Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Why movies based on books seldom work


J.W. Eagen, an author said, “Never judge a book by its movie.”


Movies based on novels, short stories or any other forms of literatures are tough nut to crack. A movie is a director's medium. He projects his ideas in the platform of a screen supported by acting, music, sound effects, story, screenplay, dialogues (sometimes silence) and cinematography. The audience sees the director's perspective when a movie is made on fresh idea or subject. They do not have a pre conceived notion about what to see and expect. On the other hand, when audience watch a movie based on a novel, they are not blank. They have already read and imagined, visualized and grasped the idea in their own various ways. No two persons can imagine exactly similar. When there is difference in ideas, people find it difficult to accept things from other person's perspective. That is human nature. Therefore movies based on literature normally face a lot of brickbat, which is quite natural.
When a novel is written, the author is not bound by any restriction. He can afford to imagine anything. He can experiment; create a world or even universe of his own. He can create any incidents. He is not bound by time restraint. Most important is; he has not thought it from movie making angle. Whereas, making a movie comes with its own restrictions. Certain things are technically not possible. It needs a lot of budget, manpower, locations, sets, animations and special effects to display that in screen. There is a time frame which cannot be exceeded. Making a movie is far more difficult and expensive that writing a book. Talking about recent times, 'Eat Pray and Love', an International bestseller by Elizabeth Gilbert made into a film with Julia Roberts failed miserably. Dan Brown's bestseller 'The Da Vinci Code' too bit the dust as a movie. Very few of the movies based on books hit the right chords with critics and audience.
Despite all these, movie makers have been allured by interesting books to attempt time and again. Some of them have hit the bull's eye. The names which come to the mind immediately are "Gone With The Wind", ”Pride and Prejudice", "Bridget Jone's Diary", "Forrest Gump", "Silence of the Lambs", "Harry Porter Series", "Raging Bull", "Million Dollar Baby", "Scarface", and "Schindler's List". The classic example would always be The Godfather. It is a movie you can watch many times and find something new each time. The presentation, camera work, lighting, location, set and performances by Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and Robert De' Nero has made it better than the novel itself. A trilogy based on Mario Puzo's novel by the same name, it is till date considered a 'textbook' of film making.
Coming back to recent times, my all time favorite is Bridges of the Madison County. Clint Eastwood has done a remarkable job as a director and actor. The movie based is based on the best-selling novel by Robert James Waller published in 1992. It tells the story of a married but lonely Italian woman, (again performed brilliantly by Meryl Streep) living in 1960s Madison County, Iowa, who engages in a short timed affair with a National Geographic photographer who is visiting Madison County in order to shoot the covered bridges in the area. The novel is one of the bestselling books of the twentieth century, with 50 million copies sold worldwide. Yet the movie has excelled to surpass the expectations. Eastwood and Streep were critically exclaimed and bagged various coveted awards including Oscar nominations too. A parting scene towards the end between Streep and Eastwood is brilliantly executed. Without any dialogues, their expressions are capable to convey what one thousand words would have failed.
Talking about the Nepali scenario, though there have been attempts to produce few Television Series and films based on literature; sadly, none of the attempted have impressed. We can only select best amongst the worst. Thus, it is best not to mention them.

this was written for Read magazine published for Ncell Nepal Literature Festival 2011

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