Thursday, September 19, 2013

For Readers' Eyes Only: From Page to Screen - What's Important?

I've previously admitted to being a fan of the Hunger Games trilogy of books, by Suzanne Collins.

Yes, I know, admitting it is the first step.

The second step is going to see the movie with your buddy in a theater full of shrieking pre-teens, all while an overprotective helicopter mom narrated the movie to her eight year old son:

"That's Peeta--he's the boy who gave Katniss bread before. Katniss doesn't know what to do here--she likes Gail, but Peeta is going to the Hunger Games with her. That's why she's so frustrated and confused..."

I can't even make this stuff up--the entire movie with this!
Aside from creating a generation that can't think or figure things out for themselves (that's a topic for a different post), it's on Netflix now, and of course I watched it again.

I think Jennifer Lawrence did a heckuva job as Katniss, and by-and-large, the rest of the cast was pretty great, too. It'll be interesting to see what they do as the trilogy continues to get darker, but by-and-large, I think that the director, screenwriter, cast, and crew deserve a hearty thumbs-up.

Of course, they don't need my approval; plenty of people agreed with me. The movie went on to gross $684 million worldwide, and the studio went ahead and greenlit three sequels already (yes, they're splitting the third book into two movies, don't ask me how).

People like to see books adapted for the big screen, and (maybe more importantly) so do studios, as the avid readers who first discovered the story in book form will line up around the block to buy tickets on day one.

At the same time, for every Hunger Games, there's a Jack Reacher, which despite a respectable $153 million worldwide gross and Tom Cruise's star power, disappointed with a $72 million take in the U.S.

It makes you wonder, what exactly are audiences looking for in a movie adaptation of a book? I mean, on the one hand, studios like the built-in audience that books have, but then they have to work extra hard to confirm that audience's mental picture of what each character, each place, each scene looks like, and how to figure out what exactly "the fat" is in the story so that they can trim it to fit neatly in a 90-150 minute package.

When they hit, as in The Hunger Games, the rewards can be numerous. Jennifer Lawrence's career launched into the stratosphere, and many of the actors in smaller roles have similarly capitalized on their success. The studio makes a ton of money and gets a new franchise.

But most importantly, readers' impressions of the world are confirmed. It's like that magical moment when you're at a stand-up comedy show, and the comedian just says, "You ever think BLAH BLAH BLAH?" and you do think, "YES! I THINK BLAH BLAH BLAH ALL THE TIME HAHAHAHAHA!"

I'll take it a step further, though; because books are so powerful engines of the imagination, because they challenge our minds to flesh out the world that the author has sketched for us with color, sets, and even made-up actors in beloved roles, when a major Hollywood studio is able to even come close to realizing that picture on a huge scale, and confirm not just the atmosphere but the essence of that book, as beloved by millions...well, folks, that's just magic.

So what I want to know is what are the necessary ingredients for that magic. When you're watching a movie adaptation of a beloved book, what makes you nod your head? What makes you grimace and turn from the screen in disgust? Is it the casting? The script? What they cut out? What they leave in? The soundtrack? The costume design? The pacing?

All of these are valid answers--or it could be something that I'm not even conisdering.

Let us know in the comments--hopefully we'll recap it next week and try to figure out, definitively, what you want to see in big screen adaptations of your favorite books.

Until next time, Happy Hunting!

D.J. Gelner is the Co-Founder and CEO of Hunt to Read. Check out his books on his Hunt to Read Profile. Contact him directly at

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