Hollywood Hits The Books: Film Adaptations and Why They Work

Posted on November 25, 2011


 To quote the great Bob Dylan masterpiece, “These times they are a changing’. This quote could not be truer, based on the upheaval in the movie industry. Producer deals are drying, and studios are relying on more in-house development of films. Screenwriters are able to sell more scripts, but at a reduced rate. In terms of movies themselves, writers and directors are looking into other forms of media to create movies instead of developing more original ideas. The biggest change in the industry, however, is the fact that Hollywood is using more books for story sources.

Books serve as an excellent tool for writers to use in formulating new movies. The wealth of characters, the potent literary themes and memorable quotes has been used to create some of the most memorable franchises in film history. The two main examples are the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings series, which have accumulated numerous awards and broke a ton of box office records. Despite the successes these adaptations have, there are some obvious failures.

The Rum Diary, starring Johnny Depp, premiered on October 21st marking the second book-to-film adaption of a story by Hunter S. Thompson.  The main reason the film flopped was because of the terrible weather. Venturing to a theater in a snowstorm is not so appealing even if Johnny Depp is a big draw around awards time.

There have been other film adaptations that have not made a lasting mark like Harry Potter for reasons other than freakish snowstorms. For example, Judy Moody and the Not-So Bummer Summer premiered over the summer. The latest outing from the Judy Moody book series was universally panned by critics. The movie holds a 15 percent rating on critic aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, and was one of the lowest grossing movies of the summer-but why?

There are thousands upon thousands of books out there with amazing stories to tell (Two notable adaptations coming to theaters this winter are The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close which could be two big contenders in the awards race) not all of them will be able to translate to the screen well if screenwriters and producers don’t follow these steps.

The first step how to adapt the book such as knowing what parts to take out and keep in. Steve Kloves, the screenwriter for seven out of the eight Harry Potter movies, was able to perform this task well, making the movies as fun to watch as the books are to read.

In order to adapt books to the silver screen, a writer must also understand the tone of the book. The Social Network writer, Aaron Sorkin, has had extensive experience in writing films/television shows that contain gravitas and intense emotional drama. He was able to understand the complex emotions of the characters in Ben Mezrich’s book because they were building something that would define our generation for years to come. Sorkin was able to write in subtleties capturing the essence of the characters and build more off the conjectures Mezrich makes in his book making the characters more fully formed on the big screen.

Ultimately, the best advice that can be given in terms of using more books for story sources is decide which ones can be used. There are so many stories out there, but when producers start digging through them they need to seriously consider the story from all aspects. Does the story have some relatable characters? Are their themes that the audience can identify with? Is the hero or villain memorable? Is this book well known and loved?

According to most critics, The Twilight series has some of the poorest acting performances seen in any film adaptation, but it sells out theaters and millions of dollars’ worth of merchandise for one reason: an attractive cast. The story is atrocious, yet is still able to draw in magnitudes of fans.

Producers can follow this model when it comes to more story adaptations, but it seems that it will only be successful with this specific franchise.

Finally, it is a positive thing that more and more books are being adapted because it means that there will be higher concept films released, out making the box office thrive and make that gold rush to the awards season much more competitive. However, the books that are chosen to be adapted need to be more thought out-we all know we don’t need another Twilight series.

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