Bringing a novel to the movie screen is a challenge under any circumstance, and the creation of a movie based on Laura Hillenbrand's exceptional gem of narrative history, Seabiscuit: An American Legend, must have been even more so. Although this was Hillenbrand's first writing project, the meticulousness of her research, coupled with an ability to write prose that borders on the poetic, calls to mind other great writers of narrative history such as David McCullough and Shelby Foote. Somehow, the producers of the film were able to bring the lengthy tome to the screen in a way that captured the spirit, humor, and relationships of the people involved with the goofy-looking little horse that Americans fell in love with during the Great Depression. Of necessity, much Hillenbrand's narrative had to be eliminated, or, as the film's writer and director Gary Ross commented, "If I had done the film as the book was written it would have been about a seven hour movie."
Some people mistakenly believe that to see a movie is to have read the book, but taking a closer look at the reader's introduction to the unlikely future champion, Seabiscuit, written in the lyrical prose that Hillenbrand became famous for, it is not difficult to see what one misses if only viewing even a well-done movie adaptation.
The colt was a descendant of the mighty Man o’ War through his sire, the brilliantly fast, exceptionally handsome Hard Tack, but his stunted build reflected none of the beauty and breadth of his forebears. The colt’s body, built low to the ground, had all the properties of a cinder block. . . .
Asked to run, he would drop low over the track and fall in to a comical version of what horsemen call an egg-beater gait, making a spastic sideways flailing motion with his left foreleg as he swung it forward as if he were swatting at flies. . . .he had a maddening tendency to whack himself in the front ankle with his own hind hoof. One observer compared his action to a duck waddle.
So, as Ross himself stated, of necessity, a story like Seabiscuit must become much more condensed to appear on film, which unfortunately means eliminating pages and pages of illuminating narrative. Simply put, a movie can typically tell the story in terms of plot, and maybe even capture some of the magic and spirit of a written work, but in a story like Hillenbrand's, of necessity, much of the background and detail will likely wind up on the cutting room floor.