Sometimes, when you look at Hollywood’s movie repertoire, it seems they only release remakes and book adaptations. Some people cringe, hoping for more original content and fresh stories, and as much as I’d love to see more originality as well, I do have a soft spot for book adaptations. There’s something enchanting in seeing the story I loved (or at least enjoyed) envisioned by someone else. It’s almost like sharing thoughts on a book and learning someone else’s perspective.
My approach to book adaptations
I’m one of those people who don’t expect faithful book adaptations. Movies are different mediums than books, so sometimes changes and cuts are necessary. This means that instead of waving torches and pitchforks at movies, I approach them with curiosity. What was changed? What was removed? Did it serve any purpose?
Many novels have complex plots and multiple point-of-view characters that don’t always translate onto screen. They also have much more space for worldbuilding, backstories, and juicy tidbits of information. Movies can’t devote too much time to explaining the world to the viewer, so not once or twice we’re greeted with a few minutes long intro explaining the key elements of the setting. In a book, that would be just a lengthy and annoying info-dump, but viewers accept it without a cringe. (Ok, to be honest, I always cringe at those, but I also understand their purpose.)
Favorite book adaptations
I’m always excited about the news of upcoming book adaptations, but at the same time, I don’t follow closely all of them, even in the science-fiction and fantasy genres. Yet, there are some that keep me excited.
One of such cases was, of course, Lord of the Rings trilogy. I’ve read the books when I was in my teens, but it wasn’t my introduction to speculative fiction, so I never managed to fall in love with it as much as some people did. Yet, when the movies came out, they left me charmed. I could feel the epicness of the story through the breath-taking landscapes, massive armies, and quite fast-paced action.
I still remember the pre-release screening of The Two Towers I got to watch during one of the conventions back in Poland. The feeling I had when at least 300 people left the convention grounds and headed to the cinema to see the midnight screening will stay with me forever. The unique experience of watching the movie with no random people who might have stumbled to movies, but with fans like me made it even more special.
Other than that, I enjoyed The Martian, little-known The Tale of Despereaux, and Netflix’s Series of Unfortunate Events, thought the list could go on, because I tend to be much less critical of the movies than I am of books. I’ve yet to watch Arrival (based on one of the most moving short stories by Ted Chiang) and Altered Carbon, and I’m quite hopeful for both.
The Count of Monte Cristo case
The Count of Monte Cristo book is one of my all-time favorites, so I always hope there would be yet another adaptation of the book. Sadly, because the story is so complex, spanning decades and multiple characters as Edmund Dantes executes his multi-level revenge on the people who had betrayed him in the words way, most of it never makes it to the screen. In the few adaptations I’ve seen, the screenwriters seem to focus on the complicated relation between Edmund and the love of his life, Mercedes. Sadly, it twists the original story in a disappointing way, making it a mushy love story instead of the story of revenge with a serious question of whether a man should play God.
Yet, I really enjoyed the 2002 adaptation. Even though it doesn’t stay true to the book, the screenwriters managed to take the love story out of it and make it into a coherent, plausible plot.
At the same time, I’m hoping someone in Hollywood will rediscover the book and someone will make it into an epic, multi-season TV series. Hey, Netflix, maybe you could take upon that challenge?
Failed book adaptations
Sometimes the adaptation is so far off, that only “what the heck?” comes to mind. Such was the case for World War Z, a brilliant zombie book that was made like a non-fiction compilation of interviews. Something like that was impossible to pull of on screen (and in limited time), so instead the creators made it into an action flick. It has little to do with the original and fails as a book adaptation, but at the same time it’s quite an enjoyable movie. It was also what made me want to read the book: I didn’t get a chance to watch it for a while, so I purchased the book instead.
Another interesting one would be The Three Musketeers from 2011. It’s very loosely based on the book, but at the same time the steampunk setting makes it so much fun to watch!
In a way, not being a hardcore fan makes me more relaxed about the adaptations. I don’t judge them too harshly and can enjoy them regardless of their shortfalls (like The Seventh Son). But there are still some I couldn’t get through, like Shannara Chronicles. And just wait for the day Dan Simmon’s Hyperion finally makes it to the screen… I might turn a zealous fan on the spot!
Better than the book?
The common saying is that the book is always better than the movie. Yet, there are some book adaptations that I consider better than the original. If I was to pick one as an example, it’d be Hunger Games. I’ve read the book when it first came out, and they established my general dislike for YA books in general and poorly executed dystopias in particular, and I never felt compelled to read more books in the trilogy. At the same time, I enjoyed the movie in the category of “thoughtless entertainment”, and even though the sequels felt less entertaining, I still managed to watch them.
What are your thoughts on book adaptations?
Do you enjoy them? Do you love when they’re accurate or enjoy changes to the original story? What are your favorite ones? Which ones, in your opinion, should be forgotten forever? I’d love to see your perspective!
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games.
Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English.
Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.