By Aarti Kamat
Published on Wednesday, March 30, 2011
“The Sound of Music” (1965), “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” (2003) and “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008) are all Best Picture Oscar winners, but they also all carry the dubious distinction of being based on books. This year’s adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel “Jane Eyre” (2011) is next in this series of high-profile film adaptations of books. When I watched the trailer for this new addition to the long line of novels turned into movies, I turned to my friend and mentioned that I really liked the book. In response, she told me in all seriousness that she did not know it was a book. As a huge fan of the novel “Jane Eyre,” it upset me to think that there are people who think the movie is an original creation. What’s more, the trailer nearly advertised the movie as a horror story. Spoiler alert: “Jane Eyre” is not scary story. It pains me to see movie-makers twist the true nature of the classic story in the interest of marketability, probably to attract a male audience to a typically female-dominated fan base. My friend’s ignorance and the skewed trailer got me thinking — is Hollywood destroying books?
Perhaps “destroy” is taking it a bit too far. My main problem with movie adaptations is that they do not adequately capture what makes books great in the first place. Part of the magic of a good book is its prose and language, things a movie just can’t capture. Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors, but the wit and descriptive power she displays in her language gets lost in the transition to film. As such, I simply detested the latest adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” (2005) because it was incapable of reflecting the rich language of Austen’s novels that draws me to her work.
In the interest of time, movie adaptations also tend to leave out characters, eliminate pivotal scenes and drastically change the plot, all at the whim of the filmmakers. When I was younger, Gail Carson Levine’s “Ella Enchanted” was my favorite novel. The book chronicles Ella, who is cursed to always be obedient, in her journey to break the curse — weaving together love, magic and adventure while cleverly linking it back to the original Cinderella story. The movie “Ella Enchanted” (2004), on the other hand, reduces the book’s imaginative plot to a clichéd story of a stubborn heroine who first hates the arrogant hero but is eventually won over when he changes his ways. Along the way they encounter random, unrelated adventures forced into the plot by the movie-makers. As someone who loved the book, it was difficult to watch it butchered on the big screen.
Reading should be about using one’s imagination to picture what the author is describing. Movies subvert that imaginative process. Instead of using our own minds to turn the words on the page into images, we now rely on what the movie shows us. Now, whenever I read “Twilight” (yes, I just admitted to reading Twilight — it’s a guilty pleasure, alright?) I picture Kristen Stewart and her awkward twitching, instead of my own interpretation of Bella.
Perhaps I am being a bit harsh and a little hypocritical. I have, after all, seen every Harry Potter movie multiple times, but I have also read the books as many times as I have seen the movies. And I’ll probably go see the new “Jane Eyre” movie when it is screened this term by the Dartmouth Film Society. Will I like it? That remains to be seen, but I know for sure I will find something to complain about. It’s fine to produce movies based on books, but moviegoers should ideally read the book beforehand. Even if the movie does a disservice to the book, audience members can entertain themselves by examining all the discrepancies. And if the movie turns out to be great, viewers will appreciate the book even more. So do me a favor, the next time you go see a movie that is based on a book, read the book first.