Movie Vs. Book: Plot Change-Ups

Let’s talk movies based on books for a bit.  In any transformation of a book to film there will be some changes from the original.  A movie is not a chapter by chapter read-aloud of the book (thank goodness!)  It’s meant to focus on sound and sight to deliver a story that up until now has been expressed only through words.   As faithful as the Harry Potter  films were to the overall book plot, there were plenty of differences in order to make dynamic and interesting movies.  While I might nitpick or critique these movies, I generally expect alterations.

But sometimes movies do more than alter or delete a few scenes.  Sometimes they change something fundamental to the work itself.   When it happens, and there are groups of people who have seen the movie but not read the book,  and other groups who have read the book, but not seen the movie, it can lead to some confusion–and some surprises.

I’ve got three particular examples below.  Are you familiar with the book and the movie in each of these?

SPOILER WARNING!!! SPOILER WARNING!!  Before you go further, be aware I will be providing major spoilers for books and movies, proceed at your own risk and feel free to skip over any you don’t want to read about.

1.  The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Based on the book: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (c1900).

The film is a piece of classic Americana.  Most people who have grown up in the States have some exposure to it.  The ground-breaking film did some amazing work combining black and white and color film.  The sheer spectacle, catchy songs and exciting plot arc all made this purely American fantasy story into something that has lasted.  But if you’ve ever read the book on which the story was based, you’d notice quite a few differences.  Some of the changes made for the movie make good sense and don’t ultimately change the story too much:  Dorothy’s silver slippers become  ruby slippers (I imagine those iconic sparkling shoes showed up a great deal better on camera than anything silver would).

Honestly, these are so eye catching. Even this gal who prefers hiking boots to most shoes has to admit to wanting a pair . . . just a little.

A huge portion of Dorothy’s adventures in other parts of this magical world are cut out of the movie, which also makes sense.  This wan’t a weekly serial but a big one-shot movie too many smaller plots would have muddied the story.  You also might note that the Emerald City of the movie does not require the citizens to wear spectacles as they must in the movie.  (the reason for this in the book is that things are not actually emerald colored, but the Wizard manages to keep everyone thinking it is by green tinted spectacles).  Again, it’s a neat element of the book, but the cut is understandable.

However, the most significant change for me is how Dorothy’s entire experience becomes just a dream at the end of the movie.  She wakes up having suffered a nasty head bump and realizes that all the characters from her adventure are actually representations of people in her home life.  In the book, Dorothy lands in the yard of her Kansas home with the silver slippers having gotten lost in the wind on the journey home.  Auntie Em demands to know where she’s been.  The book gives our protagonist an ending that makes her adventures in Oz real–and sets the author up to continue writing books about the realm of Oz for years to come.  In the movie, the entire experience is put away as a dream that allows Dorothy to have an epiphany that “there’s no place like home”.  It makes the movie a bit more accessible to a larger audience, since it reassures viewers that no such actual land exists and therefore the status quo is restored.  It’s a “safer” conclusion.

I don’t particularly like the ending from the movie, but I got to admit it’s charming and probably has greater appeal.  But it changes that ending arc significantly.  Dorothy goes from adventuress to sick bed patient with wild dreams.

2.  The NeverEnding Story

Based on the book  The NeverEnding Story by Michael Ende, translated by Ralph Manheim (c1983) (First published as Die unendliche Geschichte in German in 1979).

This was an extravagant, visually stunning German-American fantasy movie from the 1980s.   In the movie, Bastian is a troubled boy who steals a magical book  that reveals a rich  fantasy world, Fantasia.  This world is being destroyed by a mysterious force called The Nothing and our main hero of the story–Atreyu–must find a way to stop it.  This wild fantasy adventure that Bastian is “reading” slowly weaves into his real world until he becomes completely tied into the plot and fantasy and reality merge.

Because nothing says read me now like mysterious ancient books that the bookseller won’t let you look at.

