I recently just watched The Hobbit trilogy and had also just finished reading the book a week ago, and it reminded me of a class I took while I was in college. The class in question was called literature into film, and in that class we explored adaptations of novels, plays, poems, and short stories into films.
It is just a common truth that if a piece of literature is being adapted into a film that there will be some differences, sometimes major, between the two. Film is very different from literature. I believe that at their core they are the same, but film needs to be presented very differently. At least, the common film does. I believe that film has the ability to be complex, but very rarely do we see this in adaptations. Just imagine how many books, if faithfully adapted to film in their entirety, would span over five hours long in movie form!
The fact of the matter is that production companies want films under three hours long so they can make as much money off of them as possible. If there isn’t a love story then they try to add one anyway they can. I will speak of The Hobbit since it is still very fresh in mind. This is a situation of a single book being stretched way beyond its limit in its visual counterpart. The book is under 400 pages, yet is stretched to three 2 ½ hour films. Not only that, but they give characters that were in the book little to no screen time, and they instead invent characters, and completely rewrite parts of the narrative to include a silly love story, that get much more screen time. That is one thing I shall never understand fully.
Let’s call it what it is; a business. I don’t mind if a filmmaker cuts stuff from a novel, that’s to be expected. You can’t possibly fit every little part of a book into under three hours. I also don’t mind when they flesh out certain bits of a novel. Sometimes events in books are said in a just few lines, but visually could take thirty minutes or longer to fully show. I’m fine with that. I really don’t mind changes to the source material. It’s a little annoying at first, but I recognize that film is completely different from literature. The only thing I could never understand with adaptations is when they essentially rewrite the narrative to fit their own agenda. When they make up entirely new characters that were never in the book, and who also get a ton of screen time. You want to make up a couple extremely minor characters to help push the visual story forward? Fine. You want to create a new supporting character that has major plot implications? What in the world are you doing?
I’ve seen this done in many films, not just “The Hobbit”. For the record, I enjoyed The Hobbit films for what they were. I was a little disappointed at some aspects (like my favorite character getting regulated to about 5 minutes cumulative screen time over two films!). Some of my favorite scenes from the book were cut in the film, or rewritten entirely, but for what they were, the films were enjoyable. I would watch all three films again. They may not be very faithful to the book, but enough of the original material is there for me to enjoy it. That being said, some film adaptions stray so far away from the source material that it can be difficult to watch them at all. I especially dislike when filmmakers decide to change the time period of a piece of literature. I don’t mind if they slightly alter it as long it stays in the past, but when they completely change the setting to the present day and add modern music over it? I want to shut it off and go play Frisbee.
I do, however, understand, to an extent, why filmmakers do what they do. I understand it’s a business and that some filmmakers just have really crazy artistic visions. Some things are harder to wrap my head around though. The way I see it, even if you cut a bunch of material out, as long as what you do keep is faithful to the book for the most part, with only minor changes, then it will probably be a good adaptation.