Monday, August 9, 2010

Film Adaptation: Friend or Foe?

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

After reading an article on CNN’s website about the adaptation of a text to film, I began to reflect on the different ways adaptation has been a part of both my personal and academic life. Many teachers tend to consider adaptations of texts to be a bad thing; fears that students will gravitate towards the film adaptation to save the time of reading the actual text make these frosty feelings understandable. However it seems that there is potential for enriching students’ experiences with the text by including adaptation into the curriculum.

How many of us have read a book and then seen the subsequent film adaptation when it was released? What is our natural tendency? If you are like me, you are constantly comparing the two mediums to each other; inevitably you form an opinion as to which version you prefer. You likely walk away having made an internal “checklist,” detailing what aspects of the story were more successful in the film vs. the written text. In order to evaluate a film adaptation in this way, one first must grasp the written text.

Perhaps, then, a film is not a student’s shortcut to convincing a teacher that they have read a text (when they haven’t) but rather a perfect way for a teacher to check their level comprehension. In a film adaptation of a text, there are (with few exceptions) differences; things may be left out from the written text, events embellished upon to enhance the “Hollywood effect,” etc. A perfect example of these differences is the Harry Potter series; the first film was almost exactly the same as the book but as each book became longer, more needed to be left out of the films.

By having students first read a text and then view the film adaptation, a teacher may be surprised by the results. In my experience, many students prefer the original book to the film; filmmakers have a tough task when trying to beat the “mind-movies” made while reading. It is both the similarities and differences of the two mediums that lend themselves to academic study and ask the students to consider the value and drawbacks of each.

In my college coursework I was also able to work with film adaptation in several interesting ways. Perhaps the most memorable came in a course on adaptations of famous works by William Shakespeare. We spent the bulk of the semester reading the plays and then viewing/critiquing film versions. Ultimately, we were put into groups and charged with the task of choosing a play and creating a proposal (or “pitch”) for an adaptation of our own design; we would then make our pitch to the professor and class. This is a perfect example of the different and creative ways that film adaptation can be incorporated into all levels of the academic world. Feel free to comment with any other creative ideas for using film to an educator’s advantage in the classroom.

Also, check out some of our titles that have been (or will soon be) adapted into films:

  1. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  2. The Pursuit of Happyness by Chris Gardner
  3. Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
  4. Marley & Me by John Grogan
  5. Finding Fish by Antwone Fisher (Film titled Antwone Fisher)
  6. The Art of the Heist by Myles Connor Jr. (William Monahan, the screenwriter for the Martin Scorsese’s Boston-set thriller “The Departed,” will direct the adaptation)

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