Why are book-to-movie adaptations always so bad?


When I was in college, the first movie “Percy Jackson” came out with great fanfare. Everyone was thrilled to see these exciting books about children struggling with magical powers displayed on the screen in all its glory. These movie adaptations were meant to be big, capturing the audiences’ imaginations; they were supposed to be the next “Harry Potter”. Spoiler alert! They weren’t. In fact, those films did nothing more than spawn a generation of young nerds devoted to Riordan’s literary world – kids who walked around touting the eternal slogan found on coffee mugs and Etsy’s t-shirts: the book was better.

In theory, nothing should make you happier than sitting in front of a big screen, popcorn in hand, to watch movie adaptations of some of your favorite stories. But nothing is worse than seeing it done in such a disastrous way, as if the director decided to make the movie a few degrees too far to the left – the casting isn’t quite right, the costume design is anachronistic, they skipped a few scenes here and there that were key to the story. Fans of the book range from ecstasy to grumbling to foaming mouth when they see how their favorite literature has been slaughtered by Hollywood.

I was definitely closer to the latter when I saw how “Percy Jackson” was treated. And people had equally strong reactions when they saw the Lord of the Rings movies or the Bourne franchise, or a number of other books adapted for the big screen. While some of these films did their job, most people found more than enough issues with the adaptations. But why exactly are book-to-movie or book-to-TV adaptations still missing in one way or another? When directors take stories originally designed for the page and project them onto the screen, what do they forget that is causing fandom riots?

The main criticism that book fans have of their cinematic counterparts revolves around the accuracy of the adaptation – the success of a movie or TV show adaptation stems from its loyalty to its source material. And sometimes it’s pretty literal: “Percy Jackson” fans were angry when the movie version of Annabeth’s hair was brunette, because in the books her blonde hair is one of her hallmarks. A seemingly minor choice like this on the part of the director took a toll on audience confidence in the film and therefore had an impact on its commercial success, which was severe enough that in the second film “Percy Jackson” the actress’ hair was dyed blonde.

But when fans say that a film adaptation of a book is inaccurate, they’re not just talking about how the actors look or the plot of the story. They also mean that the on-screen version doesn’t do their beloved characters justice. The emotional arcs and physical journeys that a book generously explores for each of its characters aren’t typically portrayed on television. On top of that, people experience the same book in radically different ways; the readers’ own life experiences inform their individualized conceptions of the characters.

The literary medium offers great latitude to creators: because it is a simple and accessible medium, the real story can afford to be as long and complicated as the creator wishes. But the film, according to Atlantic, is so closely tied to marketability and commercial viability that it becomes difficult to engage with and describe the complexity of the book. The world of cinema is hampered by a lot of things that don’t quite affect literature in the same way: a tight budget, time constraints, and traditional standards of achievement (which include distinguishing between realist and realist). offensive).

In other words, literature has the privilege of experimentation. Writers can creatively and extensively draw the trials and tribulations of their characters as they see fit. This doesn’t mean that writing novels frees you from the worry of commercial success, but a successful novel is determined by very different parameters than a successful film.

As an article in Slate puts it, “Novels are long, but movies are short. It is impossible to summarize the changes in tone of a book… in a feature film. The demands of the cinematic medium generally don’t leave much room for exploring complex human interiority like the space on the page does, so “the film replaces the character with the plot, and the result lands with a wet flop.” .

The “Harry Potter” franchise is arguably one of the best and most successful modern film adaptations, which deserves no introduction – its cult has not waned over the years and it still inspires people across the world. These films succeeded where many film adaptations failed – his age-appropriate cast and set design were two of his main strengths, not to mention the fact that throughout the franchise he’s pulled from many lines directly from the books themselves.

Thus, he never lost sight of the text he was trying to bring to life. Now the actors are forever associated with their Potter counterparts, for better or for worse, and they have indelibly rewritten the way fans conceptualize characters. In fact, it may be true that the Potter films were indeed better than their source – especially in the second half of the main franchise, the films engaged in obscurity in the books Rowling didn’t often explain, because of them. being children’s novels.

Films are teamwork in exactly the same way that novels written by one person usually aren’t – the Potter films were monumental successes not only because they were inspired by books that were also monumental successes, but because the directors worked hand in hand with the actors, sound designers, artistic directors and editors, who all brought different perspectives to the creation of the same product. This collaboration ensured that “the film actually [fixed] book problems ”- a rarity.

But what happens when one movie adaptation tries to fix another? In 2013, “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” by author Cassandra Clare was made into a movie and received a whopping 14% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Suffice it to say, the film was a painful disappointment after a book full of humor, effective world-building, and (YA’s favorite trope) lots of beautiful teens with magical powers. For three years everyone thought that was the end of “The Mortal Instruments” onscreen, but Freeform then invaded the franchise to create a TV show based on the book and called it “Shadowhunters” . A new cast, a new ensemble and new eyes. The fans were thrilled.

It’s not often – or never, really – that beloved books are remade onscreen. “Shadowhunters” executive producer Ed Decter said Clare’s books get so packed that any movie would flounder trying to show it all at once. “One of the great things about books,” he said in an interview, “is that they really should have been a TV show from the start.” The TV show slowed down the narrative considerably, taking it as the books wrote it and using the precious time it had to accurately represent the backstory and interiority of each character. Alas, all good things come to an end – this show was also canceled after three seasons for financial reasons.

The struggle between film adaptations and their literary sources ultimately boils down to the limits of the two art forms. While books can have the luxury of flexibility, they require effort and commitment from their readers in ways that the film does not. On screen, and with good actors, audiences enjoy seeing little quirks – a smirk between the lines of dialogue, a stare held a little too long, screams and cries layered over the course of an emotional fight – which run the risk of sounding stilted and unnatural when written. Books allow their readers to create alongside their authors; the films let their spectators live the experience alongside their directors.

The two mediums work best when they complement each other. The film adaptation is at its peak when it borrows for good from her book, which has its own ways of paying homage to the films. In 2005, when “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” came out in print, the films had already been in production for four years. And there’s a little moment buried in the pages of the sixth book where the two counterparts come together nicely: old Professor Slughorn mistakenly calls Ron Weasley as “Rupert,” which is, of course, the name of the actor who has. played Ron. In this lightning-fast moment, the film and the book come together – and it’s magical in that.


Comments are closed.