Adaptation and Appropriation, Adaptations, Bram Stoker, Chris Wensley, Cinema, Clive Bloom, David Bordwell, Dracula, Erica Sheen, Film, Film & Literature, Film Adaptations, Film Article, Film essay, Film Theory and Criticism, Gerald Mast, John Desmond, Julie Sanders, Keith Selby, Kristin Thompson, Leo Braudy, Marshall Cohen, Movies, Peter Hawkes, Robert Giddings, Screening the Novel: The Theory and Practice of Literary Dramatization, Screenplay, Studying Film and Literature, The Classic Novel: From Page To Screen
NOTE: Half of this essay is on Film Adaptations and the other refers to a short original screenplay based on a scene from the book.
Film adaptations are the cinematic transformation of written sources, which provides the audience with a clearer visual insight, whereas prose pieces communicate only through words that encourages the readers to use their imagination. However, opinions on film adaptations vary through the three main types of adaptation – transposition, commentary and analogy. For example, the Dracula novel has had a history of various adaptations, some of which were faithful film versions, such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Coppola, 1992), and others were significantly adjusted, such as Dracula 3000 (Root, 2004). This essay will compare and contrast the methods used both in prose and films to present characters, events, location, language and style. In addition, it will examine specific debates surrounding the issues of film adaptation and finally, there will be a critical analysis of a short, group-based screenplay on Dracula.
Written literature only relies on words, which tell a story and make the reader reflect on the messages conveyed by the author. However, written verses cannot physically portray images for the audience to observe, although the writer’s language aims to be expressive; whereas film adaptations rely on the visual presentations of the characters, events and settings. The objective of prose is to draw the audience’s attention through imagination; hence, an effective language can enhance this process, so the story can keep the reader interested. In addition, characters and settings are often described in order for them to come to life in the audience’s mind. Nevertheless, the author’s “verbal language is ultimately unfixed and unspecified” (Desmond and Hawkes, 2006, p35). Finally, novels are larger in narrative scale compared to films, incorporating considerable amount of detailed information.
On the other hand, film language is “pictorial and aural” and it is concrete (Desmond and Hawkes, 2006, p35). Furthermore, screenplay summaries the narrative concisely. The scenes within a film are created through various elements of mise-en-scéne, which include settings, figural expression, costume & make-up and lighting (Bordwell and Thompson, 2010). Characters are displayed through these tools which help the audience emotionally relate to them. For example, in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Count Dracula’s manipulative body language, his pale face with heavy make-up and bold costume design signify that he is a unique individual. In addition, the structure of a film’s setting creates different levels of emotion, which vary by genre. For example, a dark, dusty mansion is a typical setting of a horror film and it adds an uncomfortable, negative tone. To conclude, the different methods used in literature and film have outstanding and unique features which do not allow to replicate a text onto the screen (Desmond and Hawkes, 2006).
The narrative in film adaptations is clear to visualize due to the fact that the key scenes within the plot are already provided. However, the process and success of adaptation depends on the screenwriter and director’s cinematic interpretations. Hence, the execution of the narrative within a film can divert significantly from its original source. For example, audiences create their own mental picture after reading a book (Geal, 2013); consequently, they have certain expectations of a film adaptation. According to Morris (1979), adaptations “feel proper and necessary to adapt the original work in order to create a new different work of art with its own integrity.” Therefore, film adaptations have the capability to interpret a story and its features in another medium.
However, although film adaptations are the visual interpretation of a written source, there are issues which prevent it from being entirely ‘faithful’ (Desmond and Hawkes, 2006, p40) to the original text. For example, key narrative points could be excluded from a book (Harris, 2013). TV adaptation Dracula (Droomgole 1968) excluded certain plot concepts from Bram Stoker’s novel, such as the chase to Transylvania. In addition, it added new adjustments, such as an ambiguous ending; whereas the book ended with the protagonists winning. On the other hand, characters and settings can be adjusted. In Nosferatu (Murnau, 1922), the characters’ names were changed from Count Dracula to ‘Count Orlok’ and Jonathan Harker to ‘Thomas Hutter’. Despite this alteration, Nosferatu’s visualization still illustrated the dark tone from Bram Stoker’s novel.
Film adaptations have production limitations compared to novels. For instance, a novel’s narrative scale is too big for a film to include; consequently, a certain running time has to be met. If an adaptation portrays exactly the book’s contents, it would acknowledge it; nevertheless, the cinematic interpretation would result in pacing flaws. Novels can include significant details regarding characters, setting and narrative, whereas a film adaptation has to reveal the story concisely. Book readers use their imagination to picture and interpret the contents, which can lead to approval or disappointment with an adaptation’s visual delivery.
As part of a group task, students were assigned to produce a two-page screenplay based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The novel’s long history of cinematic adaptations was an advantage due to their popularity; hence, it was a suitable choice for students to adapt. We watched some adaptations and analyzed certain concepts that we could include in our screenplay, taking into consideration the requirement of using a sequence within one of the novel’s first three chapters. Consequently, the selected extract was the compilation of two scenes – the Three Brides and Harker shaving with Dracula intervening.
The decision to adapt these two scenes was easy. Both are hinge-points within the story that illustrate a dark, suspenseful tone, identical to the novel. They dealt with engaging elements of emotion and anticipation; therefore, the adaptation was smooth. The screenplay’s aim was to capture an uncomfortable, tense atmosphere through themes of fear, darkness and violence. Along with the surreal tenor of the sequence, these themes maintained originality, and perhaps homage, to the original Dracula novel. Consequently, the script became clearer to visualize in cinematic form.
Writing the screenplay was identical to the general formation of adaptations and the same aspects of written storytelling had to be considered, which are narrative style, characters and settings. With the script being a transposition adaptation, the informant conventions had to be included, such as the character’s names and their physical descriptions. Using these basic elements would make readers interested in how the screenplay would adapt from the original novel. However, at the same time, with the high number of Dracula adaptations, this could become repetitive and lack creativity. Nevertheless, the importance of this screenplay was to use the same conventions of what audiences already know but to adapt a scene with different emotional and thematic conventions.
The script began with Harker sitting alone in his dark room and lightning is striking outside. In the majority of the first page, there are paragraphs of written action, which describe and analyse the scene’s surroundings. Its objective was to introduce the scene in a suspenseful tone. For example, the screenplay opens with “Harker’s room is lit only by candlelight, he is sat alone on his bed, his bag is unpacked and he is noticeably awkward”. This almost immediately captures the uncomfortable, dark atmosphere of the scene that builds up anticipation. In addition, the script focused on building tension between the characters. It allowed the audience to visually picture Harker’s circumstances in a mixture of emotions. For example, at the beginning he is feeling uncomfortable being alone in a dark room. He was surrounded by anxiety and in order for the audience to emotionally relate to his circumstances, an effective use of voice-over narration was applied. Although this was included only once, it implied a hint of character analysis and, consequently, became more frightening for Harker.
However, at an even more suspenseful level, the Three Brides were introduced and attempted to seduce Harker in a violently sexual manner but in the same surreal tone. This sequence determines the lustful intentions of the Brides and the awkward predicament it brings on Harker, especially when he only says is “I…I…I…” Originally, dialogue between the Brides and Harker was included but due to limited page numbers, it was cut. Despite this, describing the character’s actions already structured the situation. Their figure expressions would give ideas to a film director on how to portray the Three Brides and Harker in cinematic form.
Furthermore, dialogue was included during the Harker and Dracula encounter. The objective of this incident was to create suspense in which Dracula would emotionally manipulate Harker; whereas he was trying to remain calm. When it is a scene filled with tension among the characters, creative dialogue is essential. For example, at the closing moments of the script, Dracula utters “You have a wound on your throat, Mr Harker. Very painful is not treated.” Readers know that this character wants to see blood and how Dracula says that illustrates further suspense. In addition, screenwriters of adaptations include quotes from characters from books. Although we aimed to be as close to Bram Stoker’s novel as possible by using quotes, we wanted at the same time to adapt our own interpretation of the scenes.
Thus, the aim of film adaptations is to engage audiences into the visual experience based on written literature. Considering there are elements from the world of a novel into cinema, an adaptation will leave audiences delighted or disappointed with the transformation. Adaptations are perhaps easier for individuals who have difficulty reading yet at the same time, not all of them blend into the original sources. Finally, the development and process of writing the Dracula adaptation has expanded further knowledge on how adapted screenplays work and, consequently, has developed further skills.