"Hollywood, in particular, seems to be like an exocet missile to hone in on whatever was good in a novel and remove it, destroy it and then proceed from there."
So said Robert Harris who is the author of many books (most recently Lustrum) on BBC Radio Five Live's Book Reviews with Simon Mayo.* From what I could gather, it sounded a lot like he'd had some very bad experiences of people adapting his work for the big screen - as have many other authors. Audrey Niffenegger, author of one of my all-time favourite books The Time Traveller's Wife was also on the same programme. She commented that she had been advised to completely let go of all artistic control when TTTW was adapted and as a result hadn't even been to see the finished result. This was particularly because the movie is not her book and you can't unsee what you have already seen - the memory of the movie will henceforth always taint her experience of the book.
It's for this very reason that I haven't gone to see TTTW in the movies - I loved this book and for me it lives in my memory as a place I can revisit when I next read the book (and I know I will) and I just don't want anyone else's idea of what the book looks like getting mixed up in all of that. Reading a book, after all, is a very personal experience. The settings of the books, the voices of the characters, the atmosphere of the places - you and the author have created that together just for your enjoyment. Nobody else ever sees or experiences the novel in exactly the same way, which is one of the great joys of literature. If you go to the movies with a friend, however, you know that they have seen exactly the same thing that you have seen.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not beating up on movies - I'm actually a great fan of them and very much enjoy watching a good film. It's just that they are two completely different mediums and I fear that something is always lost when the two worlds collide. There has only been one time that I have ever watched a movie adaptation of a book and not been disappointed by it and that was Peter Jackson's interpretation of Lord of the Rings. But even then - his vision of Mordor, whilst fantastically dark and horrifying, was not the same as my vision of Mordor. And so, a little something is lost - now I can only ever see Jackson's Mordor when I think of this novel.
Ultimately I'm not here to wax lyrical about whether the page is mightier than the silver screen. The choice here is not black and white and one is not better than the other, in my opinion. I just personally believe that if you really enjoyed a book and have a strong personal connection to it, it is wise to think twice about watching the movie adaptation of it.
What do you think? Have you ever seen a movie adaptation that ruined your enjoyment of a book? Or, have you ever seen an adaptation that improved a book? I'm keen to hear your thoughts!
* This quote was taken from the podcast released on 15th October 2009. Podcast is available through iTunes or the BBC World Service website.