Shortly before John Green’s Paper Towns hit theaters, a friend from my writer’s group planned an evening for us to go see it. I hadn’t read the book, but I had some time before the flick came out, so I read it. It seems whenever a popular book hits the big screen, I'm compelled to read the book first.The general consensus is that the book is always better, right? I think I typically feel that way. Yet sadly, I usually don’t read the book after I’ve seen the movie adaptation of it.
I didn't find out until later that John Green wrote the screenplay for Paper Towns, so it surprised me that he made some changes that left me scratching my head. Then I read an interview with him where he said, "I've always believed that a movie CAN'T be faithful to a book because a book is something that happens in conversation between a writer and a reader, whereas a movie is mostly something you look at . . . So in the end, I'd rather make a good movie than a faithful one, which is what I tried to do . . . I wanted the ideas of the book to be preserved, but mostly I just want the movie to be good."
While John Green and Gone Girl author, Gillian Flynn, have some impressive screenwriting chops, I can understand why many producers don't want the book’s author to write the screenplay. It can be difficult for the author to do the dirty work and cut what needs to be cut. A 200-500 page book has to be condensed to 85-130 pages and that can be enough to send an author over the edge. Screenwriters have to pinpoint the main conflict; rifle through the book to find the most visual, key scenes that connect to that conflict; then present it in a way that is not only linear, but entertaining too.
In digging around, I came across this article about eleven authors who were none too pleased about the movie versions of their books. Stephen King “was deeply disappointed in the end result” of Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining. Forrest Gump author, Winston Groom didn't like that the movie version omitted plot points and “sanitized” some of the language. He even started the book's sequel with the line: "Don't never let nobody make a movie of your life's story." (Incidentally, Forrest Gump is one of my favorite movies; I better read the book.)
Other authors have had different experiences. Rachel Cohn who wrote Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, called it “quite friggin great. It’s like a two-hour advertisement for your book.” Chuck Palahniuk who wrote Fight Club, reportedly said that the film version made him embarrassed that the original book wasn't as good. James Ellroy, author of L.A. Confidential said, "The book is black type on white paper and the film is visual. That's it. It's a brilliantly compatible visual form of the novel."
But like a lot of things, it comes down to money. Daniel Handler, author of A Series of Unfortunate Events said, “Movies cost a lot of money and people are nervous about a lot of money . . . If writers were in charge of the films, the scripts would be better but the movies would probably be worse.”
What movies do you think did the book justice? Which ones fell flat?