In an essay about the recent movie adaptation of Jose Saramago's Blindness, Jason Anderson writes:

"Blindness may also belong to a category of literary adaptations—including Gus Van Sant’s Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1993), Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), and Alan Rudolph’s Breakfast of Champions (1999)—whose dogged faithfulness to their sources inadvertently prove just how unfilmable the books were in the first place."

So, dogged faithfulness to the book as a problem. What do you think?

The whole essay is here.

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Books that translate well into movies are generally written like movies--plot-driven, very basic characters, and very visual. But I'd say as art forms, movies and books defy comparison with one another ... You can translate a book into a poem, a song or a painting, but it will never recreate the experience of reading the book. Same is true for translating books into movies. By their nature, movies must be relatively gaudy and oversimplified, so if a book provides gaudy and oversimplified plot and characters, the filmmaker's job is easy. But that isn't a case of the filmmaker being faithful to the book, that's a case of the book conforming to the limitations of film.

I would go so far as to say that a book's cinematic counterpart will be awful in direct proportion to the complexity and abstractness of the book's characters and plot.
I agree with much of what Matthew says. They're two different storytelling media, compromises have to be made in the movie to accommodate the relatively leisurely pace of a book. By that I don't mean the book is slow, but themovie gets you for two hours, right now. The book can hang onto to you much longer, over a far more spread out period of time.

What's important is for the movie to remain true to the book, without attempting to be a literal retelling. The best example I can think of is GET SHORTY. It's my favorite Elmore Leonard. I remember one weekend a few years ago, home sick with a virus. I rented the movie one evening, and wndered why everyone couldn't movies this much like the books they claim to be based on. The next day, still bedridden, I re-read the book and was amazed at how different it was. The movie nailed the characters, dialog, and tone, and kept the main plot points. A lot of stuff was different, as I now realize it had to be.

Probably the best literal adaptation of a book into a movie is John Huston's THE MALTESE FALCON. There's really only one change that comes to mind, and thta was due to the Hays Office censorship rules. Of course, that's very much a plot driven story.
This was discussed in some detail over at Murderati two weeks ago; Alexandra Sokoloff has done a lot of film work. She points up two central differences: a film script is, typically, equal to about forty pages of text and, as Matthew mentioned, movies have to be very visual.

So if the core truth of a book comes from dialog, internal or external, I'd guess it's not a great candidate for transmogrification.
Film is simply a different medium, and a different kind of business. Alexandra Sokolow did a good piece on this two weeks ago at Murderati.

In brief, the story has to be visual first, last and always to get the producers' trust. A script is typically 40 pages of unformatted text, and 120 pages when formatted. A novel runs . . . what? Two hundred to four hundred pages.

You're going to have to lose a lot of book to gain any cinema. It's a lossy conversion.
The more important the words are in the story the more likely it will fail. The more important the plot is, the more likely it will succeed. Or at least IMHO. I think of The Great Gatsby. Why did that fail--or all of Fitzgerald for that matter. Literary writers just don't translate well IMHO. Elmore Leonard writes a script as much as a novel. That's why it succeeds as often as it does. Fitzgerald and Faulkner couldn't even take another writer's work and make it into a movie.
That's a very good and economical analysis. Producers sure do hate words.

Sorry about the double-post above. Neither one showed until today, and I thought they were lost in the ether.
I think you're about everything except the Elmore Leonard - pretty much every movie adaptation of his work has failed for the exact reason you give - the words are far more important than the plot.

Out of Sight is the best adaptation and even that screwed with the ending. Get Shorty is fun, but like most movie adaptations of books it lost a lot of the substance in the translation.

It's a common mistake to make that Elmore Leonard pretty much writes scripts because of the command he has of the storytelling voice, but the reality is his books are as literate as Fitzgerald and Faulkner and just as hard to film. It may be a little easier to turn his books into 'entertainments' but that's different than properly adapting them.
One of the best adaptations, I think, is the John Houston version of The Maltese Falcon. He used a lot of the dialog from the novel, and the scenes, for the most part, are right out of the book. Some books are just easier than others.
I agree with Bill. The primary difference I can think of is in the scene where Brigid O'Shaughnessy is in Spade's apartment, afraid to leave because she thinks Wilmer is following her. In the book, Spade looks throuhg the curtain, sees nothing, and says, "He's still there," so Brigid will spend the night.

In the movie, Wilmer really is standing out there. I'd chalk that one up to the Hayes Office.

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