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Final PaperLaura Proven

"I discovered that films based on literature are actually more a product
of their social and historical context than they are products of the
literature.
Throughout the duration of this course, we have studied many
childrens literature books, as well as the films that are adaptations of
them. One of the most significant skills I have acquired in this class is
the ability to step beyond simply comparing a book to a film, but
taking the time to analyze why the changes were made between the
two. It has been nice to watch the film immediately after reading the
book during this course because it highlights these differences much
more clearly than if I decided to watch the film years after reading the
book. I not only discovered how to question the reasons behind
changes in interpretation, but I also learned how to analyze film itself,
which is a skill I had limited knowledge in before this class.
We began with Charlottes Web, a beloved classic that I read as
both a child and an adult (when I was teaching it for a group of
students). The first module of the course was primarily about learning
how to talk about books and film. So, we began by reading the novel
and discussing its literary elements, which is an activity likely all of us
have done before. We discussed the major aspects of literature,
including setting, theme, plot, characters, and style. Becoming
familiar with these terms was beneficial as a stepping-stone for the
rest of the course because it provided us with language for discussing
literature, and as we watched film versions, it was important to note
how these literary elements were modified.
When we watched the two film versions of Charlottes Web
during the second week of the first module, my knowledge of reading
films was greatly enhanced. The articles we were given to read
provided a language for discussing films, so that we could do that as
easily as we had discussed the original text. Again, this provided the
basic understanding I needed for analyzing literature, which helped in
the following modules. I found myself looking at all films and television
shows with a more critical eye as this course has progressed, as I
notice cinematography more than I used to. For instance, the way a
camera is tilted and the effect that has on the audiences perception of
a character. Right away, I realized that every single aspect of a film
has a purpose, just like every single word in a novel was chosen for a
reason (something I always tell my students to get them to pay
attention to word choice and diction in the books they read). If nothing
else, the first module got my brain thinking about some of the reasons
why these decisions were made.
Another thing that became evident very quickly in the first
module is how different film interpretations can be from the original

text as well as one another. The 1973 version of the film we watched
was a cartoon musical, while the more recent version was a live action
film with real talking animals. There were many differences in
characterization and plot, but even the styles of the films were
different, likely because of the social context in which they were
released, which takes me back to the quote with which I began this
paper. The older version likely went for the Disney type of approach,
with feel-good songs throughout in order to entice and entertain child
audiences. Even if a child is too young to fully understand the theme
or message of the story, he/she may still be entertained by the music
and colors of the film. At the time of its release, most childrens movies
were cartoons, and many of them did have music. The filmmakers also
made it a cartoon likely because technology was limited for special
effects. In the newer version, the filmmakers were able to take live
animals and make it look like they were really talking through the use
of computer animation that did not exist thirty years prior. Modern
audiences, both children and adults, seem to prefer that things look
realistic, and special effects become a big part of entertainment (which
I will address later). Therefore, the two film versions of Charlottes
Web were very different because of the expectations of audiences in a
social and historical context.
In the next module, we started by looking at what happens when
picture books are made into feature-length films by studying Chris
VanAllsburgs books, Jumanji and The Polar Express. It was at this time
that I realized one of the biggest reasons why a film may not be
exactly like the bookfor the obvious reason that a thirty-page book
cannot possibly be translated into a two-hour movie without changes.
Until this point, I thought I was a person who wanted the movie to be
exactly like the book: the same events, the same dialogue between
characters, and the same mood. The beginning of this module was
very helpful for me as an interpreter of films and literature, as it made
me realize that sometimes changes just have to be made.
One of the most salient articles I read in this course was by
Jessica Aldred during the study of these two films. In the article, All
Aboard the Polar Express, Aldred talks about the struggle between
narrative vs. spectacle in films that are based on books (Aldred,
158). Throughout the course, I found myself referring to this concept
over and over again because it was so evident in many films. The
narrative, in many cases, is out shadowed by the concept of the
spectacle, which includes computer graphic imagery (CGI) and special
effects. Both of VanAllsburgs films were valid examples of this. The
film version of Jumanji was extremely different from the original text
in my opinion, it strayed too farin order to invoke a sense of danger
and fear into audiences. The book was an adventure, but the movie
took this to an entirely new level, with characters perilously close to
death in every scene. Instead of the simple, whimsical plot of the

