Hollywood loves readers: The (sometimes) mutually beneficial relationship between books & movies

This is an essay by Chris Ciolli.

Books and movies need not compete for our attention and affection. They are two very different mediums, and they have, as explained in an earlier post on this site by Williesha Morris, different needs and goals and use different tools to do the same thing—share a story with the world. In fact, although many readers and writers may loathe to admit it, movies and the books that inspire them enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship in which one feeds off and grows from the other. Less than convinced? Let me explain.

Good and Bad Movie Versions of Books Create New Readers

When it comes to readers, Hollywood often gets a bad rap. But why? Because even with a blockbuster budget a la Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter, directors, producers, makeup artists and actors galore cannot measure up to many book-lovers’ imaginations. Too often, the characters, the setting, the plot, are not how we experienced them in the middle of the night, huddled under the covers with a flashlight, no special effects required.

But that’s okay.  What matters most is a writer’s story reaching more people. Because when a movie waters down or modifies a tale drastically, readers complain to their friends and family about it. Moviegoers who enjoyed the film, but have heard more times than they can count about how the books are superior, or the screenplay was so different sometimes become curious enough to crack open the book and the writer gains a new reader.

And on those rare occasions when the movie version is sublime, perfect, and adored by all the book fans, they drag their non-reader friends to the premiere, and goad them into buying or borrowing the book, and again, the writer gets new readers. For me, one instance of this is The Perks of Being a Wallflower–amazing execution, beautiful in print and on the big screen—and don’t get me started on the soundtrack—the book talks about music a lot, and wow.

Movie Versions of Books Alert Readers

Films are good press for books. It may seem shameful to readers and writers, but new movies receive far more attention and word of mouth than most freshly published tomes. Savvy readers know that many movies are based on books, so if a movie being advertised looks intriguing, with a little research they can stumble into something even more intriguing to read.

Hollywood’s in-your-face advertising put books like The Silver Linings Playbook, The Cloud Atlas and The Life of Pi on my reading list, and I’ve not even seen the last two movies. The striking print and television ads piqued my interest, and now I plan to read the books and watch the movies.

In fact, a lot of books I’ve really enjoyed have come to my attention when the blockbusters based on them were produced and promoted. Slick ads produced for box office hits nudged me into reading the Harry Potter books, the Hunger Games, Beautiful Creatures, and the Immortal Instruments, just to name a few recent offenders—all fun, entertaining reads, well-worth a cozy afternoon spent turning pages and sipping coffee. The movies aren’t too bad, either, once you let go of the idea that they must exactly resemble the book world you and the author created in your mind.

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Chris Ciolli is a Barcelona-based writer and translator. She’s an unabashed book worm and a bit of a coffee addict. She’s accepting new writing and translation clients. Look her up at ChrisCiolli.com.

2 Tips for Watching Movie Adaptations of Books & “Ender’s Game” Review

enders game movie book adaptation

This essay was written by Williesha Morris.

“Ender, the enemy’s gate is down.”

The double meaning wasn’t lost while reading “Ender’s Game” or watching the movie adaptation.

“Ender’s Game” marks the first time I’ve ever purposefully read a book just before seeing a movie. I typically avoid watching movie versions of books for fear it would ruin my carefully, although not well-formed, visualizations of the story.

Though I have a faulty memory, snippets of books like “The Secret Life of Bees,” “The Notebook” and “Cold Mountain” have not been tarnished by the dramatizations on the big screen, even though many of these movies have been critically acclaimed. I just can’t bear to watch them.

But because “Ender’s Game” was an important novel in my husband’s childhood, and my in-laws enjoyed it as well and were kind enough to get me a copy from the library, I was determined to read it in time to see a viewing the following week.

For me, this was huge. I’m not the avid reader I once was as a child. In fact I typically only read short business e-books. But this time I was determined.

And I finished the book in three days.

Three days!

The achievement alone was more exciting than the opportunity to see it in IMAX.

Here are some tips before viewing a movie based on a book. (Read: Following this section are spoilers. If you haven’t read the book or seen the film, you may want to stop after this section. But come back!)

1) Remember the time frame the book was created: There are several scenes changed or fleshed out based on the cinematic technologies of today. We should all be grateful we live in a time where books from the 80s can be created into something suitable for today.

