Why Book-to-Movie Adaptations Are So Freaking Hard

  1. Because you're squishing a whole novel -- which, if adapted scene-for-scene would be about 4-8 hours -- into a tiny, tiny 2-hour box.
  2. Because you're turning words that can describe anything into pure sight and sound. If the characters don't say it or do it on-screen, it never happened.
  3. Because you're taking the individual interpretations of thousands of readers and saying, "No, actually, this is what it was like."
All of which guarantees somebody will be unhappy. Honestly, I'm shocked whenever an adaptation is actually good.

Although admittedly, sometimes even a really bad adaptation can get me to read the book.

What's your favorite book-to-movie adaptation? What's your least favorite?

Other than Lord of the Rings (which was nigh-PERFECT), I thought they did a good job with Watchmen. Yeah, they took away Adrian's self-doubt at the end, but I liked how Adrian framed Manhattan instead of a random alien. It was the first time I thought an adaptation actually improved on the source.

17 comments:

maine character said...

Stephen King's "Shawshank Redemption" would probably be my favorite.

And it looks like "How to Train Your Dragon" improved on the original.

Don't even want to think of what my least favorite would be, but so many books, like "Farenheit 451," owe so much to the language that no film will match the experience of reading it.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I totally vote for How to Train Your Dragon for best adaptation- but then the movie wasn't ANYTHING like the book. And I think they truly did an exceptional job with the Harry Potter movies. Worst: The Lightning Thief ...so, so sad.

Nathan said...

"The Princess Bride" scored high for me. In fact, the movie is actually better than the book in some parts (e.g. replacing sharks with shrieking eels).

This is more of a comic book-to-movie, but I was greatly disappointed in Marvel's adaptation of Daredevil for the big screen. Ben Affleck is no Matt Murdock.

Cap'n Heine said...

Princess Bride was a surprisingly accurate adaptation (although the Pit of Despair was a Zoo of Death in the book).

Count of Monte Cristo may be my favorite even though it greatly simplifies the plot from the book.

I'll have to get back to you on the worst...I must have blocked it out of my memory whatever it was.

Marcy Bates said...

My kids love reading a book and then seeing the movie right away so we notice more changes than normal. I thought they did a good job with Hugo. We discuss why they make changes and what has to be left out. My pet peeve is stupid changes that do nothing for the movie. Giant bugs in City of Ember, a lot of the changes in the Narnia movies, and especially Percy Jasckson. They left out a main character and the whole motivation. Another horrible one which only took the title of the book and very little else - Mr. Popper's Penguins.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

I enjoyed the Hunger Games. It turned out better than the book.

R.S. Bohn said...

It's not a movie, but I have to say that I am immensely enjoying the Game Of Thrones tv series. I'm surprised at how accurate it's been, especially considering how much had to be cut to put all of book one into a single season. I'm even down with the acting choices, though initial photos put me off.

LOTR -- We have the extended versions on dvd. We will stay in an entire day and watch them, one after the other. Some of the best film work ever.

Daisy Carter said...

I really loved Sorcerer's Stone. I had just read the first 4 books over a weekend before I went to the movie. I sat there almost teary-eyed (okay, okay, I bawled) because I felt like the pictures in my head were alive onscreen. I did NOT feel that way about all of them, but the first really was perfect to me.

I agree with those above about Shawshank, Princess Bride, and LOTRs. They were all pretty spot-on. And Forrest Gump really improved on the book, I thought. Great post!

MattyDub said...

I think you were trolling me with the LotR comment, weren't you? It was a good set of films (the extended versions are better, I think), but some of the changes they made were simply gratuitous. There was no reason to have Elves at Helm's Deep, there was no reason to have Aragorn be a reluctant hero, stuff like that. I have no problem with not including Fatty, or Bombadil, or Glorfindel, or anything like that - some changes were necessary, and well-done. Some were gratuitous.
I seem to have less problems with cutting things out than adding things. I never noticed that 'til now.

Adam Heine said...

It's funny, I've had one person tell me they didn't like the Watchmen adaptation, and now one saying they didn't like LOTR. Which of course just proves my point that you just can't win with adaptations ;-) (I bet someone out there even liked the Eragon movie).

I don't mind additions or cuts if they don't screw up some critical part of the movie. "Critical," of course, being purely subjective (I remember the first time I saw Jurassic Park, I was mad they didn't include the aviary). Those particular additions didn't bother me, and heck if I'm not totally in love with Viggo's Aragorn :-)

Adam Heine said...

Ugh, yeah. I don't hate Ben Affleck or anything, but that movie made me sad on a number of levels.

Peggy Eddleman said...

Haha! That's funny, because I was totally going with LOTR for most well done, and Eragon (I'm darn near positive) will ALWAYS be my least favorite adaptation. And I'm pretty forgiving. I know how hard it must be! But I'm still sad when I pictured scenes in my head while reading, just HOPING that they'll make a movie of it so I can see it.... and then they butcher it.

Deniz Bevan said...

The most recent one was Crazy Heart - I read the book after seeing the movie, and boy was the movie better! The book had no redemption at the end at all...

Aidyl Ewoh said...

I actually don’t watch many movies, but what you said makes a lot of sense! =)
~Aidyl
www.aidylewoh.blogspot.com

Myrna Foster said...

My favorite is THE PRINCESS BRIDE. ELLA ENCHANTED is my least favorite, but I think the people who adapted THE LIGHTNING THIEF really blew it, too. If they'd just followed the book, they could have had the next HP-like franchise. But no, they had to make the MCs too old and leave important characters out and tick off the fans.

Sam55129 said...

There is that moment when you see that a book has been adapted, and you kind of panic because books translated to the big screen is NOTORIOUSLY bad. It's all about perspective, right? But there are definitely the top ten! Although that is always up to debate. http://thecelebritycafe.com/feature/2012/04/top-ten-movies-based-books really got the list right.

Ruby Melody said...

I think they did a really good job with the Harry Potter movies considering their length and detail but I have to say my least favorite adaptation is My Sister's Keeper. I admired the book for it's courage and willingness not to be about the girl with cancer but when I saw the movie and realized that it really was about the girl with cancer, my heart sank. Not to mention the fact that a totally different character died had me ranting for weeks. It was like watching Marie Antoinette all over again, I was expecting for her head to be chopped off but instead I got some blockbustery ending. What I usually do to avoid this kind of thing from happening is I watch the movie first - if possible. That way it makes it easier to think of them as two separate entities. If you watch the movie after reading the book you're expecting it to be exactly like you read it and if it doesn't live up to your expectations the movie is ruined for you when it could have actually been a great movie. On the other hand, if you watch the movie before reading the book, you had an enjoyable movie experience and when you read the book you have yet another great experience that enhances the story even more because you are given such detail and background that could never be portrayed in a 2 hour block or even a particular scene. I'm sure My Sister's Keeper was a good film but I will never have a fond movie experience with that movie because I read the book first