The idea behind this week’s lesson is that movies can come to be more popular than the books from which their inspiration was drawn. The Wizard of Oz is an example of this phenomenon, but it can also be seen in films such as the Harry Potter series and Forrest Gump. In the case of The Wizard of Oz, I feel that this can be attributed to just how well done the movie was. It also can be due to the fact that the filmmakers did not set out to create perfect representation of the book. They understood that film was a different medium than text and adapted the book into a successful film. Filmmaking was in its infancy at the time, so they created their own rules and did not bend to what was expected. They created an adaptation that held true to the main themes of the book, while taking viewers on an exciting journey all its own. Sometimes films fail because they try to make an exact representation of the text and discount the fact that film is a totally separate medium. Another book-to-film adaptation that experienced a similar shift in popularity was the movie Jaws. It was the first movie to use many of the open-water filming techniques, creating a similar level of awe that was created by The Wizard of Oz.
The Harry Potter series, on the other hand, has become a popular movie franchise for a much different reason. The book series has a very deep story with an incredible amount of detail, and is very popular in its own right, but the books are very long. The length of the books, for many people, is a major deterrent. By bringing these stories to film, movie goers are able to experience these amazing stories without having to commit to the time it takes to read such long books. It is sad that this is the case, but it is a reality of the world today.
Another reason that some movies overshadow the original books is the matter of obscurity. Although it was a best seller, I had no idea that Forrest Gump was originally a book before working on this unit. Maybe I missed the (shrimp) boat, but I had no idea that the movie was actually a book adaptation. I do not think I am alone in the fact that I don’t realize that certain movies are actually based on books. From a quick Google search, I was able to determine that many movies that I love were actually inspired by books, including The Blindside, The Princess Bride, and The Shawshank Redemption.
Even though this shift in popularity happens, I do not think that it necessarily diminishes the quality or importance of the original text. Throughout this unit, I have come to fully embrace the idea that film and text are totally separate mediums and should be treated as such. Just as each popular film has its merits, so too does the original text from which it was derived.
The add-ons, spin-offs, and merchandising, if nothing else, paint a picture of the commercial nature of our world. It is easy to get overwhelmed with a certain franchise when we are inundated with commercials, Happy Meal toys, soundtracks, and merchandise. Who wasn’t tired of the Twilight series? All of these things, however, help to generate a greater following for the franchise. People typically gravitate towards things that they think are popular with those around them. If I see more and more people walking around in Ender’s Game attire, I would likely take notice and at least see what all the hype is about. Whether we like to admit it or not, people stick to societal norms, so expanding beyond text and film makes cultural connections that help spread ideas beyond what may have been possible on their own.
The Wizard of Oz has been one of my favorite movies since my childhood, so I obviously hold it dear to my heart. I remember watching it around the holidays with my dad. I remember playing Dorothy in a fifth grade interpretation next to my now-husband who played the Cowardly Lion. I eagerly await the day when my daughter will be old enough to enjoy it with my husband and I. With that said, I do not necessarily have the same connection with the original book. I do like the original text now that I have read it, but more from the standpoint that it provides further background information about my favorite characters and puts them into more adventures, rather than from a nostalgic point of view.
Fidelity to the Original
I think this week’s lesson, more so than the previous lessons, solidified for me the idea that a movie does not have to been totally true to the original text to be successful. In fact, by straying from the original text a film can actually overtake a book in terms of popularity. The Wizard of Oz is obviously one example where this was the case. Its success, in my opinion, was due to the fact that the filmmakers viewed the medium of film totally independent of text. In doing so, they were able to translate the themes, feeling, and overall plot into a successful film without being tied to every detail of the book. Generally, I think this is what it takes to turn a well-loved children’s book into a film. Oftentimes children’s books are read repeatedly, especially if it is a favorite of the child. This means that the reader is extremely familiar with the story. By tapping into the emotions elicited by the book and sticking to the main themes and plot, filmmakers can please viewers without making literal interpretations of everything in a book. One example of a film that I believe did a great job making the text to film transition was The Hunger Games. Like The Wizard of Oz, it was sanitized in terms of violence to appeal to a young audience, but the feel of the film very much fit the feeling of the book and still had much of the same overarching plot, even though both were streamlined in order to fit the time constraints of a movie. The characters exhibited the same traits as in the book and the main storyline stayed the same. When well done, viewers are able to “forget” about the book and become engrossed in the film for what it is, rather than what it is not. If a movie does not catch me right away with the look and feel that reminds me of a beloved book, then I cannot help but spend the rest of the movie looking for more ways in which the film differs from the movie.
A movie like City of Ember, on the other hand, was not successful in its adaptation of the book by the same name. In the book, two kids have to discover the way out of an underground city set up to ensure the survival of humans on the Earth. The problem is, no one in the city realizes that they are underground, so no one knows that they should escape. The protagonists of the story decide that something needs to be done since the city is running out of food, water, and electricity to a dangerous level. In this movie, the filmmakers changed the plot by altering key details and strayed from the feel of the original text. In addition, they focused on minute details from the book, such as when the man returns from a failed escape attempt with stories of huge monsters. In the book, the man is made out to be mentally unstable and progressively tells more exaggerated tales. It is literally less than a page worth of material. In the movie, however, the filmmakers took this small detail and made it a major element of the film by adding in giant sized moles and beetles. These were undoubtedly added to create more drama and action, but were unnecessary and take away from the engrossing story told by Jeanne DuPrau. The filmmakers go as far as changing how the heroes eventually escape from the city, creating a huge shift away from the plot of the original book. If the filmmakers had taken inspiration from The Wizard of Oz perhaps they would have been able to create a more successful interpretation of such a great book.
I will admit that prior to this class I would have categorized myself along with the hardcore readers that are impossible to please at the theater. I fall in love with certain books and characters and want every little detail included in the film adaptations. I have always known that with time constraints this was not possible, but as they say, the heart wants what the heart wants. By examining a film that I have always loved and comparing it to the original text, I think I may finally be swayed to give filmmakers more of a break and try to look at films independent of the books that go with them.
I'm Edie - wife, mom, instructional designer,online instructor, home renovator,
and lover of nature, travel, technology, and vintage campers!