From the Page to the Screen: My Favorite and Least Favorite Movie Adaptations

Posted March 25, 2013 by Stormy in Blogging, Books / 17 Comments

So, I have a confession: I’m not much of a movie person. I mean, I have my movies I absolutely love: Singing in the Rain and A Beautiful Mind and a handful of others, but on the whole, I would say I watch movies a LOT less than the average person. I go to the theater maybe three times a year(in 2012, I went three times, but I saw the same movie each time) and watch maybe one movie a month at home. Maybe. TV shows, on the other hand, I watch without self-control. TV just appeals to me a lot more than movies do; I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because TV shows can have more complicated plot lines and more character arcs, since they’re not confined to a two to three hour time limit, and instead you get anywhere from ten to twenty hours of storyline per season.

That being said, it’s become a trend that books become movies(with a few exceptions). Off the top of my head, I know that Beautiful Creatures, Divergent, and the Mortal Instrument series have all been made into movies recently or in the process of being made into movies. Not that I’ve done the heavy statistical research on this, but I would guess probably at least 60% of the YA series I’ve read in the past two years are being adapted into movies(and that’s a low estimate).

I don’t know about you, but I know my reaction when a book I loved is being made into a movie is about equal parts excitement and fear. Yay–I get to see my favorite characters acted and come to life! and ohmygoodnesswhatiftheytotallyruinthestory? I am by no means a purist when it comes to adaptations. I don’t mind deleted or added scenes as long as they add to the overall story line. This is what I really want in a movie adaptation:

  • Characterization remains intact.

Nothing, and I mean, nothing, makes me hate a movie adaptation more than when they mess up the characters. Plot is important, but good characterization is essential. As much as I love a good plot, personally, characterization is the primary reason I read. I love a good character!

  • The tone is right.

If the book is hopeful, then the movie should be hopeful, even if certain plot elements change. If the book is dark, the movie should be dark. Really, this should be a non-issue, but it’s amazing how many movie adaptations mess this one up.

  • The basic plot is the same.

Again, I don’t care if you add or take away certain plot elements, but the main story should be the same. Not every scene needs to be appear on the screen exactly like it did in the books, but the movie should, at the very least, match the synopsis given on the back of the book.

Some producers and directors get movie adaptations spot-on, while others make me leave the theater desperate to get the last two and a half hours of my life back. Here’s how I break down a few movie adaptations:

The Excellent:

  • The Lord of the Rings

Tolkien’s original works were such a sprawling, epic fantasy, and Peter Jackson did such an amazing job in keeping the atmosphere. Even when things were changed, scenes were moved around, or characters were deleted, I couldn’t even be mad because the world was so real and the story still so epic.

  • The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games is one of my favorite movie adaptations ever. I can’t believe some people didn’t like it. Yes, there were a few annoyances like Madge not being in the movie, but on the whole, it stayed incredibly true to the book for a movie adaptation. And, another confession: I like Katniss’ characterization in the movie even more than in the books.

The Good:

  • Harry Potter

Harry Potter is hard to categorize because it’s eight movies. Eight! That’s a lot of movies, a lot of release dates, and a lot of directors. I loved the adaptation of the Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows part 2, while I couldn’t stand the movie for The Goblet of Fire. Still, on the whole, the Harry Potter series did a really good job of growing up with Harry. I find the latter movies especially terrific.

  • Pride and Prejudice

I know some Jane Austen purists aren’t fans of the 2005 Pride and Prejudice version, but I really enjoy it. This movie is what made me interested in Austen’s work in the first place. Now, of course, I prefer the book, but I think this movie really captures the essence of what makes Austen’s story so timeless.

  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

This is the only Narnia adaptation that did the book justice, in my opinion, and it’s one of those movies I never tire of watching. It really captures the feel and wonder of discovering Narnia for the first time. I added the clip from the first time Lucy discovers Narnia. Even when they changed events of the books, this movie always felt like Narnia to me.

