When a book becomes a movie, some changes to the source material are practically inevitable due to the inherent differences between the two mediums. Print invites a reader into a character’s head, something that is difficult to convey in a movie. Print also puts the reader into the director’s chair, creating a mental movie that even the most talented directors will be hard-pressed to match.
Then there are the other changes, the ones not so easily justified by difficulties in translation: the director who insists on “improving” the author’s work; the actor who has his or her own “sense” of how the character would or would not respond to the plotline; the sometimes inexplicable decisions of executives. These are the ones that tend to anger the fans most, even when they work well when considered solely in the context of the film. Regardless, as Hollywood has learned, when you take a beloved novel and begin tinkering with its story, you also tinker with readers’ hearts.
Earlier this year, zombie fans rejoiced at the news that the long awaited movie adaptation of Max Brooks’ novel World War Z (available next week in mass market paperback) was going into production, but for many, this initial enthusiasm cooled upon the release of the film’s official synopsis:
“The story revolves around United Nations employee Gerry Lane (Pitt), who traverses the world in a race against time to stop the Zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and governments and threatening to decimate humanity itself. Enos plays Gerry’s wife Karen Lane; Kertesz is his comrade in arms, Segen.”
Compare this to Brooks’ original novel, which is set in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. As humanity begins its recovery, an unnamed United Nations employ collects interviews with those who survived. The entire novel is written in an epistolary form, with each chapter consisting of a single interview written in the first person perspective.
Director Marc Forster, in an interview with MTV News, addressed these changes, as well as some others that World War Z fans may not have been aware of, including his choice to use “fast zombies” instead of the shambling, Romero-esque dead of Brooks’ book.
Forster had the following response to concerns about changes to the movie’s plot:
“The idea, obviously the book is not written as a narrative, you try to take things from the book, but at same time you’re changing certain things,” Forster explained. “I do feel we’re trying to keep it in the spirit of the book because it’s important.
A reasonable enough explanation considering the book’s nontraditional format, but later, Forster adds “We are doing our own film, telling our own story because we had to,” he said, “but trying to still include as much as we can from the book.”
Some people become very angry when a movie deviates so strongly from its source material, while others take it in stride. I’m one of the latter: I judge adaptations and remakes as separate works of art, each to be evaluated based on their own merits. I remain cautiously optimistic regarding Forster’s film. Perhaps World War Z’s movie adaptation will veer some distance from the novel, but we may very well end up with a good story regardless. Maybe it will provide another perspective – a parallel one – to Brooks’ story that will enrich our reading experience. It could be a good movie. Only time will tell.
What do you think? Are the changes okay with you?