Tackling the tricky transition from text to silver screen


Jonathan H. Ellyson and Jonathan Ellyson

One of my all time favorite books is Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game.” I’ve read it over a dozen times and have written at least four book reports or essays on it. Personally I am really excited about the film adaptation coming in November directed by Gavin Hood. But should I be?

Fans of the “Eragon” series, “The Golden Compass,” “Jumper,” or any of the recent Dr Seuss adaptations will know the pain of a good book turning into a bad movie. Personally I felt Philip Pullmans Dark Materials series (Golden Compass) would have made a great trilogy; when the first film flopped and didn’t even do the book justice I knew the next few would never make it to the screen. The same is true of the “Eragon” series. What if 2001s Harry Potter had failed? Why do some movies make it and others not, and will “Ender’s Game” make the cut?

The first step in ruining a movie adaptation of a book is altering the storyline completely, perhaps even omitting characters and putting in new ones. Jumper is a victim of this, the reason I liked the book was the science fiction element. In the movie adaptation they replace the National Security Agency as the antagonist with a religious cult called the “Paladins” who have been hunting “jumpers” forever–too much fantasy. Eragon suffered due to the decision to completely change some characters, generally not something the readership likes.

Some movie adaptations are screwed up by either adapting a very short story into a feature length film, or trying to pack together multiple medium length stories into one film. The Polar Express is a full film based on a 30 page picture book, as are The Lorax and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Most Dr Seuss books already have a very nice half-hour animated adaptation, the feature films weren’t very good. Lemony Snickets “A Series of Unfortunate Events” was three books dense, and tried to implement pieces of later books into the storyline; I will take the fact that you are just now remembering the movie to determine it wasn’t very memorable.

So what does a director need to do? Well, think about the best book adaptations; the first two Harry Potter films are the longest. Most consider these to be the most representative of the books, the writers managed to fit almost every scene into the movie. When they got to the longer books they had to decide what to cut, for the most part they made good decisions. Quidditch and dragons translate well to screen, exposition in a hallway wearing proper Hogwarts uniforms doesn’t.

A great example of creativity can be found in the Hunger Games, where internal monologue from the main character is replaced by either a look into the game masters control panel, or the announcer describing to audience members why a particular breed of bee is dangerous.

What about “Ender’s Game?” Well, the cast was selected well with Ben Kingsley and Harrison Ford. I like all the trailers I’ve seen showing the Battle Room, and I think the dress code was necessary for film adaptation. I have high hopes for this movie, and I’ll be sure Post-Production.