Books into Movies - the best and the worst

Books into Movies – The Best and the Worst

With the 90th Academy Awards ceremony taking place a few days ago, movies are still a major topic of conversation. Going to the movies is one of my favourite pastimes. You can keep your Netflix – nothing beats seeing a movie on the big screen.  I love the escapism of a couple of hours of being transported into another life in another world, and on the big screen with its magnified visual and sound effects, you can really immerse yourself in the experience.

Research with popcorn

In my blog post Taking the Guilt out of Guilty Pleasures I talk about going to the movies when I’m supposed to be writing, but the great thing about being an author is that I can justify it as research.   Movies often give me ideas for plots or characters and I have learnt a lot about story construction and characterisation from watching them.

Over the last few years, a large number of the movies I’ve seen have either been based on true events or adapted from books. What’s happened to original screenplays? Maybe the movie studio moguls are playing it safe by sticking to the tried and true.

Everyone’s a critic

In any case, it always makes for interesting conversation, particularly around movies adapted from books – everyone has an opinion as to whether the movie was as good as/better/worse than the book.

However, comparing a movie to a book is like comparing apples to oranges. Many people, particularly if they loved the book, are disappointed when the movie strays from the original story. But they are two entirely different forms of creative expression, and adapting a movie from a book often means that bits have to be left out and other bits added in.  

Book vs movie

Realistically a book and its movie adaptation should each be judged on its own merits, but it’s impossible not to compare them, even if just from the point of view of the impact each had on you. One thing I won’t do is read the book after I’ve seen the movie. When reading a book I like to see the characters and the story unfolding in my own imagination; once I’ve seen the movie, it will superimpose its images on my mind, which to me makes the book less enjoyable.

If I’m intending to read a certain book, I make a point of not seeing the movie until I’ve read it. That was why I was more than happy to go to the cinema to see The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trilogy of movies. I knew there was no way I’d get around to reading the books, at over 600 pages each.

The worst movie adaptations

While researching opinions on the best and worst book to movie adaptations, I found that the main objections critics had in the ‘worst’ department was getting the main characters totally wrong, and not being faithful to the theme and/or the emotional essence of the book.

Here are some of the most commonly regarded failures as book to movie adaptations:

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  Almost universally panned.  Described by one critic as ‘taking a classic American novel of atonement and turning it into a romance/feminist tale.’

The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe. Many think that Tom Hanks was miscast in the leading role and the movie has been described as boring and shallow, with none of the satirical bite of the book.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald  (1974 and 2013 versions, but especially the latter).   Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 version has been described as an ‘over-the-top extravaganza,’ a case of style over substance.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.  According to many Douglas Adams fans, it was a gimmicky film lacking most of the wit, charm and heart of the book.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.  This movie has been criticised for leaving out the all-important spiritual element of the story and making the main character a whiny Miss Privilege, more annoying than inspiring.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.  This has been described as turning an original and moving story into an awkward, unsatisfying and melodramatic movie, lacking much of the science fiction that added to its richness.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. The movie is criticised as being dull compared to the exciting, fast-paced book and a ‘lumbering mess.’  Many think Tom Hanks was miscast and much has been written about his strange hair style in this movie.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. Not everyone was a fan of director Peter Jackson’s CGI in this movie. One critic described it as a ‘complex narrative about intimacy, family, and grief reduced to a redundant crime and punishment thriller, tarted up with gaudy supernatural visuals.’

There is one movie I’ve seen that stands out in my memory and that’s One Day, by David Nicholls. The book is about a young couple who, after a one night stand, go their separate ways, despite being very attracted to each other. The story follows them as they meet on the same day every year, on the anniversary of their meeting, to catch up with each other’s lives.  The book is brilliant, full of humour and pathos, but to my mind the movie was stodgy and flat, with none of the sparkle and heart of the book.  

There are others who agree with me, and the strangest part is that the author, who is an experienced screenwriter, wrote the screenplay. It suggests that sometimes the author may not necessarily be the best person to do their own adaptation; perhaps he was too close to it to do it justice.

The best movie adaptations

And now (drum roll) here are some of the best adaptations of books to movies, according to my Google search.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  Who could argue with Gregory Peck as the heroic Atticus Finch? He won an Academy Award for his role and the movie won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. And who could argue with Anthony Hopkins’ brilliant portrayal of Hannibal Lecter?  A tense, creepy movie - I had nightmares for weeks after seeing it.

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk.  A mesmerizing movie – even the author applauded the adaptation.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey. I saw this movie eons ago but can still clearly recall the characters and some of the scenes.  Kesey was quoted as saying that he hated the screenplay and Jack Nicholson, though allegedly never saw the movie.

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. As one critic said, ‘The subject matter is undeniably bleak, but the adaptation kept the humour and urgency of the original book.’

The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies by J.R.R. Tolkien. I’d be lynched if I didn’t include these. Although, to put my two cents worth in, I think some of the movies were too long.  Come on, do you really need 10 minutes for a fight scene?

The Harry Potter series by J.K.Rowling. I only saw the first one, but fans say they’re all outstanding.

The Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King. One of his best-loved books, and a memorable movie with top actors.  King himself loved the movie adaptation.

These are just the tip of the iceberg – I’m sure there are many more you’d like to add in the worst and best categories. Or maybe you disagree with some of the above ratings.  Share your opinion in the comments box below.

About the Author Robin Storey

Robin Storey is an Australian author from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. She is a certified book nerd and has no weird hobbies or unusual pets.

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2 comments
wyrwolf says March 10, 2018

No mention of The Princess Bride??

Reply
    Robin Storey says March 11, 2018

    Hi
    I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, so I can’t comment from personal experience – I gather you’re nominating it for inclusion in the best movie adaptation list?

    Reply
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