So I recently saw Stardust, a movie adaptation of a Neil Gaiman novel. From the early trailers, I wasn't interested in this movie, and from the jacket blurb and the description on Amazon, I wasn't interested in the novel. It really just didn't seem like my type of thing -- even though I write fantasy, I really am not a fan of most traditional "high fantasy," which is pretty much what this seemed to be (albeit with many strange twists, such as an odd-looking pirate played by Robert De Niro -- though I like De Niro very much, he's not exactly what jumps to mind for fantasy, right?).
Well, I guess by now you've probably heard similar sentiments all around the Internet, in papers, and from family and friends. In my case, my sister was dragged into it with low expectations, and came out talking about how great the movie was. She convinced me and my wife to go, but even still, we went in fairly reluctantly. And then, of course, like everyone else, we came out talking about how great it was. De Niro was perfect for the role he played, and I can't imagine that pirate being played by anyone else.
Well, I suppose I could launch into a discussion of bad trailers and/or bad jacket blurbs, or even a discussion of how new and/or humorous twists on old formulas don't synopsize well -- but that isn't what I really want to talk about today. This post is titled what it is because I'm now reading the original novel of STARDUST, and so far I'm really loving it -- and I'm realizing that I really prefer to read the novels after I see the movies. Otherwise, I get irritated by everything that's missing in the movie version, and everything that they changed or "messed up" for reasons of time, or visual splendor, or whatever. This was how I felt about the last few Harry Potter movies, having read and loved the books long before.
It's interesting how it only seems to work one way, most of the time. I read Stephen King's THE SHINING earlier this year, really enjoyed it, and then saw the Kubrick film -- which, of course, Kubrick really made his own, and so was completely different from the book. If I'd seen the movie before reading the book, I wonder how I would have felt? It seems to me that when I read a book after the movie, it's like finding a treasure trove of new detail to flush out what I already liked in the movie, whereas when I see a movie version of a book, it's often a popularized, lobotomized version of the book.
The upcoming movie adaptation of THE DARK IS RISING does not look promising in that regard, but I'll be going to see it regardless, because that's one of my favorite books of all time and I'd like to see how it translates to film (even though I suspect it will not fare well -- they renamed it "The Seeker," for crying out loud, and gave Will more powers and a girl crush -- that's not the story that first captivated me in fourth grade). But there's always hope, right? Fans of the Lord of the Rings books (which I am not) largely seemed pleased by the movie trilogy, and I thought the most recent movie version of THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE was exquisite. I suspect that I AM LEGEND will be an excellent adaptation of the Richard Matheson classic (which I only recently read), despite how much it has obviously changed from the original, given the trailer.
So it's not that I don't think that adaptations of books make for good movies, but it's just that so often the movies are an entirely new entity. Sometimes the movie keeps the spirit of the book, sometimes it keeps the plot and/or characterization details, sometimes it keeps little of anything. In an abstract sense, I don't really even see anything wrong with that -- film and fiction are two totally different mediums. I'd think it acceptable for a writer to hear a song, or see a painting, and be inspired into writing a novelization. That's acceptable partly because the book and the painting would so obviously be two different things -- no one would try to claim that the book was the "book version" of the painting. That wouldn't even make sense.
But since movies and books do have so many elements in common -- though novels lack the visual component of movies, and movies lack the internal life of novels, they otherwise have many shared components -- I think the tendency is for people to think that they can see the movie or read the book, and one is just as good as the other. That's where I disagree. If you saw the movie Stardust and loved it, wonderful -- now go and buy the book. If you've read the book, you might well like this particular movie adaptation, as well -- though I will warn you that many details have been changed, the spirit remains intact.
Film adaptations generally say "based on the novel," but it seems like that generally isn't something that people take too literally. Perhaps it would be more clear if we said that most movies were "inspired by" the book. Interestingly, people often have the same problem understanding what "based on a true story" means. As if memoirists just jotted down the facts of their life as they happened. A lot goes into making a successful, interesting memoir, even if the memoirist's life was inherently fascinating. I think that the same thing is true of book-to-movie adaptations.
If only more people would realize the differences inherent between the mediums, and how much is missed by seeing just the one "version" in the theaters, then perhaps the recent upsurge in novel-based movies would cause a corresponding upsurge in readership. If only.