The disturbing trend of one novel, many films
There’s something nasty about this practice of splitting single books into several movies, a trend continuing with the upcoming trilogy of ‘The Hobbit’.
Remember when one novel could be made into one film? Well there was a time — a time before studios insisted on splitting single books into two or even three different movies. With the recent news about The Hobbit becoming three films, it’s time to address this trend.
The problem with this practice is that, like so many things, it’s motivated purely by money. What’s particularly cynical about it is that filmmakers deny this, claiming that the decision to make one novel into several films is somehow an artistic one.
Peter Jackson claimed that the reason for The Hobbit becoming a trilogy of films was to get more of the book onto the screen; “Do we take this chance to tell more of the tale? And the answer from our perspective as the filmmakers, and as fans, was an unreserved ‘yes.’” What about as business people? Of course they want to make as much money as possible, and The Hobbit is a cash cow. Or a cash … oliphaunt? I don’t know, I don’t really like The Lord of the Rings. The point is, it’s a guaranteed money-maker, so obviously they want to milk it dry. But what’s objectionable is claiming that it’s for the benefit of the fans, when the reality is that the fans are just being used; there’s something quite deceptive and even nasty about that.
Those who defend the decision to split single books into multiple movies argue that it is important to be as faithful to the book as possible, and one film is simply not long enough to do justice to the detail of the novel. This does make for an interesting debate about just how faithful a movie adaptation needs to be. This is often made difficult by confusion over what we mean by “faithful.”
An adaptation should be faithful in its retention of themes and tone, but in terms of plot, detail and even characters, it needn’t be particularly faithful at all. Books and films are very different, and if you can’t fit every aspect of a novel into a movie, then don’t. Part of the art of narrative is working out what and what not to include. If you have to divide your adaptation into several parts, you have failed.
It’s understandable that fans of books would be protective of their content and would want every detail intact after the transition to the big screen. But it’s important to realise that art is versatile; look at Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights from last year. It omitted about half the book, and as a result was a focused and beautiful piece of cinema. Apart from the Mumford & Sons song at the end, obviously.
In any case, The Hobbit is only about 300-400 pages long; making that into three films seems ridiculous, especially when you consider that Joe Wright’s new adaptation of Tolstoy’s 800-page Anna Karenina fits into a single film.
Meanwhile, the final Harry Potter book was made into two films, the first of which was totally redundant, as absolutely nothing happened. Mind you, the first seven Harry Potter films were totally redundant. But that penultimate waste of time made the whole decision to split up that last book seem particularly greedy, and sneering with it. And I’ve not read the Twilight books, but I refuse to believe for a second that there’s enough of worth in there to justify dividing the last book into two films. But then teenage girls have a lot of money, and if Stephenie Meyer wants to exploit that while instilling in them a profound sense of gender-based inferiority, then who am I to judge.
My favourite movie adaptations of novels (Fight Club, American Psycho, A History of Violence … yes it’s a graphic novel, but it counts) all fit into single films while leaving the heart of the books well and truly intact. A film is not a book, and art tends to be at its best when trying something different. So stop wringing out every last commercial drop from these pieces of literature like George Lucas if he could read, and stop deceptively claiming that it’s for the fans when they’re the ones being exploited.