26 February 2019
I grew up reading perfectly entertaining and thoughtful novels that were adapted into dull and forgettable movies.
We have Harriet the Spy (1996), which was a fine children’s book, and succeeds with an adorable Michelle Trachtenberg, yet fails in every other way. Alice in Wonderland (2010) rushes through some of the more existential surrealism to bombard the audience with poorly imagined 3D scenes. The Great Gatsby (2013) completely missed the point of the novel and sanitized the meaning of the movie in order to show decadent parties.
The faults in these movies have been explored by critics before, but an underlying issue with these movies, and others, which were adapted from books, mostly comes from the limitation of the genre.
As an audience, we go into a movie with a time limit expectation. Unless the movie completely draws in the attention of the audience, they will become distracted and stop paying attention.
Based on a chart published on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), the average movie length has varied between 115 and 125 minutes since the 1960s. Most movies only varied another 10 minutes above and below the average at any given time, with a few blockbuster exceptions.
It’s problematic to try and fit dense novel content into a two-hour window. Character development that is often essential to understanding the motives on the screen are lost because of time constraints, and directors often favor a level of tension to keep the audience engaged.
The solution is not even something completely new. HBO figured out an answer with the Game of Thrones series. There was no way that the Song of Ice and Fire book series could have been conveyed within two or even three hours like, Lord of the Rings did, per book.
And that is the point with adapting novels into movies. Hollywood would rather not risk their money on something that does not already have an established fan base, but the fan base is not served — meaning less money is made — because initial ticket sales for a poor quality adaptation will never make as much money as a high-quality adaptation, regardless of initial hype.
Of the top 10 grossing movies of all time, adjusted for inflation, one was based on German folklore (Snow White), one was based on a novel (Gone with the Wind), one was based on stories from the Bible (The Ten Commandments), one based on historical events (The Titanic) and one spawned a franchise that has reached 11 movies (Star Wars).
The format that Game of Thrones follows, 10 episodes an hour each, is enough to capture the complex intricacies of any novel, and it is no big deal to reduce the number episodes if the content can be explored further.
Similar success has been found in series like The Handmaid’s Tale and Outlander. Both are in-depth novels that, instead of being given two hours to convey a complex story, were given seasons of one hour long episodes to help capture the essence of the story that was originally conveyed in written form.
Adaptations do not have to be garbage. Fans could have received quality that they wanted, and the quality is more likely to translate well when novels are adapted to the small screen instead of the big.