BY DEOYE FALADE
We’ve all been there before right? We hear there’s a movie adaptation of one of our favourite books in town and decide to go see our fantasies in words brought to life on screen. At some point in the movie we see a scene or twist that makes us cringe inwardly and scream, “No, no, no, no, no, (In Kevin Hart’s voice). This isn’t supposed to happen. This is wrong!” Sometimes we manage to make it to the end of the movie but we feel violated, our elevated literary fantasies shattered by the piece of ‘garbage’ we just saw on the screen.
Take for instance a very recent example of the movie adaptation of a book about the Nigerian Civil War, written by a Nigerian Author to tell a Nigerian story.
In 2013, viewers had high hopes for Biyi Bandele’s adaptation of Chimamanda Adichie’s critically acclaimed war-time novel, Half of a Yellow Sun. However, the movie left most debating whether it was a good film and or a bad film; and the category of viewers who slated it the most were those who had read the book. For the most part, those who hadn’t read the book felt it was a pretty decent movie, their only grouse being the surprising casting decisions and the Americanised Igbo accents.
So you tend to wonder: what really is the problem?
The truth is that filmmakers are quick to adapt bestselling novels because the story is already there, and because a quality book often lends to an enjoyable, profitable motion picture. This ‘truth’ can be true or false. Sometimes we get exactly what we pay for; sometimes we don’t.
Very few people have serious cause to deride Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, or Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark (Schindler’s List being the movie title). However, the fact that the story is there – and a good story at that – doesn’t mean we’ll get a good movie. Sometimes don’t get it – take for instance The Great Gatsby, a star-studded 2013 adaptation of the classic Roaring Twenties novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Even with impressive visuals from Baz Luhrmann, solid acting from Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan, and lovely soundtracks from Lana Del Rey and Jay Z, the movie still felt like a tedious but beautifully shot music video.
Movie watchers who have read a book prior to seeing the on-screen adaptation have very high expectations and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Most times there are details in the book that the screen writers ignored to the chagrin of book lovers. But really, who would realistically expect the ‘details’ of a 300 page novel – which readers spent hours reading – to be crammed into a two-hour movie? A movie shows more than it tells; what an author carefully crafts in beautiful prose spanning a chapter is shown in less than five minutes. And while some directors/screenwriters/actors are spot on, others aren’t.
We need some perspective. There will always be good book to movie adaptations and poor adaptations as well. But most importantly, there will be good movies and bad movies and this is the angle from which we should really judge. If a good book can end up being a below par movie, it’s not unlikely that a great movie can then be made from an average book. For instance, Alan Moore himself openly hated on the movie versions of all of his graphic novels, including V for Vendetta and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. But judging these movies on their own would have most people say that they’re pretty good movies. Heck, V for Vendetta is an excellent adaptation so why would the author hate it?
Really, books and movies are different art forms, so why equate them in the first place? A top-level movie could easily rival a good book. Despite the use of different means of communication and both having their pros and cons, theoretically, they should still be able to achieve similar levels of effects. So in the end, if you get to see a movie which falls short of the book it was adapted from, take a pause and ask yourself one question: irrespective of the fact that the movie was based on a book, is it truly crappy? (i.e.: would the movie be a good one if it isn’t placed on the same pedestal as the book?)
If the answer is yes, then by all means criticise the movie to death. If your answer is no, just sit back and enjoy the movie for what it is.