Up to this point, book and movie are fairly similar.  While smaller plot points might differ, the overall adventure stays fairly true.  It’s only as we reach the ending of the movie that things really begin to change dramatically.  In the movie version of this story,  Bastian has followed his protagonist all the way to the childlike Empress’s castle where she tells them that the world can only be saved if she’s given a new name by the reader (Bastian).  She literally begs and pleads with  Bastian (who is still in denial that this is real) to say her name as the world crumbles around her.  When he finally does, he finds himself swept into the book where he must use the last grain of sand from Fantasia to wish it into being again.   The more wishes he makes, the better.  It becomes a happy ending for all involved–except the bullies who plagued Bastian who find themselves chased down the street by a dragon.

Now, if you haven’t read the book, you may not realize that where the movie concludes . . . is only half the story.  There are some reports that the author was not happy with the way his book was recreated in movie form, but I didn’t find a lot more than a footnote at IMDB.    In the movie,  the Empress is a very minor character in the story, more of a way to move the plot along than anything else.  She has to beg and plead Bastian to save her world.  It’s a very different situation in the book. When Bastian proves reluctant to do his part, the Empress Visits the Old Man of Wandering Mountain and forces him to reread his Chronicle.  The very story that is, of course, The NeverEnding Story and begins with Bastian  stealing the book.  His reread is something Bastian can’t escape from and finally can’t deny.  The Empress’s tactics force him into shouting her name aloud, and being transported to meet her.  From there Bastian has an adventure and a transformation all his own before he finally returns home.  I’ll leave readers to discover it.  Suffice to say, the Empress comes across much more impressively in this story, and Bastian doesn’t get an automatic happy ever after with anything he could wish for.  It’s a better story, though probably it would be be a difficult movie to do well.

On reflection, I’d be intrigued to see what today’s fantasy movie creators could do with this . . .

The Childlike Empress isn’t happy with my critique . . .

3. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Based on the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (c1964).

Ah,  the story of the chocolate factory and it’s marvelous inventor, Willy Wonka.  This early movie version of a very popular and beloved children’s fantasy has become something of a cult classic.  The movie deviates from the original plot  in how it lays out the story (with some marvelous songs and performance numbers), but maintains the overall spirit of the book. Charlie Bucket is the beloved hero who is so poor he barely ever gets a chance to have chocolate . . . he hopes and yearns to win a golden ticket, but knows he really doesn’t have a chance . . . until it turns out he actually does.  Charlie and his grandfather get the chance of a lifetime–to see reclusive inventor Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory with four other children!  The motley crew of characters are in for a wild time of it–because Wonka is no ordinary man and this is no ordinary factory.

But there’s a big change up in the plot towards the end.  The first evidence of this is a subtle little piece that introduces a sneaky character who offers the children money in return for stealing a gobstopper for him.  It’s clear all the children have been approached with the same offer in the visuals.  The next is when Charlie and his Grandad sneak off on their own and try Wonka’s “fizzy lifting drinks”.  It’s a neat little scene that involves some special effect flying and a whole mess of burping for the characters to return to the ground.  However, such a scene is nowhere in the original book.  The reason for these additions comes later: when Charlie is the only child left, Wonka  rounds on him and explains he violated the letter of the agreement by stealing the fizzy lifting drinks and causing damage.  A very cold and angry Wonka  tells poor Charlie that he gets nothing. Now at this point, Charlie still has the gobstopper that Wonka gave to him  and  returns it rather than taking it with him to try and salvage something out of  the day.  When he does, Wonka does a one eighty personality turn, praising Charlie as his true heir to the factory and explaining it was all a test.

Gene Wilder’s Wonka may be a little subtler than Dahl’s original character, but he’s just so much fun to watch on screen!

In the original story, Charlie never goes off on his own, never causes Wonka to become angry and becomes the heir by simply the fact that he is the last child left.  The suggestion, of course, being that each child revealed their less than desirable natures in the testing ground that was Wonka’s factory, while Charlie remained true.

In this case, I like both the storytelling of the book and the movie.  Each one enjoyed for what it is, but definitely different!

So there  you have it , three movies that depart from the book plots.  Please do share your own!

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About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on May 8, 2013, in General Posts and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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