Good morning bookworms!
Welcome to my monthly
rant discussion post! This month I’ll be talking about book to tv/movie adaptations, and why ‘creative’ tv/movie producers should be ousted in favour of sticking to the original plot lines.
I know, I know. Some people enjoy the changes made as it presents new content and who knows where this could lead us?! Those people are wrong. (Sorry if you’re one of those people. And by ‘sorry’, I mean ‘#sorrynotsorry’.)
I mean, just picture it. You’ve read this amazing series about a boy who can do magic, and you’re so keen for the movie adaptation to come out. And it DOES! But wait, what’s this? Your favourite character is missing?! Who’s going to sing rhymes and throw chalk dusters and generally cause annoyances and chaos for everyone around?! Who’s going to help the twins furiously agitate that awful teacher?! THIS IS AN OUTRAGE!!*
… Sorry, I got distracted… Let’s back up a bit!
In fact, let’s back up all the way to the late 16th century. Back to the Bard himself, to the man who probably has more adaptations of his works than anyone else in existence. (Yes, I am now making up my facts, but really, name me one other author who might even be in the same ballpark here.) Yes, good old, Bill Shakespeare (I’m Aussie, everyone gets a nickname). I mean, let’s only look at Romeo and Juliet – arguably one of his most famous plays. Just since 1990**, there have been 18 different adaptations listed on IMDB (this is an actual fact – I counted them twice) and who only knows theatrical productions, ballets and other variaions there are. Unless it’s set in some weird AU 1970’s scene where the rivalry is between rock and disco, not the Montagues and the Capulets (yes, that’s really listed on IMDB), let me tell you now (SPOILER), Romeo and Juliet die in every one of them. (To be honest, they might die in the 70’s one as well, but I refuse to watch it.) Why do new characters not get introduced? Why does Mercutio not end up with our leading lady instead of Romeo? When do we get to meet Rosaline? NONE of this happens, because when you watch Romeo and Juliet, you’re there to watch the Romeo and Juliet. In its truest format: the original one. Or the Baz Luhrmann one – because let’s all be honest, it’s the best. Also, I will fight you on this not being a true adaptation as the characters and the words do not change – just the setting and the weapons.
Skipping forward a couple of centuries, we have Jane Austen. Author of six fantastic literary tales about fictional women in the late 18th century. Even with the exception of Pride, Prejudice and Zombies (which was a separate book with it’s own adaptation), there are a total of five tv mini-series and/or movies of Pride and Prejudice; and eight adaptations for Emma (that I could tell were Jane Austen related). Even if we throw in the modern day retelling of Clueless (and I could write a whole other post on retellings), that’s 14 adaptations based on two books, and I could bet the entire contents of my bank account that in each one of them Darcy and Elizabeth end up together after he proposes a second time; and Emma plays matchmaker with half the village, realising that she is in love with Knightley after Harriet tells Emma that she wants to be with him (swap Emma for Cher, Harriet for Tai and Josh for Knightley in the Clueless version). In my humble opinion, BBC do the best adaptations of Austen books. Primarily because they don’t feel the need to squish 350-400 pages of novel into 90 minutes of viewing, thereby cutting out complex character development and social commentary that some may consider crucial to the overarching theme of the story.
In 1887, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published the first book in a set of four about a pretty famous (or infamous) fictional duo: Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson. While Doyle wrote over 50 short stories involving the pair, there seems to have been no shortage of adaptations on tv and film either. The most prominent (to me) would be the Robert Downey Jr/Jude Law Hollywood film series; the BBC series Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch / Martin Freeman (*cough* all four have also been in Marvel films *cough*), and then there’s Elementary, the Jonny Lee Miller / Lucy Liu series – which is less an adaptation and more a contemporary crime show that happens to have characters with similar names, backgrounds and traits. In terms of an adaptation, I think we all have to acknowledge that BBC have (once again) far outshone their competitors, and the reason being that they have stuck to and acknowledged the original plot lines. Yes, they have modernised it, but it’s still the same characters, relationships and stories.
