Encouraged by my adult daughter, who tore through the Suzanne Collins trilogy in less than a week, I read The Hunger Games and found myself completely engrossed by the struggles of protagonist, Katniss Everdeen. I found the tale a fine balance between action and tension, triumph and heartbreak, all within 275 pages. Evidence of my true feeling for the book was the period of time between completion and purchase of the sequel, Catching Fire, -- about two minutes! However, my haste did not entirely stem from enthusiasm, but was expedited by that abhorred news my daughter broke, “They are turning it into a movie.”
Among the ultimate goals of many authors are a position on the prestigious New York Times Bestsellers List, and a financially rewarding movie deal. As a reader, I dread having one of my favorite novels turned into a film. Over the next few years I will apprehensively await a Sigma Force film based on James Rollins’ series, a Gideon Crew film based on a Preston/Child book and a TV series based on David Baldacci’s King/Maxwell series. My hopes will rise as the release date approaches only to be dashed, like so many times before. Let’s face it; Hollywood has a poor track record for converting print to film, with few exceptions.
Case in point, Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. For those unfamiliar with the novel, it introduces Aloysius Pendergast in a classic murder mystery with monstrous overtones set in the Museum of Natural History in New York, a locale frequently used by Preston/Child. Hollywood’s first alteration was to change the title to The Relic, minor at first appearance but the original had multiple meanings where the film title is a singular object. Their next mistake was to relocate the film to the Natural History Museum of Chicago, a nice museum but it felt wrong when you consider the significance of the NYC’s Museum of Natural History in the conceptualization of the novel. (Preston formerly worked at MNH and had an after-hours excursion with Child that inspired the novel) Even so, the most grievous error by the filmmakers was the elimination of several characters including; Bill Smithback, a writer featured in half a dozen books and Pendergast himself!
There are numerous other examples of thrillers that did not translate well to the big screen. The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons were completely unconvincing and held none of the novel’s suspense. Sahara was the second failed attempt at filming a Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt adventure, after the long forgotten Raise the Titanic. Kubrick’s The Shining made me angry and Pet Sematary made me walk out of the theater. Shutter Island, however, was closer to my vision of Dennis Lehane’s creepy manuscript, and was consequently more enjoyable. And perhaps this is where the problem lies; my vision.
When I am enjoying a book, I am watching a film in my mind. When the action on the big screen differs greatly from what I’ve imagined, I have a difficult time accepting another’s vision. Similarly, the casting can shine a negative light prescreening, as was the case of Tom Hanks playing Robert Langdon or Steve Zahn as Dirk Pitt’s sidekick, Al Giordino. Perhaps I am too harsh a critic and I know that it is hard to get everything right. The film Silence of the Lambs, however, gives me a tenuous hope for these upcoming releases.
As I watch the recently released teaser trailer for The Hunger Games, I can feel that little seed of hope growing, but I will try not to let my expectations get the better of me. Still, it would be nice to leave the theater saying, “Yeah, that’s how I saw it!”