Just Read the Book: Movie Adaptations, Special Editions, and the Reviewer's Response
Having "sinned" the entire Harry Potter movie series, the one thing that remained constant during this process were the howls of the Harry Potter masses entreating us to read the books and all would be explained. I actually read all 7 books in the franchise. But as Cinema Sins, we approach every movie to ignore the source material, because without certain details expressed in the movie, the movie's story does not stand alone. You have to imagine the person who is simply interested in watching the movie and never read the books. Or you have to imagine we're in the post-apocalypse and a man who has known nothing but war and famine his whole life lucks into a stack of Blu-Rays, a player, and some electricity, and is entertained for the first time.
Early on, when we did Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone, I remember not writing some things down on my script because I remembered things from the book. But we realized quickly during the script-combining process that there are two things that go against you when it comes to the books: first, it's impossible to recall everything unless you're one of those people who reads a book multiple times, and second, the onus is on the movie to be clear about character motivations and plot developments. We decided to be prickly about those details, rather than giving the movie the benefit of the doubt. This is a decision that has been controversial on every single movie adaptation we've taken to task.
Still, what is the reviewer/critic/smartass-internet-commentator's responsibility when it comes to the source material? Add to that, the fans of the books themselves are often unhappy with the changes the movie makes, so what is the filmmaker's responsibility when it come to the source material? Basically, any adaptation or re-telling of a story is like a long game of "Telephone," isn't it? Details are changed because you can't remember or be faithful to them all.
There's an interesting thing that happens in Peter Jackson's adaptation of Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring that subtly illustrates how small changes from the source material can change the entire meaning of a scene and what follows it. It's the scene in which Gandalf officially learns that Bilbo has a magical ring that may, or may not be, but probably is, evil.
First off, let's visit the passage as written by J.R.R. Tolkien. So Sin 1 for this post is "Reading." But I assume you like to read if you're here, so here's the passage:
'No don't give the ring to me,' said Gandalf. 'Put it on the mantelpiece. It will be safe enough there, till Frodo comes. I shall wait for him.'
Bilbo took out the envelope, but just as he was about to set it by the clock, his hand jerked back, and the packet fell on the floor. Before he could pick it up, the wizard stooped and seized it and set it in its place. A spasm of anger passed swiftly over the hobbit's face again. Suddenly it gave way to a look of relief and a laugh.
Now we skip ahead, after Frodo and Gandalf have a discussion at length about the ring, Gandalf being cautious, trying to find out what Frodo knows without divulging his suspicions. Frodo says:
'You are very mysterious! What are you afraid of!'
'I am not certain, so I will say no more. I may be able to tell you something when I come back. I am going off at once: so this is good-bye for the present.' He got up.
In the movie, it goes down like this:
Movie Gandalf tries to touch the ring, which Book Gandalf would slap Movie Gandalf in the face for doing. The movie explicitly shows Gandalf the Eye of Sauron when he tries to touch the ring as well, which basically should tell him everything he needs to know. But he goes off to research it anyway, which is something that made sense in the book because he didn't try to touch it.
Now some of you might say, "Well, he still had to research the ring anyway, and he needed to figure out if Sauron knew where the ring was, so this is a small issue." But in the movie, it seems like with Gandalf's knowledge, he should already be making preparations for Frodo to get the hell out of there. It seems like a tiny change from the book until you think of it on those terms. It's even worse when you add the movie versions of The Hobbit into the fold, because that trilogy makes it appear Gandalf knows even more about the return of Sauron and has suspected the power of Bilbo's ring for six decades.
Speaking of which, this brings up another strange aspect of the movie ecosystem: extended editions, director's cuts, and deleted scenes. Some people consider those to be part of the movie you watched in theaters. So the fact that there are scenes explaining things that are missing is good enough for many viewers. But for me, I think of that moment in American Movie when Mark Borchardt says:
There's no excuses, Paul. No one has ever, ever paid admission to see an excuse. No one has ever faced a black screen that says: "Well, if we had these set of circumstances, we would've shot this scene... so please forgive us and use your imagination." I've been to the movies hundreds of times. That's never occurred.
Still, these "not filmed scenes" and "scenes included on the DVD/Blu-Ray" are meant to make up for those omissions, as long as you can find them. But the sin of their omission is on the studio, or editor, or potentially the director for not finding a quicker way to give us key information. Honestly, we can use our imagination. We can fill in the gaps, but it doesn't work that way with the kind of videos we make, for good or ill. Believe me when I say our jobs would be a lot easier, and we could save ourselves a lot of grief from commenters, if we did this research, or re-reading a book in which we've forgotten a few details. But it would not only add a lot of time we dedicate to each sins video, it would also be letting movies off the hook for their oversights, and that's not the type of thing we do.
For some, that's just downright sinful on our part. But we think our philosophy is more interesting and "truer" to the cause, so we've stuck with it. You can't have it both ways, so we chose the one that gave us the most grief, but is also the most fun.