Film, TV adaptations often disregard source material

By Cody Carlson

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Oct. 19 2013 3:20 p.m. MDT

CBS's "Under the Dome" bears little resemblance to its source material a novel by Stephen King.

CBS Broadcasting Inc.

When a book is adapted to film, one must acknowledge that certain changes are going to be made. Multiple characters will be consolidated into one and plotlines will be simplified. Given the inherent differences of the mediums, viewers of book adaptations must accept that generally they will not be privy to inner monologues and thought processes; rather, characters and their actions will be presented in a much more linear, obviously visual style.

Yet there is something really exciting about seeing characters and stories you love come alive on the screen. When many people read books they instantly become casting agents in their own minds, playfully fitting their favorite actors into roles like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. It can be a lot of fun seeing just how close your pics were to the production's. And of course, for a lot of book-to-film projects, seeing how eye-popping special effects meld with your own vision of the book's events can be a thrill all its own.

There is an old adage that film and TV adaptations are never as good as the books themselves. While generally true, there are some exceptions, and given the different medium, film and TV adaptations can have a charm all their own. It is really disappointing, however, when the adaptation bears almost no similarities to the source material.

In the first episode of the new CBS summer series “Under the Dome,” a story in which residents of a small Maine town are cut off from the rest of the world by an invisible force-field, readers of Stephen King's novel were already uncomfortably aware that the book and TV show bore little resemblance besides character names and the most basic similarities in plot line.

Take, for instance, the book's principal protagonist, Dale "Barbie" Barbara. In the book he is an ex-special forces drifter, trying to leave town after an unpleasant run-in with the family of the town's councilman, "Big" Jim Rennie. In the TV show, Barbie was mixed up in some illegal activity and ended up killing a man, the husband of another major character who was not married in the book.

Rennie (played by the wonderful Dean Norris of “Breaking Bad” fame) is not nearly the self-involved monster he is in the book. His son Junior, though menacing in the show, is not nearly the psychopathic multiple-murderer that King created in his novel.

In perhaps the biggest change from the novel, the dome itself is completely different. In the book, the dome configures to the city's borders perfectly, tipping off everyone immediately that the occurrence is not a natural phenomenon. By contrast, the dome in the adaptation is a literal dome, like a salad bowl turned upside down over the city. Additionally, in the novel townspeople may freely communicate with the outside world, speaking through the dome normally and talking through cell phones. Indeed, communication with the outside world is a major plot point of the book.

CBS recently announced that it intends to renew “Under the Dome” for another season, making the book's ending all but impossible.

The above are just some of the mountains of changes that the producers made. Some could argue that if the TV show is good anyway, what do the changes matter? The question that seems more pressing, however, is when the book was so good to begin with, why did the producers feel the need to make such drastic changes in the first place?

With “Under the Dome”'s series format, one could argue that producers needed to fill out the story with new subplots, requiring different back stories. Though with the book's nearly 1,000 pages, that hardly seems to be the case, and the creative decision to block communication with the outside world would seem even more arbitrary.

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