July 10, 2020
Book-to-movie adaptations have long been a sore spot and an area of contention for diehard bookworms. Some expect the movie or TV show to be exactly like the written source material, without straying at all, while others expect some changes to be made during the leap from page to screen.
The idea that nothing can or should change is something I personally disagree with, because that expectation sets you up to be disappointed. There are things you can accomplish and convey in books that you cannot mimic in film, and vice versa. And let’s face it – if there was a movie adaptation made that quoted and followed the book it’s based on line-for-line, it would be hours long, probably feature scenes that would be embarrassing to watch, or be so long that you’d fall asleep an hour into watching.
That being said, some book-to-film adaptations turn out better than others. Take J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit books, for example. Let’s compare how long the books are versus how long the film adaptations ended up being:
The Lord of the Rings Books (1954-1955):
The Fellowship of the Ring: 423 pages
The Two Towers: 352 pages
The Return of the King: 416 pages
Combined: 1,191 Pages
Movies (extended editions) 2001-2003:
The Fellowship of the Ring: 3.4 hours
The Two Towers: 3.7 hours
The Return of the King: 4.1 hours
Combined: 11.2 Hours
The Hobbit Book (1937): 310 pages
An Unexpected Journey: 3 hours
The Desolation of Smaug: 3.1 hours
The Battle of the Five Armies: 2.9 hours
Combined: 9 hours
The Lord of the Rings trilogy, directed by Peter Jackson, began filming in 1997 and was not released until 2001. Jackson had years to work on a script and set up a concrete structure that is true to the books. Whereas The Hobbit trilogy began filming in 2011 and finished in 2012, in a much faster turnaround.
The Hobbit book was intended, and is still catalogued, as a children’s book, or a story meant for a younger audience. It’s also often recommended as an intro to the work of Tolkien because it’s less dense and easier to digest than The Lord of the Rings, and far more accessible than The Silmarillion. The very fact that the producers decided to turn a 310-page children’s book into 3 full-length feature length films (intended mainly for adults) seems an awful lot like a cash grab.
Furthermore, The Hobbit is not an ‘action’ book – it’s about a Hobbit who goes against convention and leaves home to explore. It’s about adventure and growth. While action does take place, it isn’t the main focus. These things could make an interesting movie without forcing it into “action film,” adding embellished fight scenes and more high-stakes drama. As a result, we got three movies filled with action/violence. A few other critiques of The Hobbit films are that they contain too much CGI, have an arguably weak plot, and that the trilogy felt drawn out.
Because so much of the plot was invented just for the films, I feel that the story lacks structure. Some choices I agree with, like the addition of Tauriel as a character, for example. She was a needed addition to the story. The choice to force a romantic subplot between her and a dwarf was a little questionable, however, and made me think “Of course they had to make her fall in love with one of the main characters.” The romance was awkward, forced and, frankly, a little insulting. Tauriel is an interesting and strong character on her own. What was accomplished by adding in a romance?
Overall I think The Lord of the Rings movies were by far a more successful adaptation than The Hobbit trilogy. The rushed and CGI-reliant quality of The Hobbit movies solidifies that opinion. I also think more prep time, more research, more planning and a clearer script could have made The Hobbit movies better. I think it’s important to keep in mind that books are not movies (and vice versa), and that each form of entertainment can better convey things that the other can’t. I don’t think there will ever be a perfect book-to-movie adaptation, and that’s okay. I think most people agree that the book is always better than the movie anyway.
image credit: Pixabay - free image