Of Mice and Men" last year.

Interesting exercise; partly because the films are of their time, more so than the novels. Censorship and cinematic taboos influence directors' scope and values. And there are some types of writing which you can't really translate on to film. Some things must get lost on the way; do the important ones get preserved?

Some time quite soon I'm going to finish reading Virginia Woolf's "Mrs Dalloway" and then watch the film of that- which must have been quite a challenge to make, I imagine.

Does thinking cinematically make us better writers? What do you think?


  • In some ways - I think it's crucial to have a pretty detailed picture in your head before you start to write anything just so you know where you can go as well as being able to describe anything at all.

    But I think cinema is a completely different medium. I try not to think of the book while I'm watching a film and let myself just get lost in the film - because it has to tell the story in a different way, and some things will be better, some worse. Because that's all it is, a story, which can be told in a myriad of ways.

    Obviously some films will translate onto a screen more easily than others.

    And some directors will be better at encapsulating a 'feel' of a book.

    I prefer books and have never watched TKaMB because that is my favourite book and I want to keep my own vision.

  • Probably the one film I can think of that did the book justice is Gone With The Wind, but then the film was three hours long!

    A film has a limited time to tell the story so it's only going to be the essentials used, the subtle nuances that develop through a novel are inevitably going to be lost or watered down in a film.

    You also have the issue of book characters being combined to fulfil a specific purpose, and honestly, if they could have been done by one person in the book, the writer would have, so that often creates issues.

    Unlike E L James of FSOG fame, and JK Rowling, most writers whose work gets to be filmed for the cinema or tv have limited say, and it may be the directors vision of the book we get to see, not the original writers...
  • edited February 2015
    As a teenager I was totally blown away with East of Eden by John Steinbeck. At a later date I had the chance to watch the old James Dean (?) film version. I was filled with excitement: I was going to see one of my favourite books immortalised on the screen. After perhaps half an hour I could bear the bitter disappointment no longer and switched it off.
    The moral of this story (well for me anyway): never watch a film of a book that means a lot to you.
  • I nearly had a meltdown when I was about 19 watching Apocalypse Now when it came out. There unrolling in front of me with very unpleasant additions was one of my favourite' - Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

    I have never watched that film again.
  • Aeschylus - have you read The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles? It's a great read, if you haven't, with a surprising narrative turn at the end.

    It also appears on university reading lists. And I think you'd find the film adaptation an interesting comparison. Book and film are quite different.
  • Film versions of books are interesting in many ways, and disappointing in many ways.
    Graham Greene wrote screenplays for some of his books that were filmed.
    It depends on how you feel/interpret the book; sometimes I think I must have got it wrong.
    Graham Greene’s The Human Factor, although an enjoyable film, was an example of my ’feeling’ for the book being shattered.
    I read it as the story of an innocent/hapless guy [main character] drawn into the ruthless business of espionage. He worked for the secret service - an ordinary guy, with a mortgage and a wife. Lots of other characters just doing a job - an office job - albeit an unusual one, ordinary people who lived with their mum, or had children and mortgages, and bills to pay. It seemed to me to be a theme, and understated in the best Greene tradition.
    Who did they get to play the main character? This ordinary guy? Nicol Williamson! A huge guy with a huge stage presence - a mega star!
    Supporting cast of ordinary people? Richard Attenborough, John Gielgud, Derek Jacobi, Robert Morley, Ann Todd.
    The light from these stars was just blinding - and not convincing.

    The problem with things on tv and film is…they are on tv and film.

    Death in Venice is another interesting one.

  • Does thinking cinematically make us better writers? What do you think?
    Interesting point. The problem is that today’s generation are a ‘visual’ generation.
    I have read writing [on various forums] where the writer writes as if he is telling you what he sees on a screen in his mind’s eye, as if you, the reader were sitting behind a pillar and couldn’t see the screen. I much prefer to be given just enough to allow me to ‘see’ it myself.
    A whistle. Slamming doors. The sound of a hissing steam train. We have all been to a railway station. We can imagine it. We don’t need a description of Victorian arches, the colour of the train, etc etc etc . A little is a lot.
  • There's a lot to learn about structure from films. If a script isn't working script doctors often use the classic novel structure to sort it out: ordinary world, call to adventure, refusal of the call, meeting the mentor, crossing the threshhold, tests, ordeal, reward, road back, resurrection, return with elixir.

    The only films that don't disappoint me add their own brand of magic. I like the Disney version of Dalmations and Pinnocchio.
  • LizLiz
    edited February 2015
    I'd agree with you apart from the addition of a racoon into the British countryside in '101 Dalmatians', a similar gaffe with the American Robin in 'Mary Poppins'!
  • I do like a good racoon film; hmm perhaps that's a subject for a new thread??

    Tristram Sh- that novel is one which has accompanied me from house to house- in shed to shed- for decades. I suppose I should make the effort to read it. Thanks.
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