Reader Question: Book to screen adaptations

This question’s a two-parter:

What is your favorite book to movie or book to TV show adaptation?

I find that screen adaptations of books almost always fall short (often far short) of the book. If a movie sounds interesting and I know it’s based on a book, I try to read the book before I see the movie, because I assume the book version will be better and I want my experience of it to be unaffected by other interpretations.

This isn’t totally the fault of the adapters. Stories are told in books in very different ways than on the screen, and it’s hard to translate the techniques of one medium into the other effectively. Plus a 400 page book would take up at least 4 hours of screen time, which is generally not acceptable, so cuts have to be made somewhere.

There are, however, a few screen adaptations that I think capture the source material almost perfectly. My favorite book-to-film adaptation is Watership Down:

The animation is unique and fits the subject matter (both styles, one for the rabbit myths and one for their regular life), and while the story is cut down, the conflicts and plot points are merged in such a way that you don’t feel you’re missing anything (unless you’ve recently read the book and are looking for it). Everything that makes the story great is still there, and well-paced.

My favorite book-to-TV adaptation is the BBC mini-series of Pride and Prejudice, the one staring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth:

Colin Firth. Do I really need to say more? Okay, I’ll also say that because it’s a mini-series, it covers the events of the entire book (I’ve never compared but I think nothing’s been left out), which means it keeps all Austen’s clever dialogue and the development of a multitude of colorful characters. The acting is excellent, the drama and humor so well done that the five hour run time never feels too long. It’s like someone took the book and fed it through some sort of magical audio-visual transformation machine. 🙂

Would you like to see this happen to your books?

Absolutely. I love great movies and TV just as much as I love great books; I think there are all sorts of things you can capture when you have visuals and audio that you can’t on the page (though the reverse is also true). I’d be incredibly excited to see one of my stories brought to life that way. And it doesn’t hurt that a movie or TV series raises awareness of the book itself, potentially bringing more people back to the original story. (That, I suppose, is the consolation prize if the adaptation is one of the not-so-great ones!)

Tell me, blog readers: What are your favorite book to screen adaptations? Or, on the flip side, which ones made you cringe?


Reader Question: Book to screen adaptations — 5 Comments

  1. I was a big fan of the Lord of the Rings adaptations that came out recently because, while I loved the books, I felt that they got too caught up in the politics of the world, what elves and men were doing, etc. that they kind of sidelined the story about the characters themselves. The movies, I think brought the characters front and center.

    And I also thought that the Pride and Predjudice mini-series was really good. So, was the Timothy Dalton version of Jane Eyre and the mini-series of Nicholas Nickelby. Again, I agree with you that mini-series let you spend a lot more time with the story. (It doesn’t hurt that they all have incredibly attractive leading men in them either.)

    That being said, I could not handle the TV series that made of my favorite book Emily of New Moon. I thought I would love it, but they made so many changes to the story that I didn’t. I won’t give away any details about the changes here because I don’t want to ruin either story for anyone. But suffice it to say that it was not the book that I loved.

    • I’ve never been able to make it through the Lord of the Rings books (though I love The Hobbit!), and I did make it through the movies and enjoyed them, so I guess that’s one case for me where the movie was more successful!

      Will have to check out that version of Jane Eyre–I do like Timothy Dalton. 🙂

  2. Most of the Harry Potter movies are pretty good and close to the books.

    It seems like especially when YA/mid-grade books are turned into movies they’re bad… examples: Percy Jackson, The Series of Unfortunate Events, Cirque Du Freak, and Inkheart… They were all very different from the books or just too many books (in the case of The Series of Unfortunate Events and Cirque Du Freak especially) in one movie, they were bad. On top of it, even set aside from the book, none of those were very good movies. Cringe.

    • Yeah, filmmakers seem to have particular trouble doing a good job with kids books. Maybe because when they’re aiming movies at teens, they have an even narrower view of what would be commercial and appealing than with adults?

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