Lost in Translation

by Sara Taney Humphreys

This weekend I watched a movie that I had been dying to check out, but with 4 kids, work and so on....movies unfortunately take a back seat. Movies, sci-fi in particular (with some romance thrown in) are my fave! So, finally, I got to watch Blood and Chocolate. It's a werewolf film that was loosely based on the YA novel by Annette Curtis Klause. Now, the book is fabulous--Kudos Annette! The movie....not so much.

How does that happen? Why does that happen? A beautiful, interesting, passionate, colorful story gets turned into a mediocre movie. How many times have you sat through a movie, after having read the book, and wondered..."What the hell? Did the filmmakers actually read the book before they made this???"

What a bummer. I suppose when we read a story, our imagination can paint the colors more vividly. The characters, while described by the author, come alive in our mind. It is this aspect that creates the danger they will disappoint us on the screen.

Unfortunately, this also happened with another of my favorite books. Clan of the Cave Bear, by Jean Auel is an incredible story. I love the entire series and have been waiting patiently for the next installment. Hollywood, unfortunately, made her beautifully written masterpiece into a joke of a film. As an author, it must be terrible to see your work twisted to something unrecognizable. J.K. Rowling's, Harry Potter series, seems to be the best example of book that was translated well to the silver screen. It's so sad that it's the rare occurrence.

As an author, with my first book coming out this year, I of course fantasize that it could catch the eye of Hollywood and become the next Twilight. Let's be honest....something like that happening is along the lines of winning Mega Millions...but hey a girl's gotta dream. Then again....what if things got lost in translation? I think I'd rather have a successful novel...as opposed to...a successful novel that got made into a cheesy, poorly made film.

While I love movies, the beauty of books is the ability for each reader to make it their own. No two people will picture the hero or heroine exactly the same way. While the author describes the physical characteristics, it is still the reader that fine tunes the images in his or her mind. The writer provides the story and characters, but it is the reader that truly brings those characters to life.

I'm going to watch Twilight as soon as it comes out on DVD. I just hope that nothing is lost in translation this time around.


  1. sadly, for me, the movie never lives up to the book, though, like you, I still hope that Hollywood comes calling for my novel. :)

  2. I find readers are never very happy with the film adaptations. They're often not even happy with the way the characters look on the cover! Reading is far from a one-sided event. Readers fully participate in the formation of characters within their own minds.

    The director's vision of a book-into-a-film is that person's take on it. As a film-oriented person, I'm interested in and willing to go with the director's vision.

    But readers are largely attached to the book itself. And watching a film never seems to deliver the same magic to readers.

  3. Hi Sara,

    I suppose the movie version is just that--a version. Unfortunately, the director/screenwriter/actor may not see things the way you do. Maybe the book allowed for a multitude of different interpretations. And maybe the screen version is just plain bad.

    But yes, I'm also disappointed when the movie version is not to my liking.


  4. Great post, Sara. It is disappointing when the movie version doesn't match the version in your head. Sometimes even great stars can't save it. Snow Falling on Cedars springs to mind. Sometimes it's the time limitation of film. I'm glad the producers of Empire Falls recognized it and stretched it out into a good adaptation. My biggest peeve is when the promos give away all the best shots, and you're left disappointed when you finally watch the movie.

  5. Sadly, I'm never has happy with the film version as I am with the book. Hollywood just doesn't capture the essence of the story.

    If I haven't read the book, I usually enjoy the movie so much more. A good example: I never read Blood and Chocolate and I loved the movie. I'm not sure I want to ruin this by reading the novel now. (lol) Maybe one day.

    Great topic.
    Take Care,

  6. Fascinating post, Sara. I think when we read a book we all have an idea of the people within it. A director also has his/her ideas, plus may have his/her own agenda. I like to read a novel first before I see a film based on the book.
    Fingers crossed that your novel is selected by a movie-maker and translated into a film you feel captures the spirit of your book!

  7. Hi Sara: I think the Harry Potter movie series got it right. Perhaps because J.K. Rowling was so involved in the adaptation - and they were very careful to keep the spirit of the books intact and to respect her vision. I find that short stories tend to translate well to screen. As do books that are more plot oriented than character driven or books that are very "interior". But I also think it comes down to the studio and the producers making the film - whether they want to make money more than make a good adaptation. But you make a great point -as an author you put your heart and soul into a book so when a movie studio comes calling do you shout with glee or tremble with fear? ;) Take Stephen King - many of the movies adapted from his books are great - some are not. The question is - does watching a mediocre movie version hurt or help an author? I hope any time a book is made into a film that it helps the author in some way.

  8. Thanks for all the great feedback and comments. And a HUGE Thank You to whoever jazzed up my post with the pics! I have to get better about doing that next time. So Thanks for sprucing it up!

  9. Hey Sara

    I think that movies lose some of the dynamics of a book when the story gets translated to the big screen. Lke Joanna said, some of the depth of the characters goes missing on the screen, whereas in a book you have the scope to really paint the character and go deep into the persona.

    I can't say I have been disappointed by movie adaptations. When you realize that they just one person's vision, you know it may not clinch with what you thought. I like watching the movie with the director's commentary in this case - you see the reasoning behind the adaptation.

    One book I did think was slaughtered was See Jane Date by Melissa Senate (Harlequin Red Dress Ink).
    I loved the book, and though it was light and funny (chick-lit), they seemed to have rushed the story in the adaptation and you completely miss the point behind the plot.

    Still, there are times when the book looks nothinglike the adaptation. Sex and The City for example. The book is not as vivid and captivating as the TV adaptation.

    Lipstick Jungle by Candace Bushnell again, now that one was captured right.

    Lol, here's to us all getting 'that' call one day!



  10. I hate when a movie doesn't live up to the expectations once you've read the book. I usually try to give the movie version some slack, I know a movie could never recreate everything the printed word can do, but you want them to at least capture the essence of the book and to stay true to what the book intended.


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