The “Meh”

  • The Time Traveler’s Wife

I actually like this movie better than the book, but as an adaptation I find it slightly lacking. It doesn’t stay as true to tone as I like my movie adaptations to.

  • The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

There’s enough good here to save it from the bad pile, but Peter’s character was changed so much that he was almost unrecognizable, and there were added scenes that didn’t really move the plot along. However, all my favorite moments from the book were kept and I still found the story decently entertaining.

The Bad:

  • Ella Enchanted

Ugh. Added unnecessary story lines, weird singing, and an evil uncle? No, thank you. I prefer to pretend this movie doesn’t exist and just read the book instead. I do enjoy parts of the soundtrack, though.

  • The Da Vinci Code

Granted, I’m not much a fan of the book either, especially after having to write a paper on all the ways Brown messes with church history, but the movie in particular is not great visual storytelling. I rented this movie with my mom and we both fell asleep halfway through. At least the book was exciting.

What’s your thoughts on movie adaptations? What’s do you think is most important for a movie adaptation of a favorite novel to get right?

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17 responses to “From the Page to the Screen: My Favorite and Least Favorite Movie Adaptations

  1. I 90% agree with your list here. I think “The Lord of the Rings,” “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” and “The Hunger Games” were excellent; “Harry Potter” was between meh and good; “Pride and Prejudice” was meh; and “Ella Enchanted” was bloody awful. I haven’t read “The Da Vinci Code” yet, but I loved the movie.

  2. Oh gosh, the Da Vinci Code. Urgh. One of the worst damn movies I ever wasted time on ever. Ditto for Alice in Wonderland though, I felt that they really violated the essence of the books.

    Full agreed about Lord of the Rings though! Those movies make me proud to be a New Zealander.

  3. Love this post. I always feel a bit odd when colleagues discuss the movies they watch. They get through more in 1 weekend than I do in a couple of months. But I would honestly rather be reading, I prefer the insights you get from a book. The movies I get excited about are ones where i read the book first.
    Pet hate is when the ending is changed or the acting is bad and leaves the book down.
    The Hunger Games was great but the book will always be superior as its just more intense and I prefer to know what the character is thinking rather than having to interpret it from their actions.
    I haven’t read The Help though and its one where I have heard the film is better. Will have to check both out someday just to see.

  4. I’m the same way, I don’t watch very many movies (but I adore Singing in the Rain too) and I definitely prefer reading and TV shows to them. I agree, a big factor in a book-to-move adaption is that the movie characters stay true to the book characters. However, I’ve noticed that even though a lot of book-to-movie adaptions can be good, I like them better if I don’t compare them to the original books. For instance, even though I thought that the Princess Diaries movie was cute and I enjoyed it, I was very annoyed that they took a lot of the humor and characterization out that the original books had.

    Alice @ Alice in Readerland

  5. I’m weird and I actually really enjoyed Ella Enchanted, but I think the fact that I saw it before I read it comes into play in my enjoyment. I thought it was really cute and fun, but I can see why people dislike it so much. But I agree how the Hunger Games was excellent, and I thought Narnia was really good! I haven’t seen the others, and don’t anticipate seeing them very soon, considering the things I’ve heard about this other movies, but I was delightfully impressed with the first movie. And I love the Harry Potter movies, but as adaptations they’re not the best. Obviously they can’t fit everything from the books into the movies, but they leave a LOT out. On their own, however, I think they’re brilliant. Great post!

    • The Harry Potter movies are just kind of weird as adaptations. I think it didn’t help that they started the movies before all the books were released. I know J.K. Rowling was involved to tell them what HAD to go in each movie to fit the story, but as things changed later it became kinda clear in certain places where they messed that up.

