Alright, so here we are with what I wanted to write in the first place, book to movie adaptations (I won’t really bother with the other way around since that’s mostly just moneygrabs anyway). If you want to make a movie, you obviously need a story. Well… For a good movie anyway. And I guess there’s always a shred of story, how flimsy it might be. But that’s not the point, dammit! Focus!
So where do you get your story? Some write it from scratch, some take from existing material. This can be a historical person or event. Or you can remake an old movie, or make a cartoon movie into a real life one. With “Jungle Book” and “Cinderella” already having passed this treatment, there’s still “Beauty and the Beast” coming up as well as “Lion King” AND “Jungle Book 2”. The first two were actually pretty good, so I’m not too worried about that, and Jon Favreau can look forward to have a job for at least another while. And then you have your source material in the form of comics and books. This is a rather lengthy post, so brace yourselves.
First of all I always, ALWAYS look at movie adaptations completely separate from the books, because you usually will be disappointed if you don’t. There’s several reasons for it and some of them are actually very good arguments. The main one, I think, is the dissonance between what you imagined a character to be like versus what the movie shows, the same for how events unfolded and the places looked like. My Flitwick didn’t look like what they showed in the movies at all, both before and after his identity crisis. But in the end, does this really matter that much that you would dislike the whole movie for it? I think it’s good to see some other interpretations, as long as they stay true to the character and what they represent. I remember there was some controversy when a black girl was cast as Rue in the first “Hunger Games”, which was pretty much LITERALLY how she was described in the book. But no, some people didn’t think of her as a person of colour and they were pissed. Even if it wouldn’t be about a racial thing, that’s just dumb. Rue was done perfectly. Or when Hermione was black all of a sudden for “Cursed Child”, though that story had a LOT more problems than just the skin change, so I don’t think the shitstorm should’ve been about that aspect of the character. When it became known that Heath Ledger would be playing the Joker in “The Dark Knight” there was an even greater outrage and yet he’s the best Joker I’ve seen on-screen and many of the initial haters quickly turned around when they saw Ledger’s fabulous work.
Now there’s yet another example with Johnny Depp playing Grindelwald. I get that his recent work has been mediocre at best and his personal reputation is being tarnished from many sides, and I too definitely want to see Grindelwald done right. But Matthew McConaughey did a come back so many years ago, Tom Cruise made “Edge of Tomorrow” (though his new role in “The Mummy” looks awful already). Depp is a good actor, so I’m sure he can do it right IF he’s directed well enough. David Yates is slated to helm all the upcoming sequels to “Fantastic Beasts” so I’m confident it won’t be atrocious. If your worst work in the Harry Potter franchise is the “Half-Blood Prince”, you have my definite trust. Which brings me to another Harry Potter universe book to movie problem: Dumbledore. Richard Harris was not my Dumbledore. Amicable, yes, but frail. Harris knew his health was declining and wouldn’t be fit for the role, but he took it anyway because his granddaughter had threatened to never talk to him anymore if he didn’t. And it shows, a bit too much. So then we have that huge overhaul of the way things looked between “Chamber of Secrets” and “Prisoner of Azkaban”, which, generally, was a very good thing. But it came with Michael Gambon as Harris’ replacement. Gambon was initially my favourite Dumbledore between the two, but the more I’ve seen the movies and read the books, I have to join those who say he wasn’t a good choice either. He had the power, but none of the friendliness. He was too cold at times, too much of a headmaster instead of a mentor. There was too much of McGonagall in Gambon. The best example is, well… Anyone who has been on the internet probably knows what I’m talking about.
There are many more things you could say about the adaptations of the Harry Potter books. I know a few people who’ve never seen passed the first two or so because they didn’t like them. But the same people are turning around little by little when they do see the books and movies as separate. I would’ve liked to see the Quidditch World Cup in the “Goblet of Fire”, Snape’s reveal as the Half-Blood Prince meant almost nothing in the sixth movie, there was no Peeves anywhere, the deaths of so many major characters in the Battle of Hogwarts in the movies was even more abrupt than in the books (even Joss Whedon does those better), … But when you look at just the movies, they’re at least decent and in many cases really good. I didn’t particularly like “Chamber of Secrets” and “Goblet of Fire” that much, but the music, the stellar cast (Robbie Coltrane, Gary Oldman and Maggie Smith in particular), the Dementors, the “Tale of the Three Brothers’ sequence, … How can anyone in their right mind think those are bad movies? When someone says they didn’t like it, it’s because they didn’t like the adaptation, it being too different from their own interpretation. With some exceptions, of course. Not everyone likes fantasy.