2) Remember the goal of Hollywood: Filmmakers want a movie with interesting characterization and, for movies like this, increased drama, action and romance. Those equal big box office bucks. Just the implication of those three movie elements is what keeps LA churning out movie after movie, even at the expense of taking creative liberties with novels. So you have to expect this will happen and not be turned off by it.

Given that Orson Scott Card once deemed the book impossible to be filmed but was very pleased with this movie, I dove into both the book and the movie with a very critical eye. Thanks to early versions of the trailer, I had Harrison Ford as Graff and little Asa Butterfiled as Ender in my head the whole time (with occasional flashes of Abigail Breslin as Valentine). But after getting halfway through the novel, I began to understand why Card was so skeptical at first.

Valentine and Peter’s plot to take over the world one Net forum at a time was painfully abrupt, difficult to understand and dragged the momentum of the book to a screeching halt.

While I can understand the negative ramifications of focusing an entire book on one character, it seemed completely unnecessary, the political scene was too complex, and the connections to the siblings’ lives at the end of the novel was not a valuable enough payoff to make it an integral part of the plot.

Peter’s transformation from sociopath to politician was too jarring. Had he and Valentine plotted to find out what was going on with International Fleet’s schooling or get in touch with Ender, that would have been more plausible. But this was really the only issue with the book I had. The exclusion of this subplot in the movie was definitely the most positive element.

Other great elements of the film where it deviated from the book included not calling the aliens “buggers,” but by their official term (used in later books in the series) “Formics.” “Buggers” sounded antiquated and childish.

The lake retreat and battle school scenes in particular were extremely well done, and they were really useful in imagining those moments while reading the book. Card’s details of the flying maneuvers was difficult to follow at times, and the trailer scenes provided a much needed point of reference in my mind. Creating lifelike battle scenes in Command School and having Ender and his teammates together in the same room were also great choices for the filmmakers to make that were different from the book.

Ender’s character was still lovable, complicated and dangerous, just like in the  book. However, the movie decided to soften the edges around his relationships with other characters. While his friendship with Bean was very rocky in the book, filmmakers chose to make their characters like each other almost instantly.

I was also pleased with how they handled the fight scenes. They chose not to kill off Stilson or Bonzo. Instead, it is implied Ender only hurt them to the brink of death. I was also pleasantly surprised Ender did not have a confrontation with Bernard. Instead, their combativeness is non-physical, brief and ends with them being together in battle as friends.

However, the nature of these friendships and Ender’s softer side is where the film failed to reach critics, many of which wrote their reviews as though they were completely unfamiliar with the book’s plot.

There was never a romantic relationship between Ender and Petra. Critics were tough on this element of the movie, and for the wrong reasons. Yes, Ender and Petra did nothing more than occasionally hold hands and look longingly at each other. But it wasn’t because they were children or they didn’t have chemistry.

She was never a critical part of Ender’s life in the book. They were simply friends who helped each other and respected each other in the end. I think if critics understood this, they would have had different complaints about the film, namely Petra’s overreaching role, talking with him before the “graduation” battle and being the last person he sees before discovering the Formic hiding place. None of these elements were in the book, and I was disappointed they attempted to pull something romantic out of nothing.

Movie critics who read the book had the same misgivings that I did. It was also unclear how much time had passed during Ender’s training, but the movie is already nearly two hours long, so it was understandable things had to be rushed. But it did take away from getting deeper into Ender’s complex psyche, and it also made his friendships seem forced.

There may be other book-then-movie adventures in my future, but for now, I’m happy this one turned out pretty well. I went into the movie already with a love and appreciation for the book’s characters, and it made watching it much more meaningful, even when the movie wasn’t perfect.

Let’s talk about book-to-movie adaptations. What are your favorites? Which ones do you hate? Let me know in the comments. (I expect to see a lot of Tolkien fans pop up.)

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Williesha Morris is lucky enough to have two sides to her business: she is a freelance writer and blogger and also is an administrative consultant/VA. She gets pumped when she’s able to meld the two together. When she’s not working, she’s usually spending way too much time staring at Facebook or giggling with her husband. Find her at My Freelance Life.com and on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo: Courtesy of Nerdist