Adapting to preference
On Friday I became involved in a discussion about Angels & Demons, the soon to be released sequel to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.
A friend, who has read the book, was excited about the film and keen to see whether it lived up to the original. After a brief exchange about our opinions on Dan Brown as a writer (which won’t be repeated here!), a friend mentioned that film adaptations are never as good as the original books, which was met with nods and grunts of agreement, until one of the group started to list films which, in his opinion, were better than the original text – for example, Jaws, Kes, The Shining and Watership Down.
Once the heretical notion of a film being better than the source book was mentioned, this opened the floodgates. Having recently read The Prestige (despite being warned in advance by Dale), I can honestly say that the film was far better by a country mile.
Of the titles mentioned above, I have seen all four as films, but only read Watership Down as a book, and had to disagree, I thought the film was nowhere near as good as the original.
Literature has always been a rich source of material for adaptation by the film and television industries, be it straight adaptation (eg the upcoming Angels & Demons) or inspirations (eg 10 Things I Hate About You and Clueless, based upon Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and Austen’s Emma respectively).
Taste is always subjective – for everyone who loves a writer, there are detractors, for every movie fan there is a hostile critic. The film adaptation of Watchmen was loved and hated in equal measures by people who loved the original comic book.
So I wonder – is our opinion influenced by the order in which we encounter the materials? I consider Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose to be better than the film adaptation, yet Christopher Priest’s The Prestige I prefer the film. I read Eco before I saw the film, where it was a few years after seeing the film that I read Priest’s original.
The same goes for Watership Down, I read the book first and consider it superior. I have for over 20 years now loved the film The Princess Bride, and have hesitated about taking the copy of Goldman’s original book down from my bookshelf and reading it, in case I find it disappointing.
Do you consider all adaptations to be pale reflections of the original work, or have you encountered adaptations which build upon and improve the source material. Did the order in which you encountered them change your opinion?