book, the film became inundated with subplots and new characters
and special effects, which, looking back on the technology of 1995, are
not very good. This is an example in which I feel the book was lost in
the creation of the film.
The Polar Express was another example of the struggle of
narrative vs. spectacle, which is logical since Aldred wrote the article
about the book-turned-film. Although this film used lines direct from
the book, and the computer animated world strongly resembled the
original illustrations, the spectacle still threatens to overtake the
narrative throughout the film. Rather than making the plot more
complex to fill a feature-length film, the way Jumanji does, The Polar
Express enhances the original plot by adding the spectacle. In effect,
the train ride to the North Pole takes up a huge amount of time in the
film, as opposed to three pages in the book, because of obstacles that
keep getting in the way. The audience is placed in the point of view of
Hero Boy many times, as in one case where he is on the front of the
train while it skids out of control on the ice. The audience experiences
the feeling of a roller coaster or amusement park ride right along with
the characters. This goes on for several minutes, and during the
course of the trains voyage to the North Pole it endures one
malfunction after another. As a result, this large portion of the movie is
primarily about adventure and fear, rather than on development of the
plot or narrative.
These Chris VanAllsburg books-turned-films are two examples of
picture books that had to be extended or developed in order to make a
quality, feature-length film. They both go about it in different ways
Jumanji complicates the plot, while The Polar Express adds more of a
thrill to the existing plot. In both cases, the spectacle becomes more
important than the narrative because it pulls us away from the original
story and serves merely to entertain audiences that want to sit back
and escape from the real world. This is much of what modern-day
audiences demand, especially in childrens films. Rather than feelgood, mushy stories that are rich in dialogue and theme, people prefer
to watch movies to relax without having to think too much. This is just
another example of how social context drives film interpretations.
We followed up with The Wizard of Oz, which is a film that
completely outshined the original book. Nearly everyone has seen the
film, or is at least familiar with it because of its integration into popular
culture. However, very few have read the book, and those who do read
it criticize Baum for making it too lengthy and filled with unnecessary
details. It is rare to see a movie become more popular than the book
on which it was based because often the demand for the movie arises
once the book is so popular that corporations want to seize the
opportunity to make money off it. The movie always seems to be a
visual interpretation of the book that so many readers know and love,

and it is important for filmmakers to stay true to the original so they


dont infuriate those that hold the book near and dear to their hearts.
However, the film version of The Wizard of Oz became such a hit
likely because of its historical context. It was released about thirty
years after the book was published, which greatly contrasts with the
films based on books today, which often are produced as quickly as
possible before the hype of the book subdues. Had the film been
produced any earlier in history, it likely would have been less
successful. It was released at a time when Technicolor was advancing,
but was still innovative. As a result, the magic of the film was
experiencing the shift from a gray world to one full of color right along
with Dorothy. Had the film been released earlier, this technology would
not have been as well developed, and the portrayal of the drastic
change to vibrant colored Munchkinland would have been lost. Had
the film been released later in history, the technology would be rather
mundane and nothing special, so the shock value would be lost. The
Wizard of Oz capitalized on its historical context, coming out at just the
right time in order to become a staple in the advancement in movies.
Again, the spectacle in this film (the color, the smoke, the music)
conflicted with the original narrative, as the plot is scaled down greatly
and the characters are much less developed.
In looking at Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, we examined
two different film versions, much like we did with Charlottes Web. To a
certain degree, the findings are the same in regards to cultural and
historical context as Charlottes Web. The original book was
controversial, so the two film versions are as well, but in looking at the
one that was made in the 1970s and the one that was made in the
2000s, much of the differences between them (and between each film
and the book) comes down to social and historical context. In 1970,
the film is more of a musical, and seems lighter. There are mysterious
things happening in the Wonka factory, without a doubt, but the film
does not exude the same creepy and dark feeling that the newer
version does. In the more recent version, Johnny Depp portrays Wonka
in a darker fashion, as the boy who never wants to grow up, eerily
similar to Michael Jackson, who of course had been in the news for
years leading up to the films production.
Special effects impact the events in the film, such as the room
with the squirrels that open nuts. In the 1970s, the decision to make
this change to a room full of geese that lay golden eggs was likely
made because technology did not exist to create a room full of
hundreds of squirrels that could cooperate by opening nuts. The newer
version was able to do so because they could use computer imaging.
They likely had one squirrel and then superimposed it multiple times to
make it look like there were more. If my memory serves me correctly, I
believe this is what they did with the Oompa-Loompas as well. I
vaguely remember hearing when the film came out that one actor

