Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Road Trip Wednesday- Lost in Translation

This week's YA Highway Road Trip topic: It isn't surprising that this month's Bookmobile selection, Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone, has sold film rights; the darkly magical world of the Shadow Fold begs for an on-screen translation! But that got us wondering. We'd like to know, in your opinion, what is it that makes some books seem ideal for a film translation?

I'm definitely a the book is better kind of girl...but I appreciate this week's Road Trip because it has made me think about why I feel this way.

Both movies and books have different kinds of restraints in telling a story. They also have different kinds of magic...often, I believe, the way these things mesh and don't mesh in the different medias will  determine the quality of the translation.

Time Constraints:

Most film adaptations suffer, not from what's there but from what's left out. Visually, the Kira Knightly version of Pride and Prejudice is amazing. The acting, equally so. But there are so many glossed over details (ones many Austen virgins would miss) that I still lean toward the six hour A & E version as my favorite.

Some left out elements are sad but understandable, like leaving out Hermione's fight for house slave rights in was one of the longer books in the series.

But I'm still bothered that Katniss didn't get the bread from District Eleven after giving Ru her respectful final send off. That is my favorite moment in the whole book, maybe even in the whole series.

Inner Thoughts:

Which brings us to the next issue. The significance of some moments are in the character's inner thoughts. Katniss considering how much that bread would have cost the people of District Eleven is what makes that moment so significant, but who would have conveyed that info on film? Katniss couldn't mutter it to herself without sounding awkward and/or putting her safety at risk. Maybe they could have flashed to Haymitch finding out about the gift, but even then, who would he share his observations with? Either way, the moment loses its umph without that inner thought (so easily utilized in a novel) to convey the info.

Comedies, I've noticed, get around this inner thought issue by creating characters who tend to say their inner thoughts out loud.

Bridget Jones's Diary is such a wonderful film adaptation because it has the outspoken main character plus her diary entries to convey her inner thoughts.

I don't remember the film version of Princess Diaries using the diary entries as much, and (I think) you lose some of the quirky/outrageous tone of those books because of it.

Scene setting:

I remember vividly my first glimpse of the inside of Hogwarts on film(the moving staircases and the portraits). I felt as if the world Rowling had so brilliantly painted in my head had come to life before me.

Given that example, it would be easy to say that the better the world building, the better the movie result can be. But this theory doesn't work entirely.

The Twilight movies suffer, not from author world building so much as the special effects translation of that world building...sparkling vampires may look good on paper, but on film? It sort of loses its luster (for me, anyway).

Then (also related to inner thoughts), an author's world building is sometimes dependent on character narration.

Rick Riordan's engaging world of demi-gods, monsters and gods turns into a plain old action film (one with major time constraint issues too) without the main character's witty descriptions of his encounters.

What about you? What do you think makes film adaptations work/not work?


  1. Wow what a full and well thought out post! It's great! And I agree, the lack of bread from district 11 was sad, but not as sad as Hermione never creating SPEW!
    I hated how they changed the ending of the book in My Sister's Keeper as well - rage!

  2. I wrote almost the same exact thing about the two Pride & Prejudice movies! I agree that Hunger Games lost a little of its depth by not knowing Katniss better; you're right that it's often tough to get all of that into a film because the internal narration is lost. Rue was still portrayed well and I think they used their relationship to show Katniss' concern for Dis.12.

    I love the Bridget Jones movies--a great example of how the diary angle works for it, rather than an annoying gimmick (like Sex & the City).

    I actually liked the first Twilight movie for capturing the melodrama of the book; but UGH the effects were so bad. I mean, Buffy had better stuff going on 10 years ago.

    Here's mine A Girl and her Diary

  3. I think you tackled this question really well! I struggled to do it justice. I couldn't agree more with you on so many aspects of this post. The latest film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was beautiful, sure, but I think they got a lot of things wrong. A large part of the problem was trying to squeeze it into a Hollywood-length film.

    As for The Hunger Games movie, I think it suffered because we couldn't be inside Katniss' head (though I still liked it). All of her strategy that involved Peeta just wouldn't come across the way it should to someone who has never read the books. We know what was going on only because we read them. As for cutting important scenes: The final scene in the book where Peeta is taken away and Katniss loses it should not have been cut. That's where we see how she really feels.

    Great post, Jennifer! :)

  4. Jaime- Great point about the cut scene in Hunger Games...I'm wondering if, like in Twilight, they will play up the love triangle more than the author did.

  5. As I said on my blog, the director's vision is critical. S/he must have a passion for the story, and have a clear view of how s/he would tell it on the big screen. The extent to which this differs from the book depends largely on the direction the director wants to go with it. Sometimes the director's version is as good as the book (and may, in fact, stay fairly close to the book); sometimes it's better, sometimes worse. I've not seen the movie version of ERAGON, but my daughter tells me it sucked compared to the book. This would be, in my estimation, not the fault of the book, or that the book doesn't translate well to movie (look at all the fantasy novels that became great movies), but a failure on the director's part, not so much to stay faithful to the book, but to take the book's story and make a compelling movie out of it.

    There's my 2-cents. :)

  6. This is a wonderful, thoughtful post! I agree that interiority is missing from a lot of movies--or reinserted in clunky ways, like voice-over narration and info-dump dialogue. But like Colin said, the director's vision is critical. A good director knows which parts of the book will translate well to the screen, and which can (or should) be cut!

  7. I HATED The Lightning Thief movie, probably because it was turned into a straight-up action flick. To me, Percy's voice was the best part of the book, and that really didn't translate well to the screen. Things like voice and internal thoughts that are used in characterization often get lost in translation - it's just so hard to get those into a movie without it feeling clunky. Sometimes movies suffer for it, but really good directors should be able to find other ways to translate these things. For example, in the 1996 adaptation of Jane Eyre, there was a scene where Jane is sketching Mr. Rochester without him realizing it, and that told us a lot about Jane and her mindset, even though there was none of Jane's internal dialogue in that movie.

  8. Colin- directors' visions are important...but they are often strongly affected by budgets (for acting talent and special effects) and the time/rating expectations of the investors.

    Eragon did suck. Part of this is probably that the director didn't get/respect the book enough, but in his/her defense...they turned a 500 page book into a less than two hour, they went for a PG rating, diluting some of the more powerful scenes in the book.

  9. Great analysis. You've put heaps of thought into it and made great points. I'm with you on the bread - it made the send off even more meaningful for me.

  10. I think a lot of it definitely has to do with the fact that thoughts can't be shared in movies. I definitely noticed that in The Hunger Games. Part of what made the book so horrifyingly amazing was experiencing everything first hand from "inside" Katniss. That kinda got lost a bit in the movie, I thought...