Books on Screen: Live Action vs. Animation

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Books on Screen: Live Action vs. Animation
Are TV or movie adaptations of books better told as animated or live action works? While live action remains the popular choice today, is it possible that animation could be on the rise for adults as well as children?

When a novel or series of novels becomes popular enough with the reading community, one of the first thoughts that anybody has is “Can we make it into a movie?” More recently, we’ve also been seeing the rise of premium channels like HBO or AMC, who have decided to go a slightly different way and turn popular works of fiction into ongoing television series. The two most obvious examples of this are the TV adaptations of The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, both of which have brought the popularity of their respective franchises soaring to new heights. Though both shows make an effort to reflect the themes and events of the works they are based on, neither manages to even come close to the quality of the original stories. Sure, that’s just my opinion but it’s one that is shared by many avid readers who appreciate the intricacies of the story as much as the sex and violence. Do all written works have to be dumbed-down and sexed-up just to get a chance at becoming TV or movie adaptations?

One of the reasons that big-budget projects like Game of Thrones end up seeming so over-produced and compromised compared to the original works that inspired them, is the fact that they’ve got to make all that money back. More than that, they have to practically guarantee that the end product will capture a certain percentage of the audience, as the investment required to get the idea off the ground in the first place is massive. Chances are, the percentage of the audience that has read the original is a tiny minority, which means that most of the plot changes that are made will go largely unnoticed anyway. A frustrating example of this is the amount of time and significance that was put into the bride of Robb Stark in Game of Thrones. Even though those who had read the books knew she would become almost entirely irrelevant after Rob’s death, we still had to put up with hearing her terrible new backstory (now with less relevance!) when that time could have been used to expand on other characters or events that are more pertinent to the story as a whole. A Song of Ice and Fire spends plenty of time on sex and romance and I really can’t see how the adaptations made in Game of Thrones serve to do anything but cheapen the plot.

It seems to me as though the amount of compromise that is introduced to a plot when adapting a book into TV or film is directly proportional to the size of the project’s budget; the more money invested, the more dumbed-down and sexed-up the end result. Sure, Game of Thrones looks fantastic and has a very well-selected cast, but what’s the point if such appearances come at the cost of the story’s integrity, which is what got it on screen in the first place? So what exactly am I proposing as a solution, or at least an alternative? One word: cartoons. These days, the time and cost involved in creating an animated movie or series is a mere fraction of that required for a live-action version, allowing for much more creative control. Without the pressure of such a massive monetary investment, an animated version of Game of Thrones would be much better able to stay true to the original story. While it’s true that cartoons tend to be associated with children in North America, there is a growing market for more mature cartoons that has been spurred on by anime. Though older generations might still have trouble accepting the maturity of an animated take on some popular story or another, I think younger people are more open to the concept due to their exposure to video games and the popularization of anime, which frequently addresses violent or sexual themes.

Another advantage that animation has over live action is the ability to take a more literal approach to how characters and locations are portrayed, as there are practically no artistic limitations outside of the narrative itself. Can you imagine a fully animated version of The Walking Dead, with the full range of characters and events from the comics intact? I can, and it would blow that sad imitation on AMC out of the water! After all, if the writers for some show or movie based off of a book think that they can do better than the original, then why are they basing it off of the book to begin with? Picking and choosing which events or characters are worth keeping and which ones are not is a slippery slope, as the choices made early on can translate to far more dramatic changes down the road. Rather than removing certain details for the sake of time, it is often just as feasible to have those details summarized in passing through the use of conversation or narration. An animated version of a story offers much more flexibility in terms of presentation, as it allows for more options to be pursued due to low costs. Obviously, the art style of an animated story can be used to enhance the atmosphere of events as they unfold, creating opportunities that wouldn’t be easily available with a live action approach.

As Japan’s fascination with manga and anime continues to rub off on the youth of the Western world, we are sure to see a bigger and bigger shift towards animated entertainment targeting older and older audiences. Eventually the association between cartoons and adolescence will decline to the point that they become just as mainstream as the live action media that still dominates today’s entertainment industry. With Hollywood actors starting to realize the shift from traditional television and cinema to internet streaming services, we see a similar gradual shift, eventually resulting in a migration of audiences from one format to the other. Already, more and more big name actors are delving into voice acting for animated movies and video games, with some actors actually having entire characters modelled on their appearance. As this trend continues, and the audiences for animated entertainment grow and grow, we can expect to see the scale and popularity of animation as an alternative form of mature storytelling grow with it.



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