One of the great joys of stories is that there are so many formats in which to enjoy them. It is far easier now to have stories on demand especially via laptop, tablet or mobile. The Banbury Cross lady had music wherever she went but I’d rather have stories wherever I go!
There are flash fiction stories, standard length stories (usually up to 2000 words) and novels of course but it tends to be the latter that attracts the attention of the film makers. I can think of one notable exception. The Birds by Daphne De Maurier was adapted by Alfred Hitchcock but it started life as a short story rather than a novel.
Alfred Hitchcock and the Birds
Generally I like to read the book before watching the film though my one exception was Oliver Twist starring the late, great Sir Alec Guinness as Fagin. I was terrified of Bill Sikes (played by Oliver Reed) and had my heart broken watching what happened to Nancy. At the end of the film I had to read the book and it remains a favourite.
Sir Alec Guinness as Fagin
Bill Sikes and his dog
A great book, I think, plays images in the reader’s mind so you see the characters in action. A good film adaptation will bring those images to life on the silver screen. It will be as if the film director could look into your mind, see what you saw when you read, and then put it up on screen for you. Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings is a classic for me on these grounds.
Frodo and Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings
Film night at The Hilt
Confession time – I’ve not been to The Hilt (the timing doesn’t work out for me), though I do think it is fantastic to be able to watch a recent cinema release at somewhere which is on the doorstep for most of us. The main cinemas I have used locally are the Vue at Eastleigh and the Odeon at Southampton.
Going to the cinema is still a special experience for me. I tend to go only when I’m reasonably sure I’m going to enjoy the film (you can’t go wrong with Bond). I like the Vue at Eastleigh. It has enough screens meaning you’re likely to get in and see what you want while not being too huge (I find the Odeon a bit intimidating here, I prefer my cinema experience to be less impersonal, to feel like I’m going into my own private screening and I think that’s easier to achieve with a smaller cinema).
I used to visit the Mayflower Theatre when, many years ago, it was The Gaumont and remember watching films there in the 1970s as a child.
I saw Walt Disney’s Cinderella and Robin Hood there. My tastes have changed somewhat. The last film I went to see at the cinema was the marvellous Skyfall, the James Bond 50th anniversary film. Bit of a change from turning pumpkins into stage coaches to watching a man pursuing the nation’s enemies (and in Skyfall’s case, M’s enemies).
Which is best?
So which is best? Book or film? There are merits in both but my favourite adaptations from book to film are:-
The Lord of the Rings (all three – The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King)
The book is literally fantastic in size and the breadth of story is amazing. The film brings Tolkein’s most famous works to life (and made an excellent advert for New Zealand where the movie was shot).
I found the cameras swooping down into Saruman’s mines exhilarating. You could see the sweat and the sheer exhaustion on the faces of Frodo and Sam when all the heroic hobbits really wanted to do was give up. The monstrous Shelob is also well portrayed and very scary. I also loved the portrayal of Treebeard and the March of the Ents. The elves’ magnificent home at Lothlorien took my breath away for its beauty and scale. The film version I think shone a spotlight on just how imaginative Tolkein was.
Why LOTR never won the Booker Prize is beyond me… (I feel strongly it could have been done posthumously as recognition of what a fantastic work it is, I feel the same way about Orwell’s 1984). My better half, never having the time or inclination to read such a large volume (you could knock people out with the three volume LOTR paperback I own) took to the film at once. I don’t understand how three films are being made out of The Hobbit though (though I gather from reviews and comments from friends and family that I am not alone in this view!).
The Muppets’ version of A Christmas Carol
Michael Caine is fabulous in this as Scrooge. He gets the meanness right without overdoing it. I also love the Marley Brothers song (Marley and Marley) and how they literally show Scrooge the chains he’s building around himself.
My favourite bit comes right at the end where our lovely narrator, Gonzo (who is taking on the role of Charles Dickens as we go through the story with him), recommends reading the original book. What author is not going to like that! And the film is faithful to the book. This is not something that can always be said.
The songs written for the Muppets fit in with the original story well and I also love the way Miss Piggy as Mrs Cratchit wants to show Scrooge the door when he comes calling on Christmas Day. She is not to know at that point her husband’s employer is visiting for a good reason! I hope younger fans of the Muppets did read Charles Dickens for themselves as per Gonzo’s excellent advice. The Muppets managed to enhance this wonderful novel which remains my favourite Charles Dickens’ story.
The Harry Potter series (especially The Prisoner of Azkaban)
I loved the books. I loved the films. Another story type I have a soft spot for is the wrongly accused who is eventually cleared (The Prisoner of Zenda is the film for this) and Azkaban is a great example of that. Again the film brought to life the magical settings, especially where Hogwarts Castle is lit up at night as the new trainee wizards and witches make their way to what is rather a special school.
Film can zoom in on details in a minute or two of screen time the way a book would take dozens of pages to do. I also liked the way the interior of Hogwarts was brought to life. Dawn French portraying (in every sense!) the Fat Lady painting was great.
I’ve always admired J.K. Rowling in that her works have encouraged children to read, which is always a good thing, but one role of films is to encourage those who haven’t read the original books to go out and do so. And if you have already read the books, a good adaptation will enforce your knowledge of the story and help you get greater enjoyment out of it. Why enjoy the story in just one format after all?
What was also encouraging when my son and I went to see the films as and when they were released was the fact it was clear from audience reaction to certain scenes they knew the story already. The death of Dobby the house elf was a good example of this. The cinema went strangely quiet yet anyone who knew the story, as most of the audience would have done, would have known this was coming. Yet we were still gripped, and moved, by what we were seeing.
The Bond films
Well known as books by Ian Fleming (to begin with), these stories are even better known as films. I’ve liked all the Bonds (films and actors!) and they are great stories to adapt to the big screen. You literally visualise the action, the glamour, the car chases and so on. One of the last films I saw at the old Gaumont in Southampton was A View to A Kill, the last Bond starring Roger Moore and where Grace Jones was the “henchman”. (Very good she was too).
Why books are better
Without the book, there is no film adaptation to be made!
Then there are those films where the images portrayed by the director do not marry up with those images you see when you read the book, they’ve seen the story in a completely different way to you and that can be disconcerting. Sometimes of course, if done well, that new way of looking at the story can open things up for you as a reader but I have found where there is a huge discrepancy, the film is not being faithful to the book. It is merely using it as a “hook”. I don’t like that approach myself.
You don’t have to wait for a cinema (or DVD) release date – the book is usually out for years before any film is out on general release. And, of course, as well as buying the book, there is always the option of borrowing it from the library.
Even after the film is out and seen, the book still has a huge advantage in that you can turn to it at any time, read for as long as you want and then stop until another time. Put a DVD on and you are kind of obliged to watch it all (which is great if you have the time but if you don’t this is not a lot of use).
I will always prefer books but good film adaptations do bring books to life and this is especially true for those who generally don’t read for pleasure.
The most important thing, be it book or film, is that people get to enjoy a truly great story. Stories will always live on, regardless of their format.
Over to you…
- What are your favourite book to film adaptations and why?
- Which do you prefer – books or films – and why?
Note: Don’t miss Allison’s next post on Friday 1st May 2015.
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