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Why do we Want Movies Based on Books

Just watched Catching Fire. And as with every experience of watching a movie based on a book I loved, I have a mix of feelings. The movie was faithful tothe book, using pretty much all the most memorable lines. But of course I also feel dissatisfied as not everything in the book could be shown, including some of my favorite parts. I know that the visits to all the districts could have been a movie in itself and I can understand why Peeta's taking up painting and Katniss modeling 2 dozen bridal gowns wasn't shown but I was quite disappointed that Haymitch wasn't shown at the last Quarter Quell. I thought the plan to film that was the reason for casting a young, fit-looking guy as Haymitch, whom I imagined as looking a lot more run down and slovenly.

But of course there were terrific moments book that were brought to life even more spectacularly than I could have imagined them. The wedding gown and the twirl. The explosion caused by Katniss.  And my favorite was Katniss's virtual shooting target practice, which had better be one of the activities at a Hunger Games theme park.

The film made some additions too like showing Prim as encouraging Katniss to speak out. Without the constriction of the book's first-person point-of-view, we can see Prim as maturing rather than remaining the naive little sister she is in Katniss's point of view. This may seem a small change but I can see what they were doing here. Spoiler alert! They are presenting her as willing to die for the cause to help us accept what happens to her in the third movie. I think that's what everyone hated the most about Mockingjay. If a character has to die, we need to be given a means of consoling ourselves. In the case of Cinna, there are the gowns he left behind, not to mention the knowledge that he was sympathetic to Katniss's cause. For Finnick there's the cliche offspring, though I think I'd feel more consoled if he at least knew about it. That's a change we can hope for in the movie.

Which brings us to why we want movies based on books. Even if we've already imagined everything, a filmmaker can imagine many scenes to greater effect. Even if we can reinterpret parts of the book our own way, we feel legitimized when someone else does it for us. My husband and I argued before about whether Prim should have sensed a trap and gotten out of it. He insisted that she would have insisted on joining the paramedics despite the risks, I insisted she should have realized there was something irregular about a young teen being sent to the frontline. With the movie's additions, it feels more official somehow that Prim is now a willing martyr rather than an innocent victim.

Those who adapt the films have to walk a fine line between making it true to the original and making it better. And they have to stay focused on the story and what people loved about it. I found laughable the changes introduced in the Hallmark adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time. They souped it up with expensive scenes for thrills like a lab explosion and a helicopter search for Dr. Murry. They cut out nearly all the beginning for the Disney home video. I can't believe they wasted money on that. The heart of the story was the mystery of the missing father and its effect on his daughter. How it happened and what the government did about had very little bearing on what the protagonist, Meg, felt about it. She's in the dark and we lose our connection with her by knowing more than she does.

Of course, not everyone experiences a book the same way, and so they can't please everyone. A lot of people complained the fantasy scenes in The Bridge of Terabithia were an unnecessary distraction to the story of the kids' friendship. I sort of didn't get that much out of most of them. On the other hand, showing the ogre they imagine as looking like the school bully helped to tie their play in the woods with the other events in the book, and hinted at the use of play in dealing with real life.

Every now and then there's a movie that improves on a book. Sometimes it's because the book was so-so. It had a great concept but didn't execute it that well. But this can also happen with good books, like The Joy Luck Club--in this case because the book was not really intended as a novel and lacked the cohesion the film provides. Movie adaptations can be as good or better than the original books. Those who make them just have to bring to life the best and improve on the worst of the original.