Book to TV – The New Frontier in Adapting Our Favorite Books by Sarah Terry
Every few months, a new movie is released based off of a beloved book, and avid readers everywhere cringe at the anticipation of what they might get wrong. I know for me, the Cloud Atlas adaptation with all the different creepy versions of Tom Hanks still haunts my dreams, and it can only be soothed by reading the fantastic book by David Mitchell over and over again.
The list goes on and on, yet despite our impassioned arguments about why the book was better, they continue to butcher our favorite pieces of literary genius. There are a few major problems that are probably to blame. First of all, the level of writing in the screenplay is not nearly the caliber of the book. Secondly, the 90-minute format scarcely allows time to squeeze in all the important plot points, let alone the subtle intricacies, details and most importantly, meaning that a book can explore. Seeing the themes of Cloud Atlas transitioned onto the silver screen, one would think that the book was a weird, fantasy interpretation of the “Missed Connections” section of a newspaper, rather than the fascinating exploration of how people are connected to one another both past and present. The solution to these issues may be right in front of us. That’s right people: on your TV.
While for so long, literary adaptations have been the stuff of film, lately with the resurgence of scripted television, some of these books have migrated to television. One of the most high profile of these series being Game of Thrones, which is one of the few where the question of which is better – book or movie – doesn’t feel like it has such an easy answer.
Thus far, I’ve only read the first book in George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. After reading it, I re-watched the first season of the fantastic HBO series, and it’s clear that adaptation to a TV show has saved the material from falling into the lesser-than traps that so many movies have, particularly the two major issues mentioned above.
The first problem with many adaptations is that the writing does not match or even come close to the caliber of the book. One of the main reasons this becomes a problem on feature films is that so many writers are hired to do rewrite after rewrite on a script, so it no longer reflects any singular vision. And after writing the script, the writer is essentially outside the process, having no input on the design or look of the film. On the contrary, in television, the head writer is also often a high-ranking producer, so his or her vision is carried throughout. Case and point, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the writers and executive producers for Game of Thrones, are involved in every step of the show, and there is no question that the show represents their vision. A book is the result of a singular author’s ingenious insight, so shouldn’t the adaptation be as well?
The other major problem that often makes a book lover feel cheated by the movie version is the fact that the movie has only about 90 minutes to tell its story, while a book might have hundreds upon hundreds of pages. A TV series like Game of Thrones alleviates this problem because it has ten hours to tell its story, over five times that of the average movie. With the ability to slow down, Game of Thrones can give you subtlety in a character, layers that we readers appreciate in a book. A show can also include the majority of the plot points, rather than skipping over them or cutting out key characters and storylines.
Another high-profile TV adaptation is the CBS series Under the Dome adapted from Stephen King’s sci-fi thriller, which I haven’t started yet because I need to finish the book first. But nevertheless I’m excited about it. Maybe TV will become the glorious new frontier for adapting our favorite books. And maybe, just maybe, those adaptations won’t make us want to pound our head against the wall.
Sarah Terry is an aspiring TV writer and screenwriter. Her chocolate chip cookies are world-renowned, she can do 5 boy pushups in a row, and her Basque heritage is the reason she talks so loud. She writes TV pilots, screenplays, and the occasional rambling blog post for her blog, That Ridiculous Fantastic.
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