Adapting a play to film involves a great deal of preparation and selective adaptation - there are unique and distinct differences in format that must be taken into consideration, including elements of style, look and performance. Of no exception is the film version of The Sound of Music, directed by Robert Wise and starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer; the movie deviates substantially from the source material, restaging and reinterpreting events to make them more palatable for a moviegoing audience. While these changes result in a substantially different story, it is nonetheless an admirable and spectacle-filled adaptation of the work that widens the scope of the story beyond its staged origins. Either way, they provide two different and distinct versions of the premise of the play - that love can overcome even the most destructive historical circumstances.
The beginning number, the titular "Sound of Music" shows right away the difference between play and film, showing Wise's ability to create greater spectacle using the film medium, while at the same time undercutting the sadness that lies at the core of the stage play. In the play, Maria is on a stage, likely representing the hills of Austria but not in any photorealistic way. The nuns from the Abbey sing Dixit Dominus before she sings the titular song, mournful because she misses the mountains where she grew up.. However, the film opens with Maria singing lovingly about the hills that she is on, stating that she is musically inspired by them. The film itself, instead of having a closed-off stage, has beautiful, sweeping shots of all the mountains around her, truly showing the audience the scope and majesty of these mountains. Because the play is set on a stage, Maria can miss the true mountains; film Maria, however, cannot help but to exult in them since they are there, and cannot be ignored. The capabilities of film allow for much greater spectacle; however, this ends up creating a much shallower character, as her character conflicts and pathos are not as concretely defined. However, this song directly leads to the Inciting Incident - the assignment of Maria to the Von Trapp family.
One of the most substantial changes that occurs within the movie is the change of the context of the song "My Favorite Things." In the play, that song was performed by Maria and the Mother Superior, while in the Abbey. The goal of the song was to demonstrate just how much Maria loved singing; that song was something that they could sing to defy the rules of the Abbey, and could sing out loud. However, in the film version, the duet is gone, and the song has been shifted to a moment where she comforts them with the song during a thunderstorm. This change of pace alters the tone of the song considerably; where it was a measure of defiance and individuality in the Abbey in the play, in the film it is evidence of her ability to take care of children and display her maternal instincts. Instead, the song "I Have Confidence" is used to show her individuality at the Abbey, replacing the original placement of "My Favorite Things." These kinds of changes and narrative shifts happen in the transition from play to film, in order to create more intimate stories and change the tone of the story to fit a more cinematic narrative.
Cinema also allows for a more fluid treatment of time than a play can; several actions in the play and movie are expanded or truncated for time. For example, the "Do Re Mi" scene is depicted over several days in the film, played in montage, while in the play this is accomplished in one sitting. This allows the audience to intuit a more gradual acceptance of Maria as the teacher of the children, as opposed to instantly winning them over in the course of five minutes. It also permits her to take the children outside to unstageable locations, such as the city of Saltzberg, a forest with trees, and a rowboat - all outrageous activities that show her allowing the children to have fun while still teaching them.
The treatment of the political aspect of the film (the captain and his soliders) is more well rounded in the play than in the film, which focuses almost exclusively on the relationship between Maria and the Captain. The Captain's role in the play is much larger, and there is more to be made of his conflict regarding whether or not to obey his orders. One song left out of the film version, the farcical number "How Can Love Survive?", depicts the doubtful idea that the love between two people of the upper class can last, foreshadowing his eventual marriage to Maria as opposed to the Baroness. The Captain refuses to give in to his orders to help Germany invade Austria, a decision that is much more clear in the stage version with the song "No Way to Stop It." With this song, the Captain contrasts his politics with the Baroness and Max, showing this as the impetus behind his breakup with the former. Further in the play, he and Maria sing "An Ordinary Couple" when discussing how their lives would turn out if they got married. These three songs are no longer in the stage version, severely truncating and undercutting this conflict that the Captain has to go through. However, for the sake of narrative economy, it is entirely possible that the movie needed to cut those out for time.
The film's desire to add spectacle is also seen in the scene where the Nazis search for the Von Trapp family at the Abbey - the Climax of the film. It is a long, protracted sequence without any musical number, something the stage musical would not dare attempt. However, due to the bigger scope of the film, these sequences are able to convey the nastiness of the Third Reich with greater grandiosity than can occur on the limited space of a stage.
While a film has to have a certain suspension of disbelief to break its supposed realism with musical numbers, the film version of The Sound of Music deftly balances the musical numbers with the presentationalism and subtleties of film. At the same time, it also threatens to simplify the story to emphasize just the love story between the Captain and Maria. In conclusion, the film version of The Sound of Music offers a successful adaptation of the stage play by opening up the scope, though it is undercut by a simpler story that loses the nuance and political intrigue. The film adds a sense of bigness and realism in the settings, while subduing the performances to make them suitable for closeups and a medium that captures more sophisticated and nuanced facial expressions and body language.