Reading Film (Fall 2011)

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Three Reasons Why Movie Adaptations Aren’t All That Better Than The Books (By Tom Schalk)

August 31st, 2011 by Tom Schalk · 9 Comments · ¶4 Bazin

(Response to Bazin Essay)

Let’s all reminisce about your favorite movies for a second. I’d bet among them would be Jurassic Park, Rambo,  A Clockwork Orange, and then some. Believe it or not, these movies are based on books, and we can agree that these are some pretty good movies. However, if you take the time to read the book versions, you may have a different perspective.

“The book was better,” is a phrase that goes around every now and then (with the exception of the Twilight saga, since the movies and books are equally garbage). There’s no doubt great movies based on books exist, but consider the philosophy of a certain Andre Bazin. He wrote an essay a long while ago about the adaptations of literature (“Adaptation, or the Cinemas as Digest”). A major point of the essay was that the translation of a book into a film, all while demonstrating the standards of art in film,  is extremely difficult without sacrificing some of the book’s original aspects.

In short, it may be fun to watch the film rather than the book, but you’re making sacrifices by not doing it. They would be…

1) You’re not getting the full story

Who do you think it is? Luke Skywalker?

Harry Potter fans: remember in the first movie when Harry has that really creepy dream? Harry Potter had on Professor Quirrell’s hat, and it was talking to him, telling him to switch from Griffindor to Slytherin.

Oh wait, that’s right. That scene wasn’t in the movie. Not even a deleted scene was found of it.

There’s a lot of stuff that goes on in the world of Harry Potter. In order to keep the running time at reasonable length and the pace proper for the film version, events from the book had to be cut. Unfortunately, the reader misses out on the information. In most cases, it’s no big deal, but the dream scene has a decent amount of plot-revealing foreshadows within the passage.

The first movie was 2 1/2 hours as it was. To include every single damn detail would be a bit long for the kiddies watching, don’t ya think?

2) You’re getting a different story all together (kind of)

The first Rambo film is based on First Blood, and the only one with a plot. The novel and film have the same premise: A war veteran’s gone a tad mad, and a small town sheriff and his men challenge the former green beret. However, it’s a tad different how we view each story.

John Rambo IS the center of the film/book, and the story revolves around him. If he were to change, so would the story. Therefore, the book and film versions are very different.

The book displays him as a blood-thirsty killer, seeing even civilians as enemies. That’s right: Rambo kills both cops, National Guardsmen, and innocent people. If you’ve only seen the movie, you’d be surprised by this savage nature. Why?

Because in the movie, Rambo is a victim gone mad. Having done so much for his country, only to be treated like dirt, Rambo has more shit to deal with when that small town sheriff basically picks a fight and forces a hunt on him. He’s not a savage psychopath. Rather, he’s a man trying to run away from his violent past…but is forced to fight for his right to run away.

Did I mention that in the original ending, Rambo dies? Oh yes, and that ending was filmed for the movie (you can see it among the deleted scenes in the DVD version). However, negative reaction sparked over that ending. It was probably because the book’s sense of it’s character differed from the movie’s sense. If Rambo were to die in the movie, it would mean that all his efforts for running away from his past were in vein. The book makes it seem like it’s the only way he can avoid it since, ya know, he’s much more bonkers. The art of the character is changed from the book version in order to seem fitting for the film audience.

 3) You’re missing the point the author was trying to make

A Clockwork Orange is…well, it’s quite a work, indeed.

Alex, a criminal who rapes and steals with his gang of “droogs,” is caught and thrown in jail. To get out early, he agrees to take part in an experiment. Basically, he is forced to be “good” through a sort of mental training. Alex is brought pain when thinks of immoral acts and his favorite type of music (for reasons that revolve around the scientists being mean jerks who don’t like music).

Spoiler alert: Alex eventually succeeds in removing the effects from his brain, returning to his old ways. Thus showing that good has to come from the heart, not training.

After he returns to his life of villainy, Alex realizes that this life no longer thrills him, and decides to turn his life around and even consider having a family- Woah woah WOAH! Wait a minute! That’s not how the movie ended!

Indeed…but that’s how the book ended. Though, assuming you’re from the USA, you’d only know the real ending from reading a copy of the book published after 1986. The author himself thought us Americans wouldn’t like that ending and allowed it to be cut from the US version. That way, it would just end with Alex simply being an evil jerk again.

The purpose of this ending is to show that people can mature and grow up. It’s purposely the 21st chapter of the book because 21 is the age we are officially adults. Because of the cut, people missed this big picture. The dark ending it was given makes it seem like a fable, since fables involve little change in the protagonist’s character development.


No doubt these movies are good, but to get the true experience of the story, read the book. I know, it’s hard, reading sucks, and even I probably won’t read them, but the fact is that’s where it’s at.

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9 Comments so far ↓

  • Kevin L. Ferguson

    Very interesting, but . . . what would Bazin say?! Would he say that the book is always better?

    • Tom Schalk

      Simply put, I think Bazin wants books and film to be separate. They are different arts and involve different forms of presenting them. To transfer one medium to the other ruins the form of art it was meant to be presented as.

  • Tom Schalk

    @Jeen Kim

    I’m certain he wouldn’t mind, either. But the fact is that doing the film version “right” has to involve a balance between maintaining the message of the book while also making it suite the film formula.
    Hollywood tends to change anything and everything they think audiences want to see, but that ruins the point of the adaptation.
    On the other hand, basing EVERYTHING on the book may result in a drawn out, dull experience because it would have to take the time to focus on every detail that the author intended focus on.

  • Stephen Mahoney

    Thanks I never knew that the endings to Rambo and A Clockwork Orange were that different from the original. I feel though as if you are giving film makers too much of a hard time. You really can’t just completely separate the two works of film and literature, cinema needs literature otherwise there be a bunch more of stupid films out that would lack good stories and good messages. I don’t think screen writers would be able to write so many movies without having a novel to base it on

  • Tom Schalk

    Actually, I’m on your side, Stephen. The film needs the influence of the novel. The PROBLEM is adapting while balancing the book’s message with the art of film. Sometimes, this involves cutting out content seen only in the book or changing elements that are exclusive to the movie.

    I’m sure there are examples that near perfectly adapt literature to cinema (from what I hear, Holes is a good example) but those were black sheep of the white herd.

    Think about this: Remember the part in the movie version of Jurassic Park when a child got maimed, puked blood and died? Of course not. That was exclusively in the novel, which was much darker than the adaptation was. To include a scene like that in the film would completely throw off it’s tone.

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