Books on the Silver Screen: Lost in Translation?

2 Dec

Theaters recently marked the debut of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. The highly anticipated release received much more than a buzz in conversation; the excitement was more like an enormous roar. Facebook statuses and Twitter feeds were packed with the enthusiastic ramblings of teens, and adults, eager to see the film. Conversations during the days preceding the film debut centered on Harry, Hagrid and Hermoine. Hundreds of thousands of avid fans stood in line for hours before the midnight release of the most recent installment of the Harry Potter franchise.

From the pages of the widely popular British series, the characters leapt onto the silver screen, enchanting audiences with special effects and Hollywood glamour. This is a common practice, as books often serve as the basis for film projects. Harry Potter is just one of many series that have emerged as movie franchises. The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the enduring classic from C.S. Lewis, will open in theatres next month, and some modern titles, such as Water for Elephants by Sara Gruene and Beastly by Alex Flinn are set to release in 2011.

Masses flocked to see the Hollywood adaptation of the seventh Harry Potter book, and the film yielded a whopping $125 million in its opening week. Stori Long, TSTC Publishing intern and Harry Potter fan, gave her report on the movie. “It was awesome,” she said excitedly, “But it wasn’t as good as the book.”

Not as good as the book? With its dramatic scenes, enticing score and mind-blowing special effects? Not as good as the book? That seems to be the usual account when screenwriters transform storybooks into films. The characters are the same, the plot is usually true enough, but for some reason, movies fail to evoke the same awe the plain, black-and-white pages of books do. Despite the millions spent on glitz and glamour, movies often falter in comparison to the original work.

Why? The answer lies with the power of imagination, the impossible heights that books propel our minds to thrive in. There is no way that a sweeping flight scene or brilliant action sequence can compare to the mind’s ability to transcend visual and sensual capabilities. The words printed on the quaint pages of text enter our minds, saturate themselves in the endlessness of our imaginations and form scenes that are specific to our extravagant passions, our flourishing creativity and our limitless perceptions.

Movies, though thrilling and entertaining, don’t measure up. They cannot, because our imaginations are our own creations. Our imaginations reflect our innermost fantasies, our lofty hopes and desires. Writers thrive off of the imagination, creating worlds and relying on individual minds to make those worlds real. Although some book-based movies honor the original and offer lasting impact, such as the Oscar-winning Schindler’s List, when books are translated into movies, some magic, some deep thrill is inevitably lost.

So, no, movies are not as good as the books. Sadly, when a book is turned into a movie, however, audiences flock to see it, rather than run to the shelves to purchase the original work. Those who do so miss some of the wonder that saturates the pages of the book, the magic that words printed in black and white can reveal.

Words written are meant to be read, and although movie adaptations are visually stunning and bring the stories to a wider audience, they in no way compare to the expanse of each reader’s imagination.


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