Nowadays, you’d be hard pressed to see a movie (at least a mainstream film) that’s not based on some other source, like a comic book or a novel. This drives a number of people crazy; They believe that Hollywood has run out of their own ideas! Furthermore, say others, Hollywood desecrates beloved books, stripping them of what’s good about them. Although desecrate is a bit harsh, I’m in the latter group. Even though I understand that something has to give when you condense a story, I wish they’d do a better job of representing certain stories. Part of the problem, of course, is that the story has been shaved to meet someone else’s impression of what’s important, not mine.
Free of space and time constraints, books have a freedom that film producers (and other mediums, like a TV show) don’t.
David Fincher’s Fight Club is one of the few examples that proves me wrong. Together with a deft script and good acting, Fincher took a really good book and made it into a brilliant movie, in part because he was able to build on the story’s solid foundation with his technical wizardry. It helped that the nimble narration in the book lent itself to movies in ways that a lot of books just don’t.
Often, a book’s nuisances (like descriptions), the language (that’s not dialogue), and sometimes secondary characters (that wacky neighbor that appears only twice) get lost in translation to another medium. Books include all of these, and the sum of these parts make the book a pleasure to read. Yet some people only think of the main story as the important part. And when you have to focus on what’s important, you have to make choices as to what to cut. This is why some stories usually can’t be condensed and still convey all that is important—in part because you have to rely on a handful of people’s ideas on what the important part IS that’s worth conveying.
The Book of Psalms runs into similar issues when trying to turn various tales of the Bible into a tight little poem or in some cases a song to sing. Used to convey the spirit of certain Bible stories as songs in the Temple or spreading the word in public, these mostly short psalms put a different spin on the way history or (most often) love for God is conveyed. Imagine someone walking through town and singing these, trying to entice someone to hear a little about God. In this way, these truncated little poems (and sometimes songs) can be about as effective as the movie version of the Bible book they represent.
Most of the stories that get represented have to do with King David.
The psalms that represent David tend to focus on a sliver of a moment, wherein David, in a moment of weakness, begs God to wipe out all of his enemies (17:14, for example). Out of context, the reader (or listener), doesn’t get the context of the moment. They won’t know what drove him from Jerusalem or what he felt like losing his son Absalom or even his history standing up to Goliath (and then Saul).
But if you wanted to yank his moments out to show how he leaned on God, these work. That is, if you need to be force-fed a lesson like a fortune cookie fortune.
Distilling these stories down to these moments rob them of the details that make them well-rounded stories. But, of course, the full books are always there to read. The issue of course is what happens to the people who don’t have the time (or don’t care to take the time) to read the whole story but think they get the gist here. And then base their understanding of the Bible on this gist.
One of the painful things to listen to as a teacher, a writer, a reader, and a film viewer is how people flock to films in place of reading the actual book. When I see a film that is based on book, I expect that I’m not getting the full story—sometimes, for me, that’s enough. If I’m interested in the message in the story, I’ll read the book. I wish more people would, although I know most won’t.