Film Adaptations of Literature

Have you ever wondered why we do not always like the movie adaptations of the books? What are the important facts while criticizing them?

When we hear or see that one of our favorite pieces of literature is being adapted for screens, sometimes it makes us feel unpleasant, or when we watch a movie adapted from a piece of literature, it may not be a satisfying experience. This feeling may be an outcome of the director's style, the choice of casting, the fidelity of the film to the adapted literature, or just simply not turning out as you have imagined.

Did you know, according to Brian McFarlane, that reading literature and film differ from each other? According to McFarlane, there are four common misconceptions that we make while criticizing movie adaptations of literature.

The first one is 'fidelity' to the original text. Making a movie that includes every single detail of literature is almost impossible to do. That is why some details of the literature would inevitably be looked over or changed in the film. This fact does not necessarily make the film bad. There might be some additions or parts removed from the film because being completely faithful to the original text is not possible. So, the differences between the movie or film and the literature should not be judged in terms of fidelity.

The second misunderstanding is that some of us believe movies have fewer effects on the imaginations of people, contrary to what literature does. There are many techniques that moviemakers and directors use to make a proper impact on their audience. For instance, by editing and using diegetic (internal) and non-diegetic (external) types of sounds. There is also the fact of mise en scène, in which everything and each scene we see in a movie is put there on purpose; nothing is put there randomly.

It is also believed that some literary works are more suitable for film adaptations. Movies are mostly focused on the present, although they can add flashbacks or scenes from the future. However, movie makers usually lack the ability to create the 'narrative voice' found in literary works. This does not mean that some literary works are more adaptable. Filmmakers can make proper adaptations using a semiotic system, which involves communicating through signs, symbols, or languages. Thus, movies and literature have different semiotic systems.

Finally, adaptation is not the only possible relationship between film and literature. Both artworks are different from each other, and both have their own unique sets of systems. Due to the later film adaptations, there are recurring problems and prejudices towards films that mostly emphasize the 'primacy' of literature. One of the main reasons for this thought occurs because of the 'narrator' fact. The narration of literature is very different from that of film. A story consists of narrative functions, and some of these are transferable. To create the concept of literature in the film, the 'narrative' should be properly transferred to the audience, which is basically called adaptation proper. Criticizing a film adaptation considering these concepts would not only give accurate credit to the movie but also make the viewer pleased or not with the outcome.

Sources Cited:

  • Brian McFarlane - Film and Literature Reading