An Unexpectedly Long Journey

Every book lover loves to talk about how horribly the filmmakers screwed up when they deleted/added/changed a scene from our favorite book. The desire stems from our deeply rooted need to compare the two mediums, as if it was somehow possible to fairly compare them. There are nuances of film which cannot be replicated in a novel and vice versa. But, it is our goal here at Social Mathematics to put a measuring stick up to every unfathomable relationship! And today we are starting down the dramatic path of book to film adaptations.

The wand chooses the wizard, Harry…

No adaptation article may ever again be written without referencing Harry Potter. Stretching over a decade, the Harry Potter film releases held many of us captive (or disgusted) for years on end. To watch the entire series you would be committing yourself to almost 20 hours of Harry Potter. (For scale that’s almost three complete seasons of Game of Thrones.) While the characters will forever remain in our hearts, some of the factual details have slipped our minds.

Because we have been taught to believe that J.K.Rowling grew the books to match the age of her primary readership, some people assume that the Harry Potter books get progressively longer, based on word count. However, Order of the Phoenix (book 5) is significantly longer than the rest. The purple area in the graph below shows book length in words. Book 5 is a clear peak in length. Ironically, Order of the Phoenix is the shortest film. The orange bars in the below graph below depict movie length.

Film length (in minutes) for Harry Potter franchise in orange with a background of purple which represents the word count for each book.

The next graph shows the same information in a different presentation. This is a Correlation Plot, a graph designed to help identify the relationship between two variables. Instead of plotting HP1: 77325 words in purple and HP1: 152 minutes in orange, we will plot both together in two dimensions as HP1 = (77325 , 152).  Doing this for all data points helps us identify clusters and patterns. If book length correlated well with film length then we would see a diagonal line from bottom left to upper right.

Correlation graph of Harry Potter Franchise. Book length in words versus film length in minutes. The outliers are HP 5 (long book/short film) and HP7 (long book/ 2 films).

Harry Potter doesn’t line up nicely on a diagonal because there isn’t a clear relationship between book and movie length. As one might expect from our previous conversation about HP5 – it is an outlier from the cluster of the rest of the HP stories. The other outlier is HP7. HP7 is an outlier because, while the book is not particularly long, two separate movies were produced from it! For the sake of this article, we combined the two movies together into one supermovie. This supermovie is more than four and a half hours long.

Speaking of which, book to movie adaptations can get ridiculously long! Especially when the studio insists on splitting the last book into two movies to extend a successful franchise. Let’s look at two other franchises that did this: The Hunger Games and Twilight. (The last installment of The Hunger Games has not yet been released so, for the purposes of this analysis, we are assuming Mockingjay Part 2 will be the same length as Mockingjay Part 1 to get the supermovie runtime)

The last book of a series is often longer than the previous. In the case of Twilight, Breaking Dawn is 30% longer than Eclipse. However, the length of the Breaking Dawn supermovie is 87% longer than the Eclipse movie. That’s almost twice as long!

There and Back Again and Again…

Compared to other adaptions, the economy of the new Hobbit movies is seriously lacking. The book is relatively brief at only 95,022 words long. The 1977 animated TV movie is a standard 90 minutes and basically covers all the major points in the book. In contrast, the new trilogy clocks in at 474 minutes (almost 8 hours). That is 5x longer than the cartoon adaptation. The recent Hobbit series was originally going to be only 2 movies, but Director Peter Jackson decided it should be a trilogy, to mirror The Lord of the Rings trilogy, making a … hexology? Anyway, the combined total of all the extended blu-ray editions of The Hobbit is longer still: 542 minutes or 9 hours.

Perhaps it’s important to remind ourselves of how long it takes to read The Hobbit as a book. Since we all have different reading speeds, we’re going to use the average text to speech ratio of 150 words per minute. At this rate, The Hobbit could be audibly consumed in 633 minutes. So, in shear amount of time, one saves 159 minutes by watching the movie (only 91 for blu-ray). Choosing the movie over the book accounts for 25% off and 14% off of your time commitment of listening to the book audibly. And we all know you can read silently faster than you can read out loud. We bet that you can read at least 25% faster when you read silently. This brings us to the weirdest point of our investigation…

The grand collection:

By this point, we were in pretty deep. We collected a bunch of data about the biggest recent SF/F book to movie franchises. We looked at The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Twilight, The Hunger Games and Harry Potter. Nothing about this data is nearly as interesting as the outliers we discussed already. Predictably, the Lord of the Rings books get shorter while the films get longer. Unsurprisingly, the Twilight books & movies are about the same length- except the last one (book & movie) which is longer than the others. If you want to look at the numbers for yourself, the data we collected is available here! In summary, here is a correlation plot of what we found when we considered the whole dang group:

Correlation graph of the major book to movie adaptation franchises. Book length in words versus film length in minutes. The outliers are HP 5 (long book vs short film) and the New Hobbit (short book vs 3 films).

While HP7 is the outlier of the Harry Potter series, it is but an insignificant shadow compared to the new Hobbit adaptation. Sure, they added some stuff from The Silmarillion, but The Hobbit supermovie is 198 minutes longer than the HP7 supermovie. That’s ridiculous! Especially when you consider that the HP7 book is over twice as long as The Hobbit book.

So, the next time you want to rant about the ridiculousness of the length of a movie adaptation, just know, if the movie isn’t longer than The Hobbit or shorter than a really short adaptation of the lengthy book (HP5), then you’re talking about an adaptation that is probably just par for the course.

Co-Author Bio: Jason P. Schumacher is an award winning independent filmmaker and freelance video producer in Minneapolis, MN. His most recent short film, Sad Clown, is currently screening in film festivals around the country. www.jasonschumacher.com

Applied Mathematician and writer of socialmathematics.net.
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3 Responses to An Unexpectedly Long Journey

1. Nice article! Have you seen the related article from FiveThirtyEight? Their Data Lab seems to have a similar spirit to your blog. Especially the articles by Walt Hickey. http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/hobbit-battle-of-five-armies-lord-of-the-rings/

2. Samantha says:

Thanks Xylar! I hadn’t seen that article, but they have some great analysis. I particularly like the pages per minute computations- that definitely gets at the same kind of ideas we are talking about here. Thanks for sharing!