So that’s my main message I wanted to address. If you hate the adaptation, I can understand. But don’t mix the adaptation with the actual movie. It’s not fair. You know what else is a really bad book to movie adaptation? “Lord of the Rings”. There’s no Tom Bombadil, no Barrow Downs, no Glorfindel or Erkenbrand. Saruman’s death wasn’t even in the theatrical release and in the extended edition it was done rather differently from the book, there was no Battle of Bywater at all. Inversely, the Battle of the Hornburg was maybe two pages in the book but half of the movie. Faramir, the paragon of virtue in the books and my favourite character, was not exactly the same in the movie though I loved David Wenham’s portrayal no less for it. And then there’s the only bad thing I have to say about the movies: Arwen. I absolutely hated all parts she was in. I get why, there are not nearly enough women in Middle-Earth as it is, so the extra screen time is fine, but I just didn’t like Liv Tyler as her. Now Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel, there was a good Elf, even if that love story with Kili was even worse. “The Hobbit” is not just a bad adaptation, it’s a horrible one. But watch some of the behind the scenes footage before you start hating on Peter Jackson for it. The movies in itself are ‘fine’, but you really have to distance them from the book by country miles or you’re gonna have a bad time. I even told my dad not to go watch them because I know it would not be what he would’ve wanted to see.
The thing is you have to cut down so many pages to a two-three hour gig. You can’t put everything in there. So they were right to cut Bombadil and Glorfindel out. There was almost no Imrahil on screen, but in the end, he wasn’t nearly as important as Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Théoden, Eomer or Eowyn. And including the Battle of Bywater would’ve had made for an odd ending. An even better example is “Game of Thrones”. You’d need eight seasons just to tell everything in just one book. There’s way too much, so you merge story line and characters. You fiddle around with things that aren’t as important to the story. As long as that’s done right, we ain’t got beef. But if you change the Sand Snakes to something they absolutely are not, then we do have a problem. Now no one likes Dorne, which is a darn shame. I’m glad the last two episodes of the latest season were among the best ever, or I would’ve written a very angry email to Benioff and Weiss. Those changes to the Sand Snakes, and to a lesser extent Faramir, are what I mean with staying true to what the characters are and what they represent. What they showed in “Game of Thrones” were the Sand Snakes in name only. And because they were my favourite part in the books, my heart bled, though that was at a time the series was getting a bit stale, so it wasn’t the only issue. But they made up for it, when the Great Sept blew up, everything was forgiven.
This blog is already growing longer than expected, but there’s many more things I want to address and many more examples to talk about, so I’ll try to keep it short… er.
If you follow a story too closely, I think it might get too boring. The latter Hunger Games were almost word-by-word adaptations, bringing nothing really new. I don’t think that’s the only issue those movies had, but it probably contributed. Not that I didn’t like the movies, they were just merely ok. “The Force Awakens” was a rehash of “A New Hope”, different enough, but also maybe too much of the same. If it wasn’t for the best light saber duel ever at the end and the generally brilliant cinematography of the movie, I would’ve loved it a lot less. “Memoirs of the Geisha” is the same in that aspect, the adaptation is really close to the book, but it’s saved by how good the movie looks, so it’s just an excellent companion to the original material. “Lord of the Flies” (doesn’t really matter which of the two movies) could be in this list as well, I think, but I haven’t read the book yet, so I can’t say for certain. The lesson is, be a good movie in your own right.
Sometimes movie adaptations make it even better. “American Psycho” was a rather boring book but is written so that we’re not sure if Bateman is actually murdering or not, which is a brilliant idea. The movie doesn’t always do a good job of making this clear (or, well, confusing), but it’s by far more entertaining to watch than reading the actual book. “Blade Runner” was based on a short story called “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” which was mostly just a concept, but the movie made it into a full-fledged and awesome story. Sherlock Holmes has been adapted in so many ways, with BBC’s “Sherlock” being the best among them in my opinion (can we please just agree that “Elementary” or Guy Ritchie’s movies are not Sherlock Holmes at all). The original short stories are excellent, but they’re… well, short. Even the ‘novels’ don’t reach a high page number. “Fight Club” had a better ending than the book, which is something the author himself has admitted. But the best example of making the book better has to be “Stardust”. I love Neil Gaiman to death, but that book is by far his worst. The book is just… It’s there and stuff happens but… I dunno, it’s weird. Everything felt so inconsequential. But the movie, oh man. Sure as hell liked that one. The movie felt so much more fleshed out and satisfying.
There’s another specific type of book that adapts really well to the screen, and I can only think of two examples of it: “The Neverending Story” and “The Princess Bride”. Both already have two layers, there’s the story in the real world and the one in the book they are reading. Maybe it’s because it’s just adding another layer in the form of a movie that makes it work really well. Or maybe it’s because they’re just really good stories and had directors who knew what they were doing. “Princess Bride” is another among both my favourite books and movies after all.
