Saturday, 9 April 2011

TWTWB and The Perils of Book Adaptations

Won a competition this week to go and see a preview screening of 'Tomorrow When The War Began', an Australian film directed by Stuart Beattie and based on the book by John Marsden. I first read this book around 1995 when I was 14. There are now seven books in the 'Tomorrow' series and these were then followed by a new trilogy; 'The Ellie Linton Chronicles'. Thanks to Paramount Pictures for offering the free tickets and for the free coke and popcorn. Rachel Hurd-Wood introduced the film ('I don't know what to say... it was fun to make') and then quickly disappeared. Despite having already seen the film as a good friend had sent me a dvd copy from Australia, I really enjoyed it on the big screen and on a second viewing.

It got me thinking about book adaptations in general. This is too big a subject for one post and I'm sure there are whole blogs dedicated to book to film adaptations but I thought I'd mention personal bests and worsts for me.

So starting with 'Tomorrow When The War Began', probably my second favourite book of all time. I have read it many times and know it back to front. I have been waiting for a film version for 16 years; even tried adapting one part of it myself for some A level film studies coursework. The first time I watched the film with friends... I was satisfisfied BUT... my expectations were SO high, I was also disappointed. The screenplay is not brilliant but the production design is amazing and as with most book to film adaptations, there is much missing from the film. However the performances are generally good with a couple of exceptions and even though they drastically changed one character, they made him funny and likeable.

Anyway I decided I would not watch the film again until it was released in UK cinemas (got to support the film and make sure they produce and release the rest of the series!). The second time I watched it (at the free screening this Wednesday), my expectations were readjusted. I knew the film had faults but it was time to watch it with sensible perspective.

I loved it so much more this time. I appreciated the effort and the dedication of all involved in attempting to get it right. Many of the scenes were very faithful to the book and some of the perfomances are really very good. I realise that some subplots (the hermit and his house) were unnecessary to the narrative and therefore were understandably left out.

But I also wonder what people who have not read the book will think of the film. Without the constant thoughts of the protagonist (the book is written in the first person), will the actions of the film's characters seem believable? Films have to simplify... they have to cut down a 200+ page book into an under 120 page screenplay. The film version has to skim over some ideas and themes. It has to show a character arc beleivably but quickly. It has to convey the thoughts and feelings of the characters through visuals and not an over-reliance on voiceover. Very tricky and I have nothing but respect for the writer and director who tackles such a task.

The I thought about my favourite book and one of the film adaptations that I really cannot stand. Danny Boyle's 'The Beach' based on Alex Garland's novel. SUCH a good book... SUCH a bad film. I love Danny Boyle, Leo Dicaprio and the book. But this film- despite many great scenes from the book, really does not work. And for so many reasons. Leo's character getting the girl when the book is all about unrequited love. BIG mistake. Video game graphics of Leo running in the forest. BIG mistake. Completely dropping one of the novel's most interesting characters (Jed). BIG mistake. I could go on but who likes a miserable critic?

So next I consider my all time favourite film. An adaptation that for me is actually BETTER than the book: David Fincher's 'Fight Club'. Now I'm not sure if this is because I read the book after I had seen the film. I generally try to read the book before I see a film version but when Fight Club came out, I did not even know of the book's existence.

I'm sure this has happened before. Watch the film first and I love it. The book is then enjoyable but no better than the film. 'Silence of the Lambs' for example. Great film... great book. But if I'd read the book first, would I be sitting here bitching about the bits they left out and the simplifying of the themes and characters?

Fight Club, however does seem like an exception. This film takes the rapid-fire narration of the book and turns it into a brilliant voiceover and perfect dialogue from the main characters. The performances are perfect and the ending is an IMPROVEMENT on the book's. The visual style and soundtrack are also great additions that make the film an even more satisfying experience than reading the book.

So that's my initial thoughts on book to film adaptations but I feel I may return to this subject one day. Anyone want to share their thoughts? Other films that are better than the books they were based on? Worst adaptations? Is this the same for comic/graphic novel/video game adaptations? Anyone like the film version of 'The Beach'?