I watched Practical Magic tonight. This in and of itself is not particularly important, except that the movie is based on a novel by Alice Hoffman. Therefore, it got me to thinking about books that are turned into movies, which I think is a relevant topic and leads to a pet rant.
I remember when Practical Magic first came out. I did not want to see it too much (as I avoid “witch movies” for the most part), but it had Stevie Nicks doing the soundtrack, and if she loved it, I figured it would not be too bad. Well, I loved it. I loved the story, the acting and the music. I bought the video release as soon as it came out and the soundtrack as well, and went to the Internet to see what everyone thought. The prevailing attitude was, “Yeah, we liked the movie, but the book was better. Plus, they left out half the book.” I went to the bookstore the next day, bought the book and read the whole thing in a couple of days. And you know what? The movie not only left out parts; it completely changed the entire story. I was not particularly surprised, since that is what always happens. This gets us back to recent events, where a new movie has come and sparked a debate I thought I would never see about movies and books.
When I saw Harry Potter, I anticipated seeing it like I saw Practical Magic, with lots of cuts to the plot. I expected to see people gripe about how it was not true to the book and say, “Where was so and so?” ad nauseum. However, this phenomenal thing happened that I never expected. Harry Potter the movie was almost completely true to the book. I was surprised, relieved, and overjoyed that I was seeing the magical effects with my eyes that I had only seen earlier with my imagination. Triumphantly, I went to the Internet to share in my joy. I have learned now that this is always a mistake.
I did go to places where people loved Harry Potter. They too had known the pain of a beloved book that had been cut to shreds, and shared in my joy that there was a movie that had been cut very little. However, there was a dark spot in the form of people who thought less of the movie because it was too much like the book. I wondered if these people lived in any sort of reality. “A movie should be a tasteful transfer, not a photocopy,” they said, “Lord of the Rings was a transfer, Harry Potter was a cheap copy.” This general sentiment puzzles me because I have seen many more people who wished Lord of the Rings could have been more true to the book than Harry Potter fans who were disappointed. Furthermore, I am confused because it means that these people would have been happier if the book had been mutilated and changed to fit Hollywood? I suppose there are just some people out there that can never be made happy.
If a book is altered to fit a screen, people are unhappy because it detracts from what they remember and loved about that book. Before Harry Potter came out in theaters, I had never seen a book that successfully evaded the ax and retained the same spirit as the book. In addition, usually the parts of the book that I thought were sexy or cool or terrifying about the book were completely lacking in the screen adaptation (see: the Shining). For the first time in my life, I saw a movie that retained everything I loved and enjoyed about a book. This might never happen again, and instead of whining about how it was too good, I think that I’ll just sit back with my popcorn and DVD and enjoy the show.