Monday, November 22, 2010

Interpretation vs. Reinvention

On Saturday, I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I. I loved it and thought it was a really beautiful interpretation of the books. The colors in the film are gorgeous. All of the blue, grey, and white tones as they wander through perfect. The emotional beats when portraying the relationship between Harry, Hermione, and Ron are so well done. It is, of course, the darkest of all the books and I thought the film depicted that wonderfully especially with the scenes at the ministry, at Godric's Hollow, and with Bellatrix. The story of 'The Three Brothers' was absolutely amazing. For those of you haven't seen it yet, that part was, for me, a surprising treat.

In reading some reactions to the film so far, I've seen that a lot of people like this seventh film because it is 'the most accurate'. It does not stray far from the books and, because they've split the film in two parts, it is better able to take it's time and tackle more scenes from the book. These kinds of reactions made me think a lot about the expectations we have when we walk into a film adaptation of a popular book.

It sounds to me like a lot of people get really angry if a film strays too far from the original plot of a book. People tend to like a straight interpretation. They don't like a director changing the order that things happen or adding scenes that were not in a book or leaving out important parts of a book or, particularly, changing the ending. They walk in expecting 'the book' and if they don't get 'the book' they are disappointed.

I'm kind of torn about this.

I've loved every Harry Potter film because it's brought the books alive for me. Sometimes characters or environments didn't look the way I expected them to, but I've always accepted the choices they've made in the film and, in most cases, applauded them. It's the filmmaker's vision. Not mine. I haven't done a strict analysis of book to film (have any of you?) but I've never left any of the films in a huff thinking that they destroyed the books or completely misinterpreted them. Sometimes I wondered why they may have left something out or extended a scene that wasn't so long in the book, but, I've never thought that there were giant leaps made from one to the other.

There are also things that the film brought to me that the books did not. Even though Rowling's descriptions are very detailed, the majesty of Hogwarts, characters coming to life in portraits and pictures, moving stairwells, and quidditch arenas were brought to me in ways I couldn't have imagined, in much grander, more magical ways, and I'm grateful for that.

However, there are two film adaptations of books that I struggled with because, in my opinion, they went to far. "The Namesake" which is one of my favorite books of all time. And "My Sister's Keeper" which is a book I didn't love, but found an entertaining read. In "The Namesake" the film follows the mother's story, while the book follows her son's story. That is a major departure and one I didn't like, even though I still enjoyed the film on it's own. In the film version of "My Sister's Keeper" the ending was sold off to Hollywood and is vastly different from what happens in the book, to a point where I found it offensive that the filmmaker would go in such an opposite direction.

For the most part, I am open to film adaptations. I'm open to learning something new about a book, adding some scenes, changing dialogue, perhaps even going off into a new plot direction. Mostly, I can separate a book from a film and judge it on it's own. But a reinvention of the story rather than an interpretation doesn't always work for me.

How important is it for you to see a film that portrays a book accurately? What kinds of changes from book to film can you accept? What can you not accept?


  1. The only kind of adaptations I really, really hate are the ones that "feely adapt"--that is, take a few random elements from a book then create something else entirely from it. _Ella Enchanted_ was one such film. It bears almost no resemblance to the book. That just strikes me as false advertising.

    I've seen a few cases where the film was better than the book because the medium was able to fill in with visual motifs, like _The World According to Garp_ or when the characterization got stronger in a historic book, like the first Narnia film. Susan and Lucy have almost no personality in the books, while they did in the film.

  2. *waves* to Laurel.

    I only hate it when the movie claims to be the exact version of the book. And it's not. That makes me mad. But like you, I learn from movies that aren't exactly the same as the book.

    I have to see that movie. Guess Ivy will go for her birthday next weekend. I want to see Narnia when it comes out in December too.

    Happy Thanksgiving Melissa.

  3. Hello there! I found you over at Theresa's and now following :) I love Harry Potter films, no doubt...and I love the books even more! I admire the filmmakers for making the characters come alive in a big screen!

    I've seen the Sister's Keeper but haven't read the book. I find the film to be so sad.

  4. My favorite Potter movie was probably Order of the Phoenix, even though that one did take a lot of liberties (Cho Chang sold the DA out to Umbridge?). I guess I don't mind the changes when I can see the point of them being made. I accept that things have to be different in a movie, but I guess I don't like it when I think a character does something he or she would never do in the book or a scene is altered in a way that changes the original meaning.

    I agree, if a movie seems like a compete recitation of the book, then it's pointless. Deathly Hallows was extremely close to the book, but I thought they did a good job of making the story come alive. I even liked some of the little changes they made because they kept with the spirit of the story (there weren't many of them though).

    I loved the book ending of My Sister's Keeper and hated the movie ending. I thought the book had a much more gut-wrencing twist. It was too simple just to make it a movie about letting go. The book's ending had more complexity (after all, the mother was right - her older daughter survived and flourished with the kidney from the younger daughter).

  5. I've really enjoyed all the HP films as well. I agree that even when they don't follow the book, they're very good on their own.

    When a plot, especially a plot for a book I LOVE, is changed so much that I can barely recognize it, that's when I don't like the movie. For example, the film Simon Birch was meant to be a take-off of A Prayer for Owen Meany, but I guess they didn't even keep the title since they knew it couldn't be done. I heard The Great Gatsby will be remade, and that's another one that doesn't translate to film for me.

    Can't wait to see HP 7! This weekend. Finally.