These days we tend to get something new to adapt every 2 weeks (slight exaggeration), but given the number of content generators compared to ten years ago, this probably isn’t that far off the truth. There are so many different books being adapted that I’m going to try and break this down into good, bad and unknown by genre, but I’ll only touch on each of them lightly (or we’ll be here for the rest of the month – and I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve got other things to do…)
Yep, let’s go there. So, your main recent(ish) series in here are The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner, The Fifth Wave, and I’ll squeeze in Tomorrow When the War Began because I can (it’s my blog, I’ll do what I want). To be honest, this is probably not a great one for me to comment on, as I’m not a huge dystopian fan, but I have seen and read THG and TWTWB, but neither recently. In THG, the biggest change from book to movie for me was the disappearance of the mayor’s daughter, Madge. In the book Madge had a small but significant role – she was the one who gave Katniss the Mockingjay pin. This action is tiny, barely worth five minutes in the grand scheme of things, but what it takes away from the film is the discussion around class differences within District 12, the symbolism of tokens for each of the tributes (meaning Cinna doesn’t have to hide the pin on Katniss when she goes into the games), and that Katniss actually has friends outside of the weird Gale/Peeta love triangle.
In TWTWB, there were some overall changes to plot and characters, including:
- the love triangle between Ellie, Homer and Lee is cut (look, I don’t like love triangles anyway, but this one had it points).
- so much of the book happens in Hell (not literal Hell, it’s a place) or them preparing to get to Hell and become self-sufficient in the midst of this war. But most of this is quiet storyline and character development; whereas most of the movie happens among the action scenes.
- the Hermit character was completely excluded from the movie. This may not seem like a big deal, but the Hermit was a huge part in the progress of their character development – which ultimately was cut from the movie anyway.
- the change to Robyn’s character will always upset me the most. In the books Robyn is a steadfast, loyal and mentally strong character – she’s their moral compass and rock, and quite rightly so has a strong religious faith. In the movies this was cheapened by making her appear weak, as if having beliefs makes you less of a person in a war situation. Towards the end, they change Robyn’s character so much that they make her do something that book Robyn would never have done, and that was unforgivable to me.
OMG SO MANY OPTIONS. Let’s cull it quickly – everyone knows about HP so I’ll only talk about my pet peeves (HA! Peeves.) Then I’ll touch on the mess that is Shadowhunters and skip right on past Percy Jackson, Fallen, and a bunch of others like they don’t exist. Then I’ll drop by for a quick Lord of the Rings hello.
Harry Potter. I loved the first two movies. It was a combination of two things:
- I hadn’t read the books yet, and
- I really liked Richard Harris’ portrayal of Dumbledore. (I’m sure Gambon is a nice guy, but he is WAAAAAY over the top at Dumbly. I mean, can you imagine him in heels and fishnets? No, me either.)
The second movie came out while I was living in the UK, and I caught Potter-frenzy. Seriously, it was about as contagious as bird-flu or as easy to acquire as mad cow disease. My biggest annoyances in terms of missing characters and storylines with the movie adaptations are (in no particular order):
- Mrs Figg (movie 5 would make so much more sense if she was in movie 1)
- Peeves (Emily moar than makes up for it though)
- Death Day party
- Ginny’s entire personality
- The Marauders
- Ludo Bagman
- Dumbledore’s entire reasonable manner (movie 3 onwards)
- Rita Skeeter’s animagus status
- Dudley’s redemption
Even just these few small things change the flavour of each movie individually, but also part of the main character’s backstories and motivations in the greater story arc.
Shadowhunters, City of Bones and The Mortal Instruments. Look, I like the Cassandra Clare books. When the movie came out I was all “It’s ok, but they MISSED SO MUCH!!”. Then the tv show came out, and I went back to the movie wishing they’d make more of them. Seriously. It’s not that I hate the tv show – I’m sure it has its merits, but it’s not what I thought it would be.
I started watching it hoping it was going to be brilliant, was quickly reassured it wouldn’t be, started cranky watching it, then rage-quit at the end of season one. I haven’t looked back since. To be honest, I really don’t understand the reasoning behind changing the plot that much – it makes zero sense to me. Particularly when main characters that have significant roles later on are killed off randomly. So, I don’t watch it, and I pretend it doesn’t exist. But Lily Collins, Godfrey Gao and Robert Sheehan were amazing!
Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Look, I might get excommunicated from the bookish community for this, but I didn’t love Tolkien’s books. He’s just a bit too wordy for me, and I much prefer the movies. So, Peter Jackson, well done to you, sir. I approve of your adaptations (primarily the excessive length and pretty scenery – I could have done without 18 hours of Elijah Wood though).
I can’t leave fantasy without at least mentioning Game of Thrones. I’ve never read the books – I love the tv series though. From my understanding the characters have diverged somewhat from the books, but Martin has also agreed that they will both end up the same place (and he’s about 17 years off finishing it anyway, so we may as well enjoy it now).
Ok, I just need two minutes here to talk about Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries, aka True Blood, and then we can all move on. What the hell was this?! I LOVED the Sookie Stackhouse books. Sookie was a southern belle who was tough as nails and a telepath to boot. She was loyal and smart