Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Book to Movie: A Cautionary Tale

Heather Stamper
            We’ve all thought it.  We leave the movie theater and say the book was better.  But what do you do when your work is going to the big screen?
            I have a tradition with my second graders.   I read the novel The Tale of Desperaux by Kate Di Camillo every year.  For most of the students, it is their first foray into complex literature.  The book is a labyrinth of overlapping timelines, multiple character-driven plots, and deep connections with the text.  My students chuckle when the mouse Desperaux tries to be a knight in shining armor for the princess he loves. They sympathize with the rat Roscuro when he accidentally scares the queen to death by landing in her soup.  There’s a palpable sadness at the abuse of the servant girl Mig, and a standing ovation when I read the sweet but realistic ending.
            I was very excited, as were the students, when the film came out in 2008.  That excitement turned to disappointment, as this gorgeously animated movie with its all-star vocal cast had a dumbed-down script.  Very few of the events that developed the characters were included and those that avoided the cutting room floor were made into a farce.  Several times during the showing, the students piped in, with “that wasn’t in the book” and “what happened to (insert character)”.
            What took the students by surprise was the added bit that not only did Desperaux bring peace to the kingdom by saving the princess and returning the outlawed soup to the land, but he also ended a drought.  After the showing, one of my English as a Second Language students said, “Did they really want us to think that soup makes the rain?  The movie people must think we’re not smart.”
            I have prefaced my reading every year since with, “Kids, I’m going to read the best book and the worst movie in the world.”  It sets the stage for an excellent compare, contrast, and critique experience.
            As the author, you or your agent should make sure that you have say in the final screen adaptation.  Some things you can’t prevent, a change in a character’s appearance or cuts or additional dialogue.  The central message of your work should stay the same.  After all, that underdog overcoming insurmountable odds is what brought your work to Hollywood’s attention.  Make sure your story is told correctly.

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