Phenomena: Turning a Book into a Movie

You would think that turning a book into a screenplay wouldn't be so hard. After all, a book's manuscript is almost like a screenplay, save for a different format. So why is it so difficult to turn a book into a successful movie?

We've seen it time and time again. A movie comes out that is based on a book and the fans of the book come out in droves to support it. But more often than not, many people leave the theater disappointed. It is an experience that happens to a lot of book readers and it happened to me the other day. The Dark Tower, starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey came out on August 4th and it is something that I've been waiting on for years. Ever since I picked up the original book, The Gunslinger, I read through the seven book series faster than I could ever remember reading any books. I ate it up. So it makes sense that I had high expectations for the movie, especially considering the A-list actors that had been brought on board. My expectations did not mix with the reality of the movie. 

Rotten Tomatoes, the movie aggregate website, currently has The Dark Tower with a 17% fresh rating. In other words, it was terrible. Even with that in mind, I chose to believe that it was just people hating on a series which they knew nothing about. But when I left the theater, I agreed whole heartedly; The Dark Tower had already fallen. What went wrong? The books' author, Stephen King, filled the world of the Dark Tower with such complex mythology, the characters were all so fleshed out and rounded, the story was mysterious, scary, and mystifying. How could they do this to my beloved series? Unfortunately, this is something that happens all too often.

The reality is that if you clock in how many hours it takes you to read a book, you end up with an experience that far exceeds the two hours that a movie generally takes. This forces the producers and director to condense a lot of the material that was originally contained in a book. What ends up happening is that the movie is then just a watered down version of the original text. All the details that are contained in a good book are always important, right down to the smallest little thing. When you remove all these elements, you take away the magic that made the book so popular. The fans of the books expect that you'll do the books justice and usually leave disappointed. Meanwhile, fans that go see the movie to just have a good time are also alienated, because they end up watching something that should only be experienced at its proper length and complexity. Honestly, it isn't even the fault of the people involved in making the movie. It is an evil that is necessary in order to make the film happen. It is unavoidable.

Recently, there has been a lot more success in turning books into TV shows. The Dark Tower itself was originally supposed to be released as a show. The Game of Thrones is a perfect example of this and has received an enormous fan base and widespread critical approval. While you end up losing some production value when you go straight to TV, you get to dedicate a lot more time to the little intricacies that originally made the book as memorable as it is. 

It, another Stephen King book, is set to come out in a few weeks. Honestly, I still have high hopes for it. It was another one of my favorites when I was growing up and there is a huge fan base, probably larger than the fan base for the Dark Tower. However, It, in its entirety, is a massive book that is over 1000 pages. I hope it does well, but if the Dark Tower, and many other adaptations that were based on books have shown us anything, it is that we should take it with a grain of salt and realize going in that it will be condensed; it has to be.