From the Page to the Silver Screen

More often than not the biggest, most popular, or downright left of field books attract the covetous eyes of the money men in Tinsel Town. And can we really blame them? The script is practically written already! All they need to do is make sure it fits into a 90-to-120 minute format to keep viewers’ attention. Simple. Let’s just chop that bit out – it doesn’t really further the narrative or destroy the story without it. How about this character? Nah, not key to the story, nobody will miss them!

A good ole’ hatchet job later and you have condensed 400 pages into a silver screen friendly length. But here’s the problem. What might seem inconsequential to a casual reader who is only trawling the book to see how it could turn into a film could be a massive loss to an avid fan of said book. That minor detail, scene or character that you thought it okay to cut may just change the flow of the story or the tone from the perspective of a reader. And here’s the thing – a lot of avid readers will inevitably go and see a film adaptation of their favourite books.

And this brings me in a roundabout way to my point – more often than not, a big screen reimagining of my favourite books often disappoints, or at least leaves me with a feeling of something being amiss. I remember when I first saw The Shining, the original version with Jack Nicholson. I thought it was a cinematic masterpiece. Then I picked up Stephen King’s book, and consumed it cover to cover. How disappointed I was with the film after that. I loved the book, and the film just paled in comparison for me.

I have seen film adaptations of It and The Stand, both Stephen King works, and thought they were fantastic. They were made for TV so didn’t suffer the ills of trying to fit a book into a sub-two hour film. Harry Potter released to worldwide acclaim, along a fair amount of upset at its “occult nature”. Inevitably, films were announced. And much like the books, there would be one film per school year, with the exception of the final book, The Deathly Hallows, which would appear as two films.

I have read all the books, and I have watched all the films. I loved them, Chris Columbus and his team created a vivid world, filled with all of the magic of the books. Naturally some bits had to be cut. The late Rik Mayall had recorded scenes early in the series as the mischievous Peeves the Poltergeist. Though not integral to the story, he was cut, and you would only miss him if you had read the books. Kreacher the house elf of Sirius Black’s family has a lot of character development as well per the books. However this is missing in the film. Again, not critical, but it changes your perception of the character.
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So where am I going with this? Well today sees the UK release of The Dark Tower featuring Idris Elba. The film is based on The Dark Tower series of books by Stephen King. A series, I must add, that I love. There has been a lot of uproar about it not following the books word for word, but rather being based on the idea. There has been a fair bit of teeth-baring over some of the casting. But what I am trying to get at is – do we expect too much?
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When we hear our favourite books are to be adapted for the silver screen, I wonder if we expect a literal, word for word retelling of the stories we love. I am guilty of this. I have seen reviews for The Dark Tower, and they are overwhelmingly negative. I was deflated. But I thought some more about this – why? Am I right to demand such an expansive body of work be recreated EXACTLY as it was in the book? Or maybe, just maybe I should treat it as a piece of entertainment based on the ideas, characters and places from the book. Maybe, with this in mind, I will come away enjoying it. Who knows? What I do know is, I will have answered that question later this evening when I return home from seeing it.

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