I have often heard people opine that great books don’t necessarily translate into great movies, for whatever reasons.
In my limited experience, I haven’t seen great many a movie based on a book that I have already read. In fact, I can remember only two of them. Ayn Rand’s “Fountainhead” was one, the movie adaptation of which I thought was abominable. The other one was Harper Lee’s “To kill a Mockingbird”,which I loved and also enjoyed watching it’s movie adaptation equally, if not more.
Having said that, there are scores of movies in my list of favorites, which are based on or inspired by a book that I have not yet read. Examples in this category being The Godfather, Shawshank Redemption, American Psycho, Sin City, the latest Batman Series to name a few. But I have heard people say that in case of The Godfather and Shawshank Redemption, the movie adaptations have surpassed their literary counterparts in depiction the underlying theme of the original.
So, coming to the topic of discussion, I wonder, having enjoyed some book thoroughly, is it possible for anyone to objectively judge it’s movie adaptation? More often than not, the film writers and directors seem to take liberty in deviating from the plot-lines of the book, either to cater to the commercial interests, or to make it suitable for the present times and audience. When such is the case, can someone who already has a clear picture of the characters and the plot-lines of the book, accept some other portrayal with ease? Probably not. In such cases, it makes a bit more sense to accept the fact that the movie version, might not be the same as that of the book, since the director of the movie might choose to alter the premise slightly, and hence some of the alterations become inevitable. To quote a recent example, the reasoning Chris Nolan provides for Joker wearing the make up and the story about how he obtained the scars on his face in the movie “Dark Knight”. But these minor deviations do not take away anything from Joker’s portrayal as an anarchist psychopathic criminal.
However, there are times when deviations from the actual source appear to be too superfluous. At times they even act as a hindrance to the development of some of the characters. This is when the puritans tend to get miffed.
I have watched all the three movies in the Lord of the Rings trilogy long time ago, I totally enjoyed all three of them. For I thought that the visuals were astounding, the story was interesting, and most of all, it was a heroic saga and I am a sucker for movies belonging to that genre.
However, having finished reading the first volume of the book last week, I decided to watch the movie again, since I felt there were a few short-comings in the movie, especially in terms of the portrayal of some of the characters. For example, I felt that the characters of the Hobbits aren’t all that well etched in the movie. In Tolkien’s epic, Hobbits are not plain shorter versions of humans, but they’re different beings altogether, who have a different culture and are driven by completely different needs and wants. Throughout the movie, Frodo comes across as a weakling who seems to have lines of worry permanently etched on his forehead. He doesn’t seem to show any spunk when the Nazguls pursue him. One expects the Ring-bearer to be a bit more brave, especially since he is up against the Dark lord whom the bravest and the wisest on the middle-earth consider as a redoubtable foe. But when Gandalf tells Elrond that Frodo has a stout heart, I was wondering on what basis did he make that comment!
Also, the characters of Merry and Pippin come across as a couple of dumb mischief-mongers whose only contribution seems to get the fellowship into some trouble or the other. And the steadfastness of Sam Gamgee is rarely highlighted. In the book, the part of the plot where the Hobbits travel through the old forest, the barrow downs, their interaction with Tom Bombadil, highlights many of their defining characteristics, such has love for food and drink, capability to endure, capacity for stealth, dislike for conflict and so on. This plot is totally missing in the film.
The other glaring deviation, which I thought was totally superfluous was the extension of Arwen’s character as the brave elf-woman who outruns and defeats the ring-wraiths, saves Frodo and later shares mushy moments with Aragon in the stealth of the night. Pray, why was this needed at all? More than anything else, it takes some of the credit away from Frodo, who in the book, shows remarkable resistance when allured by the Dark Riders at the Ford of Bruinen.
Peter Jackson has done a great job with the epic, no doubt, but he needn’t have substituted some of original plotlines with an invented one, just to woo a particular section of the audience. The original one was far more cogent, and the invented one was definitely no improvement over the former.
That said, I still maintain that LOTR:FOTR is a really good movie, and if you haven’t read the book prior to watching the movie, you will really enjoy it, like I did once upon a time.