Studios adapt novels to movies regularly, and they must decide how faithfully to follow them. Unfortunately, writers often translate authenticity to the plot at the expense of character development. Two movies provide excellent examples of how adaptation flexibility affects film characters – for better or worse.
Wrong: The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games follows the plot of the book to the letter. As a result, character development suffers.
Shoehorning every book plot point into the film increases the movie’s length without adding any character development. Almost nothing is devoted on screen to the relationships Katniss has with Gale We spend so little time inside the mind of Katniss that we can only feel sorry for her in a general sense with no personal connection.
Lesser characters are then jammed into the script with awkward or nonexistent arcs. Haymitch has a meteoric transition from alcoholic to teetotaler, which is totally unexplained (and plot-irrelevant besides). Then there’s Seneca Crane. He doesn’t develop; he fails, then dies.
Most importantly, the rushed plot leaves us no time to contemplate the essential moral dilemma – should a child kill other children to survive? Katniss conveniently doesn’t have to do it, but we don’t get inside her head so we don’t know if she could or would have. We see a rushed litany of deaths with one that we are told matters.
Compare to a wildly successful adaptation:
Right: Jurassic Park
Jurassic Park benefits from ditching much of the source material. This film is about great characters, regardless of their place in the novel.
That Steven Spielberg could turn Alan Grant from curmudgeonly to caring toward children is no surprise, and his arc dwarfs that of Katniss. But it is his treatment of John Hammond, the park’s owner, which rises above the source material in a way Hunger Games‘ Haymitch and Seneca could not.
Hammond begins the film as an idealistic entrepreneur, heedless of the potential problems his park may create. As everything falls about around him, he realizes his folly and helps the group escape. This differs from the novel, wherein Hammond’s creations exact vengeance for his hubris. Steven Spielberg had the guts to make Hammond his own.
Herein lies the biggest difference between the films: The Hunger Games stayed faithful to mollify the book’s fan base. Jurassic Park had the confidence to stand on its own from the source material, and was better for it.