Just this week, Cloud Atlas started showing here in the Philippines. When I first heard that the Wachowskis and Tykwer were filming this with a stellar cast, I dismissed it as nothing more than a rumor. How could they adapt the novel into a feature film? But oh no, I was wrong. News articles on the Internet kept coming with updates regarding the cast, the production dates, and finally, the premiere of the film at the Toronto International Film Festival last September.
I went to see it alone on the first day of its local run. I didn’t have any expectations but I was giddy with excitement because if you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a huge fan of David Mitchell. Anything that has to do with the author puts me on a good mood. I went to the cinema expecting that the directors will have a different take on the novel, and guess what? I ended up liking it.
I am not a follower of the directors’ movies. In fact, I’ve only seen Tykwer’s Run Lola Run (yes, I haven’t seen any of The Matrix films), but I like Tykwer’s direction of the said film, which made me a little hopeful. However, I cannot help wondering how they are going to do it.
But why keep wondering when we all know that they are going to do it differently? Surely, the directors and writers have a different vision of the novel because they are readers different from us. Every reader may have similar thoughts on any novel with others, but the whole interpretation cannot be the same 100 percent. This is why it is important for us to understand that the book and the film are separate. They do not necessarily supplement each other; rather, they should be able to stand on their own.
I only learned to separate the film from the book when I was sorely disappointed by Mark Romanek’s direction of Never Let Me Go. I kept ranting about it until a bookish friend disagreed with me. She has not read the book, and yet she loves the film. I told her that there were a lot of things changed and omitted, to which she slammed me with the difference of a book from a film.
I rewatched the film a second time trying hard not to think of the novel’s details. It worked. Indeed, I was able to appreciate Romanek’s take on it. It is not a film to die for, but it will do. After that, I kept reminding myself when I watch film adaptations that I am going to watch a different person’s interpretation of the novel that we both read.
Because films usually run at an average of two hours, plot details are usually omitted. Yes, I still groan about the missing Norfolk scene at Never Let Me Go. What baffles me is when new details are added. Example: the biometrics thing. I don’t remember reading anything about that, but why is it added? To make the novel fit the futuristic setting? Or to establish that the characters cannot simply escape?
A change that I approve and really like is the ending of Atonement directed by Joe Wright. I think it worked better for the film adaptation. Such choices are critical, so our directors and writers have a lot to think about. There must be a lot of factors to consider, particularly mass audience appeal. After all, the film is not exclusively made for the readers. It will be out for everyone to see.
Directors and writers have to do what they can to allow the novel translate into film. Would we want a literal translation of the novels that we read? If this were the only method, we’d be sitting for hours and hours inside cinemas with bleary eyes, blasted eardrums, and bursting bladders. And what of stream of consciousness and interior monologues? Do we really like to see those on film?
Each moviegoer is different. Some may not want to watch the film until he has finished reading the source material. Some may even be enticed to read the novel after seeing the film. Some may want faithful adaptations and will be ready to walk out the cinema if anything is changed. And ultimately, if the moviegoer doesn’t like what he’s seeing, well, it’s his problem. It’s money wasted, if you ask me. That’s why we have to find something that we can appreciate in the movies that we watch, whether they are adaptations or not.
And with that, let me list down some of the film adaptations that I’ve seen in recent years:
- Atonement (Joe Wright) – I love the soundtrack and the “minor” ending tweaks.
- Blindness (Fernando Mereilles) – it’s a little weird watching a film about a whole country going blind (and you are there seeing everything).
- Brideshead Revisited (Julian Jarrold) – it didn’t have a huge impact on me but it was good.
- Capote (Bennett Miller) – not exactly an adaptation of In Cold Blood but more of the author’s biopic, specifically during that time when he wrote the novel. Philip Seymour Hoffman did an unforgettable acting here.
- Cloud Atlas (Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski) – I love their take on the novel. It looks like a montage. I still can’t help wondering if it’s too confusing for the nonreaders.
- The Hours (Stephen Daldry) – I felt that it was too fast, but I like it still.
- Jane Eyre (Cary Fukunaga) – I love the cast (Michael Fassbender!). Mia Wasikowska was born for this role.
- Mysterious Skin (Gregg Araki) – I have read this only after watching the film. A great and underappreciated work of beauty.
- Never Let Me Go (Mark Romanek) – great cast. One could feel the inner tumult of the characters.
- The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke) – too many changes, but I think these made the film better.
- Pride and Prejudice (Joe Wright) – it’s nice, but I prefer the BBC mini-series.
- The Remains of the Day (James Ivory) – I felt that the ending, which was not in the novel, was completely unnecessary.
- The Road (John Hillcoat) – I didn’t quite feel the bleakness in the novel.
- The Shipping News (Lasse Hallstrom) – I don’t quite remember it, but I remember my mom and sisters falling asleep while we were watching.
- A Single Man (Tom Ford) – A very good adaptation. Colin Firth should have won the Oscar for this.
- The Virgin Suicides (Sofia Coppola) – I love the cinematography and I think it captured the feel of the novel.
How about you? What’s your take on film adaptations?