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Why Do Movies Change Books?

This summer seems inundated with movies based on books…or else I paid attention this year. Earlier in the week, I listed my favorite movie representation of novels I’ve read. This list got me to thinking. Is there a common thread as to what causes fans to hate a movie adaptation? And why, if the book was so good, does the movie industry always have to change the story?

I pondered these questions and came up with three reasons why I think movies must change novels when bringing them to the big screen.

1. There is just not enough time. I won’t even get into the physics involved in reading a scene and acting it out. But, I would venture a guess that someone can read the same scene faster than actors can perform it. But, excluding that, there is a lot in a book. Typical novels are around three-hundred pages…at least the ones I read. A mainstream suspense novel even breaks into the six-hundred zone. That’s a lot of scenes. There is just not enough time to cover everything. The only movie I saw that got away with showing every scene was the newest Great Gatsby movie with Leonardo Dicaprio. But, that is really a novella at 144 pages….I think it is technically longer than a “novella,” but still is very short.

2. Novels allow for thoughts. In most cases (unless it is a detective film) I absolutely hate voiceovers. It seems like a cheat. Novels are allowed to showcase what their protagonist is thinking. Getting inside another’s head is part of the allure of the story. I have read stories without internal dialogue, but not many. Movies have a different standard. A good movie must literally “show” what the character is thinking/feeling. Voiceovers in movie form becomes like the taboo “telling” in novel form. It takes the easy way out and devalues the work. Therefore, things have to be adapted to showcase the characters.

3. Movies have a different audience. This seemed weird to me at first, but I have rested on it. Most movies will change books by adding action. Movie audiences (even the book fans) typically expect to watch action. Very few want to watch a slow-moving scene filled with dialogues, which is typical books progression. We expect the fight sequence, or a car chase, or something with action. It has to be visually appealing, something books don’t have to consider.

Ultimately, I believe audiences will forgive these changes. What I find is the determining factor on whether readers are satisfied falls on casting. Do the actors embody the characters we have grown to love? Part of this depends on how well the author wrote the character. But the other part depends on the production staff putting in the effort to find the right people—and them saying yes. Harry Potter did a huge casting call before finding Daniel Ratcliffe. And people were happy for the effort. Characters are important elements in literature. That must carry over.