The Sorts of Books I Want to See as Movies
A few months ago, the trailer for John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars was released, and Josh asked me if I wanted to see it. I really loved the book, and I like the main actress in it, Shailene Woodley. I have until June until the film is released to decide, but my initial reaction to seeing it is sort of… no.
It has nothing to do with the quality of the trailer or the acting or the casting. It all looks fine. But there are two types of book-to-movie situations in my brain.
Option One: Seeing it is the next best things to living it.
The best example is Harry Potter. I wanted to see Hogwarts so badly. I wanted to see the potions classroom and the Gryffindor common room. I remember being in the theater when they first showed Diagon Alley, and I stood up and started sobbing. And lots of other people stood up and cried too. We wanted to be there so badly, and seeing it come to life on the screen was the next best thing. There are plenty of books that fit into this category, and almost all of them involve some type of magical element. I felt this way about the Ring trilogy and the Hobbit. I was pretty excited to see the Hunger Games. I wish they’d make a really good version of the Phantom Tollbooth (better than the one from 1970 with Eddie Munster) or bring The Age of Miracles to life. I can’t live it, because it’s not real. But seeing it on the movie screen is sort of like getting to peek through a peephole. You get access to that magic, even though you can’t touch it.
Option Two: Reading it is so much better than seeing it.
This is where I’d place The Fault in Our Stars. The pace of the book unfolded in such a way that the story didn’t overwhelm me until it took me right over the edge with the ending. I bawled. And while I think I’ll cry from seeing the film, it will feel more manipulative; more like a roller coaster ride that is clearly constructed to bring out certain emotions vs. the more creative thrill rides like Soarin’ where you’re deceptively lulled into that flying feeling. I like the characters in TFIOS, but I never needed to meet them. In fact, sometimes seeing book characters come to life on the screen sort of backfires and makes me dislike someone that I really enjoyed on the page. Sort of like how meeting some bloggers makes you enjoy their blog more, and meeting some bloggers makes you want to stop reading what they write.
If I had to boil this all down to a formula, it would look like this:
- People = No
- Places and Situations = Yes
I like to keep it simple.
To me, relationships are so personal, even the ones you have with a character. In the same way that two people can interact with a third person and walk away with two very different experiences, I think the same thing happens with characters. But when you turn a book character into a movie character, you’re actually making them jump through that ring of fire twice. They need to charm you on the page, and then they need to charm you on the screen. And there’s just too much room for a character to go from wonderful to annoying due to casting or the chemistry we observe (or don’t observe) between two characters. I do much better when I see a movie before I read the book as I did with About a Boy. But if I had read the book first… I’m not sure I would have enjoyed the movie.
Whereas while we each have personal preferences when it comes to landscape, I think it is easier to find the common ground (no pun intended). While we may be picky about the people we surround ourselves with and confide in, beach people — for example — tend to be okay with a wide range of beaches. Sure, they have preferences and types of beaches that appeal more than others. But in general, if it meets their expectation for a beach, they’re willing to spend time on it. And that presents an easier job for filmmakers. If they can create a world well, we’ll want to spend time in it. All the better if the characters are pretty innocuous so they give us space to imagine ourselves in that world. Movies like that transport the viewer. It gives them two hours somewhere else.
I am much more likely to go to a movie that starts as a movie. Meaning, that they didn’t take a story from a book which has its own pacing and try to squeeze it onto the screen. I’m fine with movies based in fictionalized history such as American Hustle and Abscam, or King George VI and The King’s Speech. But I like my books as books and my movies as movies. Except for the times when someone happens to make magic: they take a book I love and they turn it into a movie I love. But there is more room to disappoint me than amaze me.
So… I don’t think I’ll see The Fault in Our Stars. Or if I do, it will be when it comes out on DVD, and it’s easy viewing for a Friday night. Low stakes.
How do you feel about books being turned into movies?