Translating Books to Film
There are many great books available and a precious few are made into movies. When the conversion from book to script is made, the plot has to be trimmed. Sometimes this is a large effort and sometimes, just a few scenes are removed. Even in the best case, a movie will only contain 90% of the book’s plot.
Authors have unlimited freedom in their characters, location, story, and reality. For example, a character can be in New York one day and the next in Antarctica. Having a full movie crew in a big city like New York and an icy place like Antarctica is a huge undertaking.
Movie audiences have a vastly different set of expectations and needs. They require a faster plot, a more universal story that does not offend. Movie studios also have to discreetly advertise products, build actor’s egos, take filmmaking to the next level, please the lawyers and include a music score.
The result can be less than ideal from the perspective of a person who is familiar with the book. However, from the perspective of the person who is unfamiliar with the book, the movie usually is a good experience. With that in mind, let’s look at a few examples of books that I have read and the resulting movie.
Great movies and great books that did not resemble each other: City of Ember, The Shawshank Redemption, The Princess Bride, Ready Player One and A Wrinkle in Time.
All of these books were outstanding with strong plots, good dialog, and terrific characters. The movies had great plots, great actors, superb cinematography and memorable dialog. However, the underlying plots didn’t match.
Why was this done? In my opinion, the parts that made the book great were the attention to detail. The parts that made the movies great were the exciting plot additions, added humor and added character insight. In addition, some of the plot issues were corrected. Was there an improvement over the original work? Is it ethical to drastically change the plot for the sake of making an exciting movie? In my opinion, yes because I like a good movie.
Movies are visual, exciting and they have real people (or animated characters.) A book can say main character Bob had flowing red hair, with his trademark yellow hat, never smiles and is 17 years old. In the movie, the dashing Tom Cruise dramatically portrays the character. Through the film, he wears many different outfits, has many expressions and obviously does not have red hair. But, Tom Cruise sells a lot of tickets.
Bad book, great movie: How to Train Your Dragon and Drive.
These are two of my favorite moves and I immediately got the book. Both books had a slow wishy-washy story, under-developed character, ineffective drama, and ZERO character chemistry. It was clear that the screenwriter did a complete tear down of the entire plot. What was left was some of the basic premise, the title, and the character names.
The movies, of course, were astounding. Both are in my top 10 and I just cannot say enough about them. I really want to meet the screenwriters and directors who made these movies. But what about the book? My only comment was: The authors were really lucky to have their work considered for a film.
Great book, bad movie: Dune and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
I have read Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy at least 3 times. Dune was just fantastic; so completely epic; such an original plot.
However, these books came with a catch. Neither one should ever be made into a movie. The only way to capture a story like Dune is in a 10 part mini-series. Any attempt to make a single movie would be doomed to failure. Ha, get the pun.
Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy was the funniest books there have ever been. It is also one of the most creative science fiction books there has ever been. In addition, there is a lot going on with many subtle elements. This story was adapted into a great radio play and the author even wrote the movie screenplay. What made the book great was simply not possible to convey in a single film. The result was a bad compromise that disappointed audiences on many levels.
Great movie that matched the great book: Firefox.
This is the only movie that I have ever found to be exactly like the book. The screenwriter did a great job of capturing the best parts of the book in a fluid way that mirrored every single chapter. Why do so few books match their movies? Hard to say. My only guess is that the author of Firefox had a movie deal in mind when he wrote his book.
What will the future hold for movies that are translated into books? My guess will be more of the same. Talented screenwriters will take books and turn them into gems or flops. Movie audiences will expect more and want to pay less. Directors will continue to push the envelope and continue to dazzle moviegoers.
As for me, I will continue to read and watch a lot of movies. Perhaps someday, one of my books will make it onto the big screen. Will the move be a winner? I hope so.


You’re the best -Bill
December 05, 2018
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Copyright © 2018 Bill Conrad