Staying Alive: Dynamic Equivalence Theory and Film Adaptation


Published in Seattle Pacific University’s Digital Commons, June 2014. A project submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the University Scholars Program.


Translation is a task that must be done every day in order for the world to function. A perfect translation is impossible, because there is no way to provide exact equivalents of meaning in different languages. However, methods such as dynamic equivalence focus on conveying the message of a text in terms that a new recipient audience can understand. Dynamic equivalence could apply to all textual translations, not just Bible translation. If this is the case, then dynamic equivalence may be applied to adaptations of different types of text, such as book to film adaptations. Film adaptations are popular, largely because the story has already written, making the prospect of adaptation a deceptively simple one. There are plenty of examples of book-to-film adaptations that disappointed viewers. Those familiar with the original text are often disappointed because the movie “did not capture the spirit of the book,” and outsiders to the story whose only exposure to it is the film adaptation often miss important details in the story or find themselves annoyed by a poorly-made movie. The film did not have the same impact on its intended audience as the original book, and subsequently failed. In this paper, I propose that film is close enough to language that linguistic theory may apply to certain aspects of filmmaking. This similarity would allow filmmakers attempting to adapt a given text to film in terms of dynamic equivalence, providing a satisfactory adaptation to both fans of the original text and casual moviegoers alike. This theory is put to use analyzing several adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes story “The Final Problem”.

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