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Sunday May 29, 2011

Picture book stories

IS it just me, or is 2011 the year of print-to-movie adaptations?

As far as I can tell, the most anticipated movies of the year are either based on books or comic series.

Films starring comic book heroes like the Green Hornet and Thor are already out, while those with Green Lantern, Captain America and the X-Men respectively will be released within the next couple of months.

Meanwhile, we’ve already seen screen adaptations of young adult (YA) novels like I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore, Beastly by Alex Flinn, Tomorrow When The War Began by John Marsden (as Underdog Soldiers) and The Eagle Of The Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff (as The Eagle).

And, of course, the most awaited releases of the year are from the Harry Potter and Twilight series – Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part II in July and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn in November.

Not only does Hollywood seem to be relying on the printed word for inspiration, but a good number of these materials are specifically targeted at the young adult market.

The reason for that is that the 18-34 year old demographic spends the most money at the box office, with the rest of the teen market not too far behind in purchasing power either.

Books vs movies

The advantage of using books as the source material is that you have a ready-made audience, namely, people who have already read and liked the book.

Of course, these same people are likely to be the most critical of any changes made to accommodate a transition from a few hundred pages of words to a 90 to 120 minute movie.

In the Bookcrush Survey we conducted last month, one of the questions we asked readers was to name one movie they liked better than the book it was based on, and to give the reason(s) why. For many of our readers, the answer was easy: none, because no movie can ever be better than the book.

Watching a movie limits the audience’s idea of the story to the director’s point of view. For some, this restricts their experience of the story, as reading allows them to make full use of their own imagination to visualise characters and settings. Writers are also able to flesh out characters more extensively and go into more detail about the plot, setting and background of the story, as they have more space to do so.

However, this same point was a negative for other survey respondents. Among the reasons stated by these respondents were that they didn’t understand the book and the movie actually explained the story much better; they were unable to imagine the settings or characters of the story, which the movie showed beautifully; and the book was too long to read.

The books named by these respondents ran the gamut from the Lord Of The Rings trilogy to The Devil Wears Prada and Diary Of A Wimpy Kid to the Twilight and Harry Potter series.

Changing the plot

The line between staying true to the spirit and characters of the book and keeping the highlights of novel while staying within a film’s budget and time limits is a hard one to negotiate.

Some elements from the book are bound to be sacrificed, and sometimes, plot points have to be reimagined or left out in order to create the best flow and visual impact.

This is quite obvious in the Harry Potter series, where the length of the books does not permit many scenes to be put on screen. However, most fans seem to think that the overall story has been translated quite well into the films.

Even in the comparatively shorter I Am Number Four, the slower-moving parts of the story were changed into more action-packed scenes, presumably to keep the audience’s interest.

And in the movie Beastly, protagonist Kyle Kingsbury is portrayed as being marred by baldness, weird tattoos and metal implants, rather than turning into a hairy beast, as described in the book. As he ended up looking more interesting rather than beast-like, I assume this was in the interest of creating the best visual impact and attracting the female audience.

Sometimes, the changes from the book to the movie work, but sometimes, they don’t really make sense as the changes don’t serve to enhance the screen story.

This, of course, causes endless debate among fans of the book – but as long as the box office receipts continue accumulating, Hollywood will continue making more of these adaptations.

More to come

Although the book-to-movie juggernauts of Harry Potter and Twilight end their run this year, there are many other young adult (YA) books or series being optioned for films out there.

The first film of the popular trilogy The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is one of the more anticipated YA films for next year. It is currently in pre-production, having secured most of its cast.

Other YA novels that have been picked up for movies include The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones by Cassandra Clare, which is in pre-production and expected to be released next year, as well as Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy (2013), Fallen by Lauren Kate (2013) and

Wings by April Lynn Pike (2014), which are all in development.

And so the trend continues.

Hopefully, as some of the survey respondents mentioned, this will spur movie-goers who aren’t readers to pick up the books to further explore the worlds within.

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