Film Adaptations: How to Talk About Them


Beyond evaluation

The interesting question to ask is not whether an adaptation is good or bad. Rather, we should ask how the elements of the film work to convey a particular reading of the book. Every decision the director has to make reveals the interpretation he has made of the story. Even when a film has dialogues identical to the ones in the book, the way the actors say their lines—the tone, the proximity to other characters, the volume, the face expression, the rhythm—may hint nuances that give the words a whole new meaning. The viewer’s role is to analyze such decisions and to think of the reasons that may explain them. Likewise, it is the director’s job to make his audience think.

beyond fidelity
Beyond fidelity

An adaptation does not have to seek fidelity, but should strive to contribute in some way to the book. Anyhow, since books and films are completely different media, there is no possible way to be complete loyal to the original. Leitch explains this by saying that the original will always be the best version of itself. Not even the most descriptive book could tell everything that a film would include, so there are many gaps that the director has to fill in. Therefore, the real value behind an adaptation is to study how it provides something new—a perspective, an addition, a change, an emphasis, a complement.

beyond bookism

Beyond “bookism”

Somehow it is become a cliché to say that a certain book is better than its movie. Maybe people think they seem more “smart” or “intellectual” by repeating such thing. The assumption behind it is that films are more easily understood and less sophisticated than a book, that they are not able to depict a book’s complexity or that they hinder the viewer’s imagination. Nevertheless, Leitch argues that films can be as rich—or even richer—than novels, since they can contain much more details, they can present a fuller background and, ultimately, films hold a mass audience’s closest attention during their running time. There is no intrinsic characteristic that makes a book more valuable than a movie.


Reference: Leitch, Thomas. “Twelve Fallacies in Contemporary Adaptation Theory” In Criticism, Volume 45, Number 2, Spring 2003, pp. 149-171.