The silver screen

In Desert and Wilderness on the silver screen, or between the screen version of a novel and a film based on selected themes.

Have you ever thought how difficult it is to make a film based on a book? When we read In Desert and Wilderness, we can easily imagine Staś and Nel riding King along the walls of a canyon getting rusty in the light of the setting sun, and the joyfully barking Saba running around them. Yet filming such a sequence is extremely difficult.

Preparing the screenplay for the cinematic version, the scriptwriter has to skip plenty of events described in the text so that the whole can be watched in a single showing. Frequently, it is also necessary to add new subplots, for example, to increase the dynamics of the plot. Depending on how faithfully the film reflects the events described in the novel, it can be called the screen version or a film based on it (or on selected motifs).

The screen version is usually a fairly precise transposition of the book’s plot to the screen. In this case, the scriptwriters try to retain the maximum of the original content and minimise the number of scenes they add. The film from 1973, directed by Władysław Ślesicki could be called a screen version of In Desert and Wilderness. It is worth remembering that the director specialised in shooting nature documentaries. The production therefore includes plenty of shots presenting the beauty of wild African nature, frequently taken on locations Staś and Nel went through.

A “based on” film makes loose references to the book it uses as the starting point. Its creators do not use the subplots of the novel but usually add a number of new ones. The film by a South African director Gavin Hood (2001) can be considered a production based on In Desert and Wilderness. The main  characters significantly diverge from their literary originals: in the place of the industrious and chivalric Staś taking care of his little friend and two black slaves, we see four children lost in the wild heart of Africa.

Whether we are faced with a screen version or a production only based on a novel, let’s remember that they are separate works. Therefore, it is not most important whether a film renders the reality of the novel faithfully, but whether it is interesting in itself and worth watching. Both attempts at transposing In Desert and Wilderness to the silver screen are precisely like that.