Movie adaptations that excelled and failed

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Before I started college, I never gave much thought to the concept of movies and TV shows originally adapted from books. If I’m being completely honest, there have been times when I’ve been surprised to learn that a certain movie started life as a book, and only then with the help of a little (or a lot) ) of Creative Licensing did it on our screens.

I first thought seriously about booking film adaptations in a module I studied last year. My first admission here has to be that I didn’t realize Amy Heckerling’s Clueless was loosely based on Jane Austen’s novel Emma. But when you stop and think, the indicators are there.

There is a long debate around adaptations. Some think watching the movie ruins the book first, and vice versa, but I’ve always done a mix of the two for as long as I can remember and haven’t felt it was a negative thing. That said, however, film adaptations can be deceptive at times.

In this post, I’ll talk about the adaptations that I thought were really good and the ones that just didn’t get hold of me. Those who improved the source material for the book, and those who didn’t. Hope this saves you some time and gives you some useful recommendations in the process.

Distraught (1995):

Like I said before, the first time I looked Distraught, I had no idea that it was based on Jane Austen’s novel. Looking back, this was a good thing as I had no preconceived ideas on how best to present the novel in film form. Your typical coming-of-age American movie, Distraught is a classic. Full of high school drama and teenagers navigating different relationships, this is a great movie for a weekend getaway where you want to take it easy. Although it is based very loosely on the plot of the novel with many aspects changed, the main points can still be followed and the story comes to life even more.

Sanditon (2019):

For now, to stay on the Jane Austen theme, the next TV series I want to mention is Sanditon. It was one of my favorite shows lately. The love story between the main characters Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams) and Sidney Parker (Theo James) grabbed me. At first he can’t stand her, at least he does, and as they go from antagonists to lovers, the plot becomes more and more intriguing. However, I made the mistake this time to watch the series and then read the book, which seriously disappointed me. Nowhere in Austen’s unfinished novel can this love plot be seen; it really is a case of creative licensing at its best. I would say watch the show but drop the book.

The Wuthering Heights (2009):

It’s no secret that The Wuthering Heights is my favorite book. I do admit, however, that its complex plot, multiple narrators, and the fact that half of the characters share the same name make for a tricky initial read. For those looking for a more accessible version, I would highly recommend the 2009 series with Tom Hardy as Heathcliff. Maybe it’s the fact that the main cast are married in real life, but the chemistry between them is undeniable and as passionate as I imagine in the book. While there are big differences, like the complete removal of the younger generation, this is definitely a series to binge on.

The Hobbit (2012):

I had to see The Hobbit aired on tv at least twice every Christmas, but i really feel like it doesn’t live up to the magic of the book. Of the three films in the series, the first one is the best but from there it’s going downhill. The first thing wrong with film adaptations is the sheer number of them: why do we need three when one would be great? Movies often seem unnecessarily stretched with long action scenes that don’t move the story forward. These films were definitely a flop.

Gatsby the magnificent (2013):

As much as I loved Leonardo DiCaprio in Romeo and Juliet and Titanic, this movie just didn’t do it for me. I remember watching it long before I studied the book in school and being completely disappointed at the end of it. I’m not the type to make feature films and since the novel is quite short, I didn’t like the 142 minutes length. There are a few big plot twists that just aren’t necessary, like the central prospect of Nick looking back on his summer with Gatsby rather than just being a regular salesman like in the book.


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