DEBATE: Can the movie adaptation ever be greater than the book?

With the recent release of The Great Gatsby, we ask – can an adaptation ever be as great as the book it’s based on?

NO says Katie Byrne

What I love most about discovering an amazing book is the chance to engage my imagination and see the plot unfold in my head. Everyone has their own idea of what their favourite characters look like, talk like, act like; when I first read Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone as an eight-year-old, I instantly conjured up an image of Hogwarts and Dumbledore. Straight-up magic (in all senses of the word, in the case of Harry P).

However, the ‘movie adaptation’ can ruin this. In the space of 120 minutes, your imagined version of your favourite novel – or in the case of The Extraordinary League Of Gentlemen, novels – can crumble before your very eyes.  Why’s the plot disjointed and, in places, totally different? Wait – the novel was based in a small village, so why’s the film set in London? What happened to that key character who no longer seems to exist? And why does the protagonist have a lisp?

Admittedly, some adaptations are amazing. As Farrah mentions, both Fight Club and Atonement are stunning pieces of cinematography – they’re two of my favourite films – and a well-planned and cleverly-worked adaptation can certainly breathe life back into a book that’s been gathering dust on a shelf for a while. However, it’s a risky business. It’s so easy to get it wrong, and the only thing a film-maker can guarantee is that opinions will be mixed on his/her work regardless.

Obviously, adaptations are a great way for people to discover books – I’d never considered reading Anna Karenina before I saw Joe Wright’s film the other week.  But there’s no beating that moment when a character steps off the page and into your mind, forming their own shape, characteristics and so on. In this day and age of endless technology, a return to the simple art of reading can be bliss.

YES says Farrah Kelly

There’s a lot of stigma attached to film adaptations. Book nerds like to scoff that a film can NEVER capture the brilliance of the original, and that there’s no such thing as a “better” film than book. It’s really a quiet kind of snobbery- that because you like the written version of events better, you’re automatically more intelligent and/or cultured.

Well, the game is up, bookies. I, too, am a book nerd (and proud!). Yet I’m still standing in defence of the film adaptation- because some of them are just bloody marvellous.

I think it’s extraordinary. When you’re reading a book, really building the scenes and getting to know the characters as though they had stepped right out of the pages; you’re imagining it differently to the next reader. Everyone’s Wonderland is a little different and everyone’s Christian Grey looks unique. A film version, therefore, is getting to peek at how someone else envisioned the book. You’re basically stepping into someone else’s imagination and having a look around.

I think there’s a lot more skill involved in adapting someone else’s story into a practical script, whilst holding onto what’s loved about it, than people give credit for. Imagine the pressure- you’ve got to turn a best-selling and well-loved book into an on-screen success, and people are doubting you’ll be able to do it before the trailer’s even out.

Sure, the movie boffs get it wrong. No comic fan ever seems happy with the latest superhero offering and the sheer power and intelligence of We Need To Talk About Kevin is nowhere to be seen on screen. But there’s no disputing that McEwan’s Atonement and Palunhuck’s Fight Club are incredible films. Sometimes the big screen gets it right.

That’s why I cannot wait for the release of Life of Pi, and why I have the entire Harry Potter DVD collection. It shouldn’t matter that it might not wholly line up with my own expectations or imagination. If it’s done badly, it’s not the end of the world, because the original still exists and so does my own mind’s eye. If it’s done well, it can be one step closer to bringing a book to life.

What do you think?

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