from book to film…

… when a series or movie fails to do a  book justice

One of the more popular things for the entertainment industry to do in our modern age is to adapt books to major motion pictures or television series. Doing so is a challenge because they have two heavy responsibilities in their adaptation — to do the original author justice while appealing to the fans.

There are the easygoing and the rabid fans. The former don’t mind changes to the original source material provided it does not go too far, while the latter are book devotees who demand that any deviations from the source material be minor. Their ideal is a flawless adaptation true to every line of the novel(s). Where I stand tends to fall somewhere in between.I had my first encounter with rabid fans after the first Lord of the Rings film premiered. Some were thrilled, others were furious, and as the films came out there was greater division among the ranks. Certain groups thought it was a magnificent adaptation and did not mind the changes, while others were angry that Tolkien’s works had been tampered with — scenes changed around, characters left out, romances amplified or downplayed according to the director’s vision.

My introduction to the series was through reading the books once I heard the first movie was coming out. I found the books somewhat tedious but fascinating and when I saw the movie, I did not find fault with most of Peter Jackson’s changes. I was sorry that an important romantic subplot was pretty much overlooked, but loved that he also made Arwen much more of a memorable character rather than a distant woman that the reader fails to get to know. I felt the changes were an improvement in some respects and that Tolkien’s untouched original vision could never really be brought to the big screen. It is simply too massive to contemplate. All that mattered to me was preserving his vision, and I believe the movies accomplished that by keeping the characters true to their literary counterparts.

I seem to be a little less forgiving, however, when it comes to adaptations of the Harry Potter novels. I understand the reasons for deviating somewhat from the source material but also believe that in some respects the directors’ different “takes” on it have diminished the charm of the books. There is such a focus on the important aspects of the books in the films that we often lose the characters and what makes them so wonderful. The audience only has small glimpses of Professor Lupin and so unless they had read the books, would not be all that fond of him. But once you read his touching moments with his students and in particular, Mrs. Weasley, your heart falls in love with him — as it does all the others. One tends to miss the smaller moments between the characters and also note in retrospect that the screenwriters have written themselves into a corner — now they must explain and introduce everything they “left out” in earlier films that is important in the final chapter.

It was not until the films came along that I fully understood a “rabid fan” response because mine kicked in. I love the movies but they cannot hold a candle to the books and in some regards deviate tremendously from the originals. (I would love to know why Narcissa Malfoy is a brunette in the films, and a blonde in the books — and why the entire cast with the exception of the children are all 20 years too old for their roles.)

The most faithful adaptation I have seen of a novel so far has been Twilight. Its fans should be satisfied with the script because it follows the book without hesitation. None of the characters are tampered with and there are no scenes that are inconsistant with the author’s work (so far, New Moon might take liberties to further incorporate the Cullen family). The majority of the book fans are happy with the movie, which did a great job of reflecting the book.

Two different book series have been recently adapted for television. The first is The Vampire Diaries. Based off a book series by the same name, it revolves around a young woman who falls in love with a vampire. Originally published in the early 1990’s, it was the first vampire series aimed at young adults. But it doesn’t stop at vampires — there are witches and werewolves too and one might even argue that certain aspects of the books found their way into the popular Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series. (The resemblance in some regards is unmistakable.) Having read the books and seen a decent chunk of the first season of the show, my impression is that it is not a good adaptation of the source material — the series stands alone, drawing a few things here and there from the author for inspiration but largely rewriting and recreating all the characters. The only one remotely similar to his literary counterpart is Stefan.

Therein lies my quandary. I think the television series is superior to the books, that they have improved on the plot and taken it in new, challenging, and unexpected (even controversial) directions. However… in doing so, they have also managed to completely change all her characters… and as a writer, that annoys me. It irritates me that Damon in the books is tall, dark, and mysterious but not a murderer. In the book he is responsible for one death; in the series, he has already wracked up an impressive body count — including two people who should have meant something to him. The author aspect of me cannot help feeling a little offended, however much the show is luring me in.

The other television series based off a popular book series is The Legend of the Seeker. Once again, the show has deviated in many respects from the source material — sometimes in little, subtle ways and in others, in much more dramatic fashion, especially when it comes to a certain issue of parentage. (I am not a fan of this particular difference, since I believe the book’s alternative makes much more sense in the general arc of the story.) I am not in love with the books by any means, for I find them tediously long and needlessly graphic in content, but I love the series because the characters are true to their literary counterparts. Some episodes are right out of the book. Others are pure invention, but each one is magnificent. It is close enough to please the author and most of the fans.

For me, my reaction to changes from the source material are all tied into whether or not it is compliant with the author’s original vision. I try and remain fair in my judgment and not allow prejudice to intrude too much, but there are some things that should never be done. The recent series of books “loosely based” on Jane Austen’s novels is a good example. Miss Bennett fighting zombies? Marianne Dashwood falling in love with a sea monster named Colonel Brandon?

That to me is going too far.

2 Replies to “from book to film…”

  1. Ever read the Women of the Otherworld series of books? If you have read “Bitten” you might like the series that has recently come out of the same name. It is the closest I have seen a TV series follow the original work in a long time. Yeah, the show takes a huge left turn in the last couple of episodes, but for the most part is was like watching the book.

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