Khaled Hosseini’s novel The Kite Runner is one of my favourite books. Last weekend I went to see it as a theatre production at Wyndham Theatre in London. I was a little apprehensive – the film adaptation of the novel had been below par. It left out crucial parts of the story and hollywoodised an originally honest narrative – making it contrived and predictable. I’m not even sure I made it to the end credits. But would the theatre production of the same narrative also leave me dissatisfied?
This got me thinking… Is a narrative originally written in the novel form always best left as a novel? Or can the film, or perhaps, theatre adaptation of the same narrative be better? I decided to take a look at The Kite Runner as well as some of my other favourite books that I’ve seen turned into films and plays and find out…
THE KITE RUNNER
Story of the unlikely friendship between two young Afghan boys, Amir and Hassan, and how a tragic incident that occurs in their childhood haunts them forever.
Book: Told through the voice of Amir as he looks back on his past regretfully and takes the reader on his journey of revenge and redemption. Hosseini writes masterfully. He uses foreshadowing cleverly by disguising the clues he gives the reader so well, it allows the reader to feel like they’re figuring out the story for themselves. Amir is not a likeable character, but through using such an honest and flaw bearing voice, you still end up rooting for him. Although the story may be set a long way from home, Hosseini tells a tale of broken friendship, lost families and unforgiving love that anybody can relate to.
Film: Marc Foster’s 2007 film adaptation of Hosseini’s story left much to be desired. By telling the story over the screen, the story lost Amir’s voice. Many significant moments of the book were lost, and instead the happier, more Hollywood friendly scenes were dramatised. From losing Amir’s distinctive flawed voice, the story loses its originality and film starts to feel like one you’ve seen before.
Play: Giles Croft bravely took on the task of directing the story for theatre. This works a lot better than the film as Amir’s voice is not lost. Amir, played by Ben Needham, never leaves the stage. Quite a feat, that his sweating face showed as he bowed to the audience’s standing ovation at the end of the play. Amir’s overbearing presence on stage is entirely necessary for the play to work. Needham flitted in between playing young Amir and adult Amir expertly, and the rest of the cast gave spellbinding performances too. The originality and raw emotion of the tale comes across well on stage, although what you see is what you get – the audience can sit back and watch – instead of having to read and figure things out for themselves.
What’s better? Verdict: Book
Nearly a decade after his affair with an older woman came to a mysterious end, law student Michael Berg re-encounters his former lover as she defends herself in a war-crime trial.
Book: Author Bernard Schlink explores the relationship between teenager Michael and older woman, Hanna, through Michael’s eyes. Schlink successfully manages to portray Michael’s teenage naivety by eroticising and finding solace in Hanna. It’s interesting to find out how Michael’s fascination with Hanna matures into bitterness as he looks upon Hanna years later as a convicted Nazi war criminal. However, although the narrative is a mostly gripping read, it’s hard not to feel like the real story lies with the disturbed and conflicted, Hanna, not Michael.
Film: Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes star in Stephen Daldry’s 2008 film adaption of Schlink’s novel. Winslet gives an extraordinary performance playing cold-hearted Hanna, a character type that must have felt out of her comfort zone. In film form, more of Hanna is seen as the audience is not trapped inside Michael’s head. Her character is explored in greater depths than in the novel and therefore the story is even more compelling on screen.
What’s better? Verdict: Film
THE HUNGER GAMES (SERIES)
Katniss Everdeen fights for survival in a dystopian universe split into thirteen districts.
Book: Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games book trilogy was a global storm. The intended audience for the books was young adults but the story of Katniss and her fight against the system struck a chord with all ages. There was a female lead that didn’t only not need help from any male counterparts, in fact, they needed her help. Collins writes in a relatively simplistic way, but the story is so captivating the pages are turned in very quick succession.
Film: Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss in this Hollywood spectacle. The dramatic and extravagant scenes of fights across a ever-changing arena seemed to be written for the big screen. Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss perfectly, it’s almost as if Katniss has come to life off of the page. The films allow the imagined world of the novel come to life in a way you could only dream of. Only problem is, this dream goes on a little too long. The last book was made into two films, as to squeeze the last bit of money out of the franchise, but this makes the last two films slow and drawn out.
What’s better? Verdict: Neither. The first two films are better than the books. But the book trilogy never loses it’s pace as the films do.
Also worth a mention…
ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST: It’s easier to watch a schizophrenic than listen to a schizophrenic’s thoughts. Verdict: Film
HALF OF A YELLOW SUN: The three different perspectives of the war are lost in the film as they all seem to merge into one confused story. Verdict: Book
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: The fraught emotion and frustration of Harper Lee’s story comes across well in the confined space of a stage – you cannot leave so you must confront the injustice. Verdict: Play
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO: The explicit books take no prisoners, and give us a dark and twisted tale. Many of the dark and brutal aspects of the story are lost the films as a tamer story is told. Verdict: Books
INTO THE WILD: This story is even better when we can see it. Kayaking through the canyons, we go on Christopher’s journey with him. Verdict: Film
HARRY POTTER: The books allow for the child’s imagination to run wild and create a whole new alternate universe. The films don’t allow for such freedom of imagination. Verdict: Books
So, is the book always better than film? Sometimes it might be… But just because the book was more often than not the original way the narrative was told, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best way.