It was a real struggle to get my daughter into reading. She's a very active kid, and, for a long time, making her sit down to read was virtually the same as the Chinese water torture. And not just for her. Over the last several months, though, she "got" it. Whatever it is that opens the eyes to books. That thing that so many people don't get.
So I've been suggesting books to her, and she's been reading them. The last one was Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh. I was a little older than her when I first read it, but I loved the book. It was one of my favorites when I was a kid. When Disney said they were making a movie of it, I was very excited. Just like I would later be excited that they were making an adaptation of The Black Cauldron. My hopes, in both cases, were smashed and stomped on.
Anyway, my daughter read Mrs. Frisby in a few days. A very quick read for her considering she's 8, and the book is nearly 250 pages. She loved it. Currently, it's her favorite book.
I don't remember how she found out, but she did find out that there is a movie adaptation: The Secret of Nimh. Maybe it was my fault. I can't remember if I mentioned it or if she found out some other way. At any rate, she demanded to see the movie as soon as she found out there was one and reminded me everyday for weeks that I was supposed to get it for her.
Now, I did warn her that I had been very disappointed with the movie when I was a kid and that it's not really much like the book. She didn't care. She wanted to see it.
Today was that day. ["Today" actually being a day last week.]
I understand that kids aren't supposed to care how close to a book a movie sticks. They're not supposed to care. But I cared. Evidently, my daughter also cares. Before the half hour mark of the movie, my daughter said to me, "This isn't much like the book at all." By the hour mark, she had asserted, "I don't like this very much." When it was over: "Dad, why did they change it?" I have no good answer for her as it's a question I have often asked myself about movie adaptations.
Why did they change it?
For instance, since I've been talking about it recently, why decide to adapt the book Oil! into a movie but, then, only use the first 1/3 of the book. What you're left with is not a story at all, as I've said about the movie There Will Be Blood (you can read the review here).
I suppose this is what I'm saying:
If you think a book is good enough to adapt into a movie, why screw around with it?
Don't get me wrong, I understand the need for some changes. For example, The Hunt for Red October. This is a great book and just screams to be made into a movie. Which they did. But the book, especially the climax, is quite complex. You can't get all of that into a two hour movie. This necessitates some changes. However, the core of the story was left intact. If you watch the movie and, then, go read the book, as I did, you get the same story, the same plot; the book just has more... depth? Richness? More complexities. However, when they went on to do Patriot Games, they changed the whole thrust of that book from being a story about the political statement of a terrorist group into a story about revenge. The action is somewhat consistent, but the motivations are completely changed, lessening the story.
The same thing holds true for movie re-makes. Here, I'll point to True Grit and The Day the Earth Stood Still. The re-make of True Grit is excellent and, probably, superior to the original. This is because they held to the story of the original movie. I mean, they held to the story almost shot for shot. They layered in levels of grittiness and language, though, that weren't common when the original film was made which gave the re-make a much more realistic feel. And Jeff bridges was much more convincing as a drunkard than John Wayne, but, again, that was more due to the sensibilities of the time period than anything else. With The Day the Earth Stood Still, though (a movie I love and own (the original, that is)), they kept little more than the title, the fact that the character is an alien, and a giant robot. There is nothing else that is similar between the two movies. What, then, is the point? Oh, wait, the guy(s) that did the re-make wanted to use the title.
I'm not a legalist with adaptations, no matter what it sounds like. I like the movie version of Coraline better than the book. Some of that is because of the changes. But the story is the same. It's just that, in many ways, the movie is the richer version of the two of these. And Gaiman was involved in the changes and helped keep the story itself intact.
All of this still leaves me with the question:
If you want to adapt a book, why change the story, the plot, you are adapting?
I couldn't answer my daughter's question. I don't understand the issue. If it's a different story you want to tell, just write a new story. Don't stomp all over my daughter's dreams by ruining a story she loves. Not that it ruined the book for her, but she was really troubled by the fact that the movie she saw was not the same as the book she read.
This isn't a question I have any kind of answer for. I get that Hollywood is just trying to make money, and they'll do that by exploiting, well, by exploiting anything they can get their hands on. But it seems to me that when you look at adaptations, the most successful ones are the ones that held most closely to the source material. Lord of the Rings, anyone? Harry Potter? You'd think with these kinds of examples, Hollywood would do a better job of trying to stick to the story from the book.
Yes, I do realize that The Secret of Nimh is 30 years old, so, maybe, it is getting better. Oh, wait, then there's There Will Be Blood. So maybe not.
Going back to the question, though...
As a writer, it may just be that I'm more sensitive to story integrity than most people. Of course, most people (as we've talked about before) don't read, so they don't really know the difference anyway. Maybe that means none of this matters. Is it my job to be upset if some other writer sells his/her story to some studio to get butchered? But, then, I have my daughter saying to me, "Why did they change it?" and it does matter to me. And I can't make it not matter even though I tell myself it shouldn't.
And I'm rambling, now, so I'm just gonna stop. It's not an easy question to deal with, though, and I, as I said, I just don't get why you'd want to adapt a story and, then, make the story unrecognizable.
Maybe that's just me...