Novella to Film: What’s the Diff?

October 23, 2009 § Leave a comment

You can’t deny that novel adaptations to film change everything about the delivery of the original story. These mediums carry different visual and verbal cargo. Words execute emotions and film is like art.

It’s limited to the screen you’re viewing it on, like a painting, whether it is on the silver screen or your TV. Film is movement, lighting, color and timing-exactly how the director, cast and crew want you to see it.

Novels, however, whisper the narrator’s inner-most complicated dialogue, line by line, quietly describing to you their plight with love and heartache, death and excitement. Novels leave the visual element up to the narrator’s exaggerations. Story lines may change, but the heartbeat from novel to film drum the same beat.

Film exercises your mind via visual suggestions in a way that a book uses words. For example in film The Commitments Jimmy’s dad had a strange fascination with Elvis that wasn’t written in the book. What does this Elvis loving, wannabe band member tell the viewer? Personally, I was embarrassed for Jimmy and secretly wanted to quiet dad down when he sang Fools Rush In at the kitchen table.

Jimmy, in a funny way, is takes after his father in the film. He peruses music as his passion, in an over obsessive and too cocky for his own good kind of way. Jimmy’s character in the novel; however, doesn’t have much influence from his parents. He’s more of a lone star. His borderline overzealous fascination with music is illustrated by his “never coming back from town without an album.” Jimmy was a slave to his obsession and made it obvious that, “he knew his stuff.”

Both scenarios on paper and screen project to reader and viewer, that Jimmy’s character is of the fool embarking a on a journey to the unknown. He’s innocent in both cases and had musical influences growing up.

When watching motion picture, our eyes are hungry for movement and symbolic queues to trigger meaning. Filmmakers work at satisfying that urge. The literal narrators whispers don’t translate on screen as effectively as they do when they are read. Our minds eye is allowed to elaborate on the written version in a way that satisfies the reader-because we can make it our own.

In the novella, The Commitments, music played a key role. It took up more page and eye and head space than it took up time on screen but didn’t change the heartbeat of the story. The music in the novel cried out soul, nearly beating the notion of the band’s soul music mission to the ground.

Build up is created when Jimmy suggests the bands covers Get Up by James Brown. Sexual tension ensues, Jimmy plays the record for the boys and-while sitting with his legs between the speakers. James belts out “the best -HUH they’ve ever heard.” This scene in the book turns the reader on and builds on something to look forward to.

The film set a different stage for the first music scene. It was awkward, unprofessional and everyone was so green. Derrick steps up to the mic and belts out in an impressive harmonic shout -“MUSTANG SALLY.” I was sold. It was as dramatic as their “best ever” experience with “HUH”. Everybody knows the “HUH” and everybody can hear it in their heads-this is what made the novel effective without actually hearing it real time like you do with film.The film gives you a sexy lead man singing his heart out. Same effect.

Music is filled with emotion and it is what made The Commitments exciting to watch. Adaptations from novel to film are all about character development. Novels spend more time with the main characters thoughts, intentions and history. Without such background, the reader looses the character’s persona.

In film, personality can be covered by casting and costume, soundtrack and lighting. The pulse of The Commitments didn’t skip a beat from novel to film even though scenes were manipulated for silver screen success.


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