Then there’s books that have very little in common with their original material. “Frankenstein” is possibly a very good example, the book being much more philosophical in nature than most of the movies made about the monster. I haven’t actually seen it yet, but the 1994 version with Anthony Hopkins is supposed to be much closer to what Frankenstein actually is than any of the horror movies. But hey, what do you except with Kenneth Branagh, he made all those Shakespeare adaptations too.
Another example is “How to Train Your Dragon”, Toothless is a completely different species of dragon as well as personality wise, and dragons in the books are already ‘tamed’ for generations. “Cast Away” is just a more modern interpretation of “Robinson Crusoe” which is a very old book (but still very readable, unlike “Last of the Mohicans). The similarities are there, but otherwise I’d call them rather different. I’ll also include “Watership Down”, the movie more so than the series. The movie has this reputation of being dark as fuck, I’m pretty sure my brother (who’s ten years older than me) still doesn’t want to see it from the trauma he got when he saw the movie as a kid. But the book? Almost no one dies. Vervain and Campion do, and some unnamed does, but it’s not even sure if Woundwort was killed. Honorary mention is “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” which as a book is just a bestiary, but as a movie is the best thing I’ve seen all year. Newt Scamander is now, without a doubt, my favourite character in Rowling’s universe, even if he is a Hufflepuff.
We’re almost at the end, I promise. There’s two more examples I definitely wanted to talk about which are “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and “Neverwhere”. These are the odd ones out because they have been in book, radio and series form at one point, but in a different order. The Guide started as a radio play, and got turned into a mediocre TV series, an even worse movie, got a really weird game but also became a very, VERY good trilogy in five parts (with an ok sequel). “Neverwhere” started out as an absolutely horrible TV series, so Neil Gaiman, rightly so, wrote a book on how he had the whole story in mind. This book was later turned into a radio play with Natalie Dormer and James McAvoy with a much better result. I’m lucky that I wanted to read the book first, because holy hell that TV series was… Nyeah. It had Peter Capaldi in it as an angel, but even that couldn’t save it. Goes to show that radio isn’t dead.
One final part: comic book movies. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is different because they take ideas from old and new comics, but never really adapted a comic completely to the screen. In DC there’s that adaptation of “The Killing Joke” but I’ve seen nothing but bad reviews for that one. Which brings me to Alan Moore, who write “The Killing Joke” and many adapted comics even though he doesn’t like any of them. But yeah, Moore is a bit of an odd one. We have “Watchmen”, which is a Zack Snyder movie, so don’t expect any really deep meaning in the story. Looks great, but the comic is better, yeah. The message that Moore wanted to bring went completely lost among the visuals and Malin Åkerman’s boobs. “V for Vendetta” did it a lot better, but old man Moore still didn’t like it. I would agree that many people wouldn’t see the idea that Moore had but that’s mostly because many people don’t care about it as much as Moore himself does. Moore’s dissatisfaction with adapting his comics comes from when they adapted “From Hell” and especially “League of the Extraordinary Gentlemen”. Though LXG is not a good movie in any sense, I really enjoyed it when it first came out. It’s only been years after that, that I’ve read the actual comic and well, they’re two completely different things. The original LXG comic had Quatermain, Captain Nemo, Mina Harker, Jekyll/Hyde and the Invisible Man. No Sawyer, no Dorian Gray. The story is also completely different, Moriarty is in it (as are the related character of Sherlock, Mycroft and Sebastian Moran), as is Fu Manchu. Another reference is C. Auguste Dupin, which is a character from Edgar Allan Poe’s detective stories and therefore Sherlock’s precursor. Because yes, Poe wrote the first real detective story. The second LXG comic is pretty much War of the Worlds but at one point the Invisible Man is raped to death by Hyde. Moore’s comics are always bleak, but there were many things in LXG that disgusted even me. The style of drawing didn’t help much either.
But by far the best comic adaptation is Edgar Wright’s “Scott Pilgrim versus the World”. It’s a bit cheating, because the movie came out before the last comic was published, but hey, it’s Edgar Wright, he can’t do anything wrong for me. The whole movie is brought like a comic book and if you didn’t like the movie, even if that is an opinion, you’re wrong. Dead wrong. Absolutely wrong and I don’t want to be your friend anymore.
I’ve just taken a look at my books and comics to see if I had another good example of anything, but I only see Tamara Drewe. Good comic, but from the movie I only remember Gemma Arterton’s butt in a daisy duke. So how bad could the rest have been, really.
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