played all the Oompa-Loompas. Ultimately, the newer version of the


film was able to maintain truer fidelity to the original because of the
time in which it was released, or its historical context, and the
technology and CGI capabilities that existed during its production as
compared with the 1970s version. It was also likely darker and more
eerie because there seems to be a trend of a demand for that type of
film that has existed over the past few years.
Finally, we looked at Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone as an
example of a film that did stay extremely true to the book. In this
case, the book series was already on its way to becoming extremely
popular, and the filmmakers likely created an imitation rather than an
interpretation in order to gain the following of all readers. This would
be an example of a film that was produced to appease those who hold
the book closely to their hearts and want to see it come to life. The
benefit of creating an imitation for the filmmakers is that it increases
hype, and as we live in an age where corporate conglomerates are
eager to make money, hype is always important. As a result, J.K.
Rowlings world has been brought to life, quite literally. All the
fantastical elements that readers once had to imagine are not only
visible on screen, but they are now sold at local Target stores.
Followers will buy in for many reasonsit may be to imagine they live
in Harrys world, it may be to find escape from ordinary Muggle life, or
it could be to obtain collectors items that they feel will be valuable in
the future. In any case, the Harry Potter series of films took
merchandising to an entirely new level, and without a society that
demanded those items, the films would never have reached the
popularity status that it has. Even though the film is tied very closely
to the original book, it is actually based more on its societal context
because of the demand that popular culture has put on it.
Looking forward, I see many ways in which I could use my
knowledge from this class in my own classroom. Comparing books to
their corresponding films has been something I have always tried to
incorporate to my teaching when possible, but now I feel like I have
new knowledge about it as a teacher, and new ways of teaching it to
my class.
The first way that I could incorporate my learning into my
classroom is by teaching my students some of the basics for analyzing
films the same way that we did. By providing them with information
about how to read a film, they would be able to have much richer
conversation with one another as well as with me. As I mentioned
above, this was the most beneficial aspect of the class in my opinion.
Without the foundational knowledge of how to understand and talk
about movies in a scholarly way, there is no way I would have been
able to complete the course with the depth of understanding that I
have. It would be very easy for me to refer to the website we used and

create my own handout with some helpful terms that my students


could use when studying film. I would likely cut down the number of
terms, but I would provide them with enough to have rich
conversation. As a teacher of fifth grade students, I often find that
they are already familiar with the skills and strategies I teach them, as
the curriculum tends to cycle and build rather than being brand new
each year. I love (and they seem to love) when I actually teach them
something they have never learned before, and they often run with the
information and do their own research on their own time because its
new and interesting. I think teaching them film terminology would be
something that they would love to learn about and apply in their own
lives outside of school.
I also like the idea of watching films twice, as we did with
Charlottes Web. The first time, students could compare it to the book,
and the second time, they could look purely at the cinematography. I
think that if I had them watch the film only once, they would tend to
only focus on the differences between it and the original, as that is the
natural way to think about themit is what we are used to doing when
we are shown a film after reading a book, even as adults. Once they
have watched it to find these differences, they could discuss them or
write them down (or both), and then their minds would be free to
analyze the ways in which the filmmakers produced the film, leading
them to question why they made the decisions they did.
This is no different than when I give my students a text and ask
them to read it twiceonce as a reader, and once as a writer. When
they read it the first time, as a reader, they are just becoming familiar
with the story, and all the elements that we discussed when we read
Charlottes Web in this classthings like plot, characters, setting, and
theme. Then, I like to have them go back and read it again, but this
time as a writer, looking for authors craft and stylistic noticings that
they might like to put in their own writing. Once their brains are freed
of trying to figure out what is happening in the story and who is who,
they can focus on the techniques the author uses in order to convey
the story and try to figure out why he/she made those decisions.
Examining films would work in much the same way, and I think it would
be beneficial for them to see that the production of films is so similar to
the publishing of books, and how their skill set can transfer across
media.
A major lesson that this class has taught me is that it is okay to
notice the differences between the original and the film versions, and it
is okay to critique it, but it is important to go further and try to
understand why the decisions to make changes occurred. This is
another thing that I think my students would benefit from. They would
learn to question and infer through this process, as well as take a new
approach in studying authors craft through putting themselves in the
position of the filmmaker (and sometimes the author, too). Again, I

began the course with the mindset similar to many, including my


students, which was that films should be nearly identical to the original
for it to be a good representation, especially if it was a book that I
loved. What I discovered is that there are many factors indicating
whether or not a movie is considered quality, most of which are based
on historical and/or societal context. So there are reasons behind the
changes made in the process of turning a book into a film, but I learned
not to just accept them. I learned that I should try to imagine why
certain scenes were included but others were not, or why the
characters acted differently than they were portrayed in the original. I
feel that it is important for students to consider these things as well,
and I know they are more than capable of doing so.
Thinking about books in terms of their historical and societal
context is something I feel I could bring to the classroom as well. In
having conversations about the differences among film versions and
their originals, I think it would be appropriate to discuss how the time
and place in which they were produced affected their outcome. I think
that children are used to reading literature and watching film because
it is given to them. They are recommended a book, so they read it.
Their parents rent a movie, so they watch it. They probably are less
used to analyzing why the film versions release date might have
affected the changes in the plot, or why media hype may have affected
how closely a film remained aligned to its original. These are thoughtprovoking questions that students would benefit from considering.
I think it is important for children to consider that films are a
product of historical and societal context not to make them cynical, but
to help them understand that books and movies do not exist in a
vacuum. The world surrounding them influences what becomes best
sellers or blockbusters. In order for a book or a movie to become big,
people have to want to buy them, so ultimately, we have a choice in
determining what is deemed quality and what is not. Providing
students with a sense of power is important in helping them realize
why it is important to question, not skeptically, but critically. They can
start to feel like they can critique, both positively and negatively, in
regards to fidelity to the original because they have the knowledge to
do so. With this power to critique, they can help shape the future of
society and pop culture. One example is the Harry Potter
phenomenon. Rowling kept writing because the public demanded
more books. Warner Brothers kept producing films because audiences
were ready for them. The companies that sold merchandise continued
to sell because people kept buying. If students see that they have
agency in society, they will become accustomed to not simply
accepting books and films at face value, but really studying them to
make informed opinions.
Ultimately, teaching is a form of interpretation because the way
in which I present a book or movie (or both) could influence the way a

student sees it. If I tell them it is a favorite, it may sway their own
opinion, or they may not feel free to express disagreement. This is why
I feel it is important to teach students how to analyze and question
book-to-films rather than just exposing them to it. The conversations
should be open, much like ours were during this class, and students
should be pushed to ask why, rather than just notice differences
between the original books and their film interpretations. Every
student is going to notice different aspects of film in regards to the
original, just as our group and class discussions revealed, so in that
sense, teaching is a form of interpretation. However, the more ideas
that are presented, and the more voices that are heard, the more
comprehensive the interpretation will be.
Hopefully, the students in my class would be given the
opportunity to see that filmmakers make decisions and adaptations for
very specific reasons, the same way that authors and illustrators make
decisions when they write a book. In sharing the knowledge I have
learned through this course with my class, they would likely see the
connection between books and films, and how even though, for some,
books feel like work and movies feel like play, they work in very much
the same way. Reluctant readers may be more engaged if they found a
way to become interested in the ways the book and movie are
connected (an excuse to watch a movie in school? Great!), and it may
also help them develop the difficult skill of examining authors craft in
books if they can practice using that skill in movies. Overall, I have
found there to be many beneficial aspects of this course that I can take
with me to my fifth grade classroom to develop knowledgeable and
analytical readers.