Very recently I finished reading The Shining by Stephen King. I remember I had seen the movie a long time ago, but I had never read the book itself. And finishing the book, I was a little surprised at how different it is. Those two creepy little girls from the movie (you know, “come play with us Danny…”)? They aren’t in the book. The elevator full of blood? Nope. The ending of the book is very different from the movie, and the book places a lot more emphasis on the hotel being an evil entity than the movie did (as far as I can remember).
But then I started wondering to myself, do these omissions make the movie better or worse than the book. For most people, it seems that the general thought is that movie adaptations are never as good as the book, mostly because the movie has to leave things out for the sake of time (hardly anyone is going to watch a movie that’s like six hours long after all). I used to think that way, that the book was always better than the movie. But the thing is, there is so much more that goes into a movie than just adapting the source material. It seems to be that judging a movie solely on how it matches the book is doing the movie a disservice.
Think about it this way. A book sometimes takes a page or two to describe a place and how it feels right? A movie can do that with their establishing shots, which usually last no more than like ten to fifteen seconds. The way a movie functions is so different from a book that it seems silly to me to judge one based on how it adapts the other.
In my mind, a movie should be judged on how it does as a movie, not as an adaptation. I mean, if they take the source material and make it about something entirely different that’s one matter (like if they made the Harry Potter movies all about Hagrid), but a lot of people don’t seem to understand that a movie can’t always fully adapt a book, not only due to length issues, but because of the way each medium functions. A book uses written description to show you a character’s state of mind, whereas a movie can’t do that. Instead, they have to focus on a visual representation of the character. In the case of The Shining, it involved having Jack Nicholson slowly looking more deranged throughout the movie, before he finally starts chasing his wife and son throughout the hotel with an axe (interestingly enough, in the book it’s a mallet used for roque, a variation of croquet).
It’s hard to escape this adaptation mindset, considering Hollywood loves to adapt books into movies (like the Harry Potter books and The Hunger Games). I don’t think it’s a bad thing necessarily, but we have to start taking the movie for what it is: a movie. We have to stop judging the movie using the book as some sort of infallible source material. I bet a lot of people would find The Shining incredibly dull (it’s over six hundred pages after all). It moves slowly, and builds tension forever before things finally break down in the last couple hundred pages. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I know that a lot of people might not. That’s where movies can come in. A lot of people don’t have the patience to read a six hundred page book, so a two to three-hour movie would be much more their forte.
The point is that movies are their own thing. They use a different language to convey the same ideas. They show the atmosphere of a location rather than describing it. It’s because of this fundamental difference that I can’t understand why people insist on holding the movie accountable to the book. I mean, there are certain things that you can compare, like plot points and such, but in the end the movie should be judged as a movie. And there are times when a movie can be stronger than a book. Take Stephen King’s The Mist for example. King himself praised the movie for its ending, which he felt was stronger than the book’s.
Another good example of this would be The Godfather. In many ways, I feel that the movie is actually superior to the book. It’s more focused for one. The book takes a strange detour into the past of one of the characters after a pivotal moment in the present-time storyline. This past segment actually becomes the plot for the second Godfather movie, if I remember correctly. The first movie focuses solely on the present-day of the book, which keeps it focused and grounded, rather than having it suddenly jump into a new arc that serves very little purpose in the long run. The Godfather is one of those instances where it is widely accepted that the movie is better than the book.
But in the end, I must stress again that a movie and a book are two very different formats. They should each be judged by their own standards, rather than being pitted against each other in some kind of duel for supremacy. Of course, we all have our own personal opinions on which version is better, but I feel that most people don’t give the movie version a fair shot because they’re constantly comparing it to the book. If the movie falters as a movie, then it isn’t a good movie. But it shouldn’t be considered a failure just because it didn’t adapt the source material in the particular way the viewer wanted. Rather, it should be judged on how well it uses what it has to tell a story and what kind of story it tells.
A movie is a movie, and a book is a book. I can’t put it any simpler than that.
Well that’s all I have for this week. Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a great week.