From the bookshelf to the big screen


It was the fall of 1998, I was almost six years old, and a few remaining days of summer separated me from the start of second grade. This also was the year that the first Harry Potter book was published in the United States. For the next couple of months, instead of turning on cartoons after dinner, my sisters and I would sit in the family room and listen to one of my parents read from the Sorcerer’s Stone.

For many readers, the allure of reading a book comes from the novel’s ability to inspire the imagination. This allows for slightly different experiences, and in some cases interpretation, for each person. While this trait is one of the book medium’s biggest assets, it can cause problems when movie studios translate the material to the silver screen.

When a book becomes commercially successful, whether it is Fight Club or Fifty Shades of Grey, production companies compete with each other for the licensing rights for the book to be made into a movie. The filmmakers hope to profit from the books that already established commercial success and must then impress two audiences, those who have read the book and those who have not. For example, when I went to go see the first Hunger Games movie I thought it was great. The movie was well paced and had an interesting concept, but the people that I talked with who read the book said they were not impressed. To them, the movie was not entirely true to the source material and left out major chunks from the book.

While there are plenty of pitfalls in adapting beloved novels into films, some of the highest critically acclaimed movies can trace their origins back to the bookshelves. One of the largest success stories in this arena has been Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. This series of films revived J.R.R. Tolkien’s rich complex universe and brought it back to life. Each of the three movies was nominated for an Oscar in the best picture category, and in 2003 the last movie of the franchise took home the award. These blockbuster movies proved not only to be commercially successful, but were instrumental in rebranding the fantasy genre as credible among studios.

While there may always be some disapproval from readers who do not want to see their favorite book tarnished by Hollywood, as long as the medium remains profitable there will be a studio looking to capitalize on their accomplishments. However, these individuals can take comfort in the fact that despite the entrepreneurial nature of production companies, the theatrical release of these films has the ability to encourage its audience to pick up the original book and discover what inspired these filmmakers to action.