My cousin and I were watching the recently released Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 DVD, and there’s a scene in which Harry, disguised as a Ministry employee, approaches the office door for the evil Professor Umbridge. Embedded in the center of the door, an eyeball peers around frenetically. Although it’s never stated, this is the eye of Mad Eye Moody, Harry’s dead professor and protector. My cousin said, “This pissed me off. They never mention that the eye is Mad Eye’s, and they didn’t include the part where he buries his eye, so all the emotional resonance of Moody’s death is omitted.” I said, “They buried Dobby the house elf. They can’t have these movies be 3-hour funerals.” She shrugged and said, “They should’ve included it.”
I thought that was the end of the conversation, but a little while later, there came a scene in which Harry’s following an old lady who’s actually a giant fucking snake wearing her skin. He follows her to her house, and then the lady talks to him in snake language, but he doesn’t realize anything’s up because, to him, we know it sounds like English. My cousin says, “This scene was so much better in the book. In the book, the old lady’s talking to Harry every time Hermione leaves the room, and so discovering that she was a snake was a bigger surprise.” I said, “Okay. But in the book, I wasn’t sexually attracted to Hermione in the least.”
Here is how I feel about it: books are books and movies are movies. Movies will never have the same effect as books, and likewise books will never have quite the same effect as movies. They are two different mediums with their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, their narratives have to be constructed in two different ways. Books can portray complicated multiple branching plots with slow deliberate character development. Movies can portray the visceral thrill of images and music combined in a two hour narrative punch.
So when adapting a book to the screen, the notion of including everything is not just time prohibitive, but creatively impractical. If books were adapted word for word, not only would they be twenty hours long, they would be boring on an unimaginable scale. Much of the enjoyment of reading comes from descriptions of characters not doing much—just thinking, looking at their surroundings, contemplating recent events and what action to undertake. All the linguistic fireworks would be lost in a film. Suddenly, you just have a guy sitting on a bench or looking at a girl or walking down the street. You have something like the movie Somewhere except for twenty hours instead of two, a cinematically induced cerebral hemorrhage.
Often times, movies are actually better than books, but the guy who read the book will never admit it. After all, he spent a couple weeks plowing through it, so he has a certain cognitive work-to-enjoyment ratio to justify. Look at some of the movies based on Stephen King’s work. You really think the film The Shining is worse than the book? Honestly? The book has the family being chased by hedges. Fucking hedges. How about Shawshank Redemption? What about Shutter Island. The book by Dennis Lehane, as I recall, was continuously irritating and, by the end, I wanted to set it on fire. Only Scorsese could make that dreck watchable.
How about fucking Jurassic Park? Gone with the Wind? Silence of the Lambs? Forrest Gump? The Godfather?
I can’t stand watching a movie and hearing, ‘The book was better,’ from some asshole. It’s that snide pretension, that bullshit notion that movies are somehow artistically inferior. It’s a statement that fails to address the film as an individual piece of work and means nothing to me. You might as well have said, “The text on the ticket stub wasn’t as good as the movie.” You might as well have said, “This chicken alfredo tastes better than the page from the cookbook.”
Similarly, comic book readers freak out when adaptations deviate slightly from the original. I remember when it was a big deal Spider-Man had “organic web shooters” instead of ones he invented in his bedroom. To which, I answer that it sure doesn’t make a lot of sense to movie-goers for an eighteen year old to inexplicably have the skills to engineer a device that shoots webbing as strong as steel cable while also coincidentally gaining the proportionate strength and reflexes of a spider. The concept makes sense in one medium, but not the other.
There’s no winning with some people. They split that last Harry Potter movie into two films, crammed it full of the, I’m sorry, countless unnecessary McGuffins from the book (three deathly hallows, something like six horcruxes, the sword of Gryffindor, and all the other random shit they had to find), and stuck in everything else of any interest, and still, you have people saying, “They left out the history of house elves, and their magical powers, and Dumbledore’s family history, and also—,”
Oh my God, just shut up.