  6. Ella Enchanted was TERRIBLE! I thought it was going to be amazing, but it made me hate Anne Hathaway for years. She’s back in my good books because of The Dark Knight Rises 😛 I loved The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (book and movie), and I think I cried after the movie was over because it was that good. I like how you didn’t put The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, because it was that bad haha.

    I actually liked the Da Vinci Code, mostly because Ian McKellen is in it, and I haven’t seen a movie where he’s the bad guy since X-Men.

    The Harry Potter movies were okay. I liked the first three, when the actors were cute and their bad acting could be excused because they were so young, and I liked the Half-Blood Prince, but the rest of the movies were kind of meh for me. Haha Lord of the Rings, well duh, best movies ever made. What did you think about The Hobbit?

    • I remember being excited for Ella Enchanted because at the time I knew Anne Hathaway only from the Princess Diaries. Then that happened and I had a similar reaction.

      The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was such a WEIRD way to do a Narnia movie. Prince Caspian had it’s faults, for sure, but there was a certain element that made me at least find it forgivable? Where as after I saw the Dawn Treader the first time I didn’t mind it. I left the theater less angry than I did Prince Caspian, but the more I THOUGHT about the movie the angrier I became. Green mist? Really? I have really weird feelings on that movie in general, and I haven’t wanted to see it again.

      I really liked The Hobbit, but it’s been awhile since I read the books so it wasn’t fresh it my mind. I’m still skeptical about it being drawn out into 3 movies, even with the extra stuff from other stories, but I LOVED returning to Middle Earth, and I think I’ll like all the movies because of that. Peter Jackson and team just did such a good job of making the world seem so REAL.

      • I’m really excited that it’s 3 movies because Peter Jackson is using elements from the LotR appendixes which he couldn’t use for the first three movies, and I think he incorporates them really well into The Hobbit (so far). Martin Freeman is perfect at Bilbo. He makes the movie for me.

  7. Asti (A Bookish Heart)

    I think you hit the nail on the head when it comes to what I want in a movie adaptation. I don’t mind if minor aspects of the story are changed or neglected, as long as the overall plot and tone are there and the main characters stay true to who they are. I mean, I know prior to being adapted into a movie Stephenie Meyer had trouble with Twilight because movie producers wanted to change the vampires to have generic sharp teeth and whatnot, so I’m glad that even though the movie is corny it sticks to the book.

    There is never any real comparison between a book and a movie, because a relationship with a book is so much better. I just always hope that the movie will be respectful towards the work of the book, and encourage others to read!

    • A relationship with a book is generally so much better because I think it IS a relationship. There’s something slightly more interactive, at least for me, about reading a book than watching a movie. Reading a book and imagining what’s going on means I bring my own interpretation to the table. We interpret movies too, for sure, but there’s just so much more filled out for us already.

  8. Love this post! The Hunger Games exceeded my expectations quite a bit, as did the first (recent) Narnia movie. Your Harry Potter movies made me laugh because it’s the exact opposite for me: I frequently rant about HP and the Half-Blood Prince, but loved Goblet of Fire. Hehe! The casting for Divergent is making me nervous, but then so did the casting for The Hunger Games and that turned out well.

    • Harry Potter movies are so hard to agree on! I was talking to a group of friends about the movies recently, and we were pretty much evenly split on this issue. Two of us really disliked the Goblet of Fire movie, while two others said it was there favorite movie.
      I’m not entirely convinced for the casting of Divergent at this point, but I’m not exactly upset/disagree with it. I think I’m mostly apprehensive at this point.

  9. Great post! I did a similar one a few weeks ago, but I love how you spelled out the characteristics of a good movie adaptation. I completely agree with The Hunger Games…I was unsure how they would visualize it and still make it OK for the intended YA audience, but they did an amazing job. Also, ditto on Da Vinci Code…the movie didn’t do it for me (neither did Angels and Demons).

    • I was VERY worried about The Hunger Games before hand and was nervous about the direction they would choose to go about portraying the violence and horror of the world that Collins created, but I was completely amazed.

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