When books become movies

With The Hobbit and Life Of Pi recently out in theatres, I’ve been thinking about how books translate into movies. It’s especially relevant for Life of Pi, which has been called “unfilmable”.


I definitely agree that the novel Life of Pi can’t be transcribed into a movie with 100% accuracy. Beyond that hooky “kid in a lifeboat with a tiger” premise, it’s a very reflective story that talks about Pi’s spirituality and emotional reactions — which are difficult to put into a movie. You pretty much need a narrative voice-over or some expositional conversations between characters, both of which can come off clumsy. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it’s rare that visuals can capture a character’s most articulate thoughts. So I do want to see the Life of Pi movie, but I’m not foolish enough to expect the exact book experience.

I think that’s the main thing to remember about movie versions of books: they’re adaptations. The movie is “based on” the book, not intended as a perfect equivalent. Books and movies have very different skill sets, so it’s not likely that a story will translate exactly from one medium to the other. Action-filled stories might be better in movie form. Books with good concepts but flawed writing might benefit from being filmed. But the beautiful prose of a literary story? Not so much. And some stories lose run time when their POV character can’t monologue internally, so new material needs to be added for the movie — Coraline is an example of this.

In the movie, this kid suddenly existed and was a big deal.

In the movie, this kid suddenly existed and was a big deal.

I’ve thought about whether my stories would make good movies. Just for the sake of wondering about it, not because I have a movie deal in the works or anything. The Aligare world would certainly make for some gorgeous visuals, with all the interesting-looking races, natural vistas and colourful magic. (I wouldn’t want the place to look too clean and perfect, though. There’d be some realistic dirt.)

As for the stories? Remedy would do well because it relies a lot on conversations between characters; the scenes that got cut would probably be people’s angsty internal monologues, which don’t have to be there word-for-word. Ravel would need some adaptation, but since Llarez is a storyteller by trade, I’m sure he could voice-over his own chapter to good effect. And the way Render is panning out … hmm. Rue spends a lot of scenes thinking the opposite of what people around her are saying. That book would be tricky to adapt faithfully. I guess Rue could exposit to her dog.

"What's that, Feor? Timmy was pushed down the well by ravenous wolves?"

“What’s that, Feor? Timmy was pushed down the well by ravenous wolves?”

So I don’t think the potential to be a good film is something that should be taken for granted, or even expected. It’s just one more quality that distinguishes a given book from every other story out there.

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