The Wired crew set out to answer an interesting question for the January print edition—how does a book’s printed word count convert into movie minutes? Writer Seth Kadish took a look at 18 book-film pairs and found that, on average, every 1000 words of text translates into two movie minutes. Authors who struggle over each and every one of those words may blanch, but movies don’t have to spend time describing how people look or what they’re wearing—the casting and costume directors have supposedly taken care of that. They don’t have to describe the time of day or the setting, the audience can see it.
Peter Jackson’s movie version of The Hobbit (in three parts and clocking in at a full eight hours) is an outlier, spending five minutes per 1000 in visualizing that story, with the movie of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe not far behind. Padding stories out with special effects may be one way a movie gobbles up the clock. Adding new content, of course is another, which makes fans of the original squirm. The Harry Potter movies are generally right on the nose, but The Order of the Phoenix practically skims through the text, devoting less than a minute per 1000 words.
To be sure, the 1000-word standard is elastic. In my house we have two-hour (Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier), four-hour (BBC, Elizabeth Garvie, David Rintoul), and six-hour (BBC, Jennifer Ehle, Colin Firth) versions of Pride and Prejudice, and they’re all quite different. If you’ve just luxuriated through the long one, you can’t abide the two-hour 1940 version, much as you might admire the leads. You’re too aware of everything that’s been chopped.
If only someone would make a movie out of Neal Stephenson’s entertaining REAMDE. At 1056-pages, it’s three times the length of a today’s typical novel. That would be roughly nine hours, Peter Jackson, knock yourself out! And order me an extra-large popcorn! Meanwhile, Publisher’s Weekly has compiled a list of the most anticipated page-to-screen adaptations for 2015, with, at the top, a seriously toned down 50 Shades of Grey.