Multiliteracies in ELA Classrooms


July 8th, 2014 · No Comments

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m one of those people who perpetuates the idea that “the movie is never as good as the book.” But Bortolotti and Hutcheon’s argument forced me to ask myself why I felt this way. What exactly about the book is better than the movie? Were the actors not as convincing in the movie as in the book? Perhaps the special effects in the book were more realistic. Oh wait, the book doesn’t have actors nor special effects.  There are so many aspects of the adaptation that cannot be compared to the book simply because they don’t exist. As Bortolotti and Hutcheon mention, I was often one of those people who argued for how “true or untrue” an adaptation was to the original and in direct relation, how “good or bad” the adaptation is.

Of course an adaptation is meant to tell the same story. If this weren’t the case then we wouldn’t even call it an adaptation. Books and movies do tell the same story but they tell them in a very different way. The emotion carried in words and varied vocabulary can be heavy-hitting, but so can the look on a character’s face or the contrasting colours used in a shot. In fact, I would argue that books and visual adaptations of those books can both tell the same story but also tell their own story within their specific medium. Consider “The Great Gatsby”. Both the book and the movie tell the woes of a life of excess and unmet expectations through the eyes of Nick Carraway. However, the movie had the unique capability of telling the story of our current struggle to achieve the american dream. The movie is still set in the same era yet the scenes shot as representations of Gatsby’s grand parties are done in such a manner that they mimic contemporary “party” movies. Compare the scenes in Baz Lehrmann’s The Great Gatsby adaptation and the movie Project X released a year earlier:

Great Gatsby Party Scenes

Project X Party Scene

Both often have camera angles done from over head, there are slow motion shots of sexualized dancing and heavy drinking, and the music is the main audio. Baz Lehrmann successfully makes the comparison between the era Fitzgerald critiques and our materialistic and shallow culture of today. While a teacher could point this connection out to his/her students while reading the book or even hope that the students will make the connection themselves, I believe this visual representation makes a stronger point about how little our focus on wealth and material goods has shifted and does it in a way that makes sense to students. They might not always connect with the references made in a novel, such as the flamboyance and profusion of the Jazz era, but they may be able to once they see that same message shown in their own culture of Hip-Hop and Pop. Bortolotti and Hutcheon were right when they said that change is a necessary part of evolution. An adaptation must evolve in order to fit it’s current environment, and that environment is one that adores visuals like movies and television. So while I do find value in comparing the content of the original and the adaptation, I no longer see a purpose in comparing the quality of the adaptation to that of the original. I will always love books, but one of the main reasons I love books so much is for the message that they carry. The adaptations still carry the same message but they carry that message in a suitable medium that is fit for survival in a media saturated culture. I can now officially call myself a reformed member of the “Book is Better” club.

Bortolotti, G. and Hutcheon, L. (2007). “On the Origin of Adaptations: Rethinking Fidelity Discourse and “Success” — Biologically.” New Literary History, 38(3), pp. 443-458.

– Aimee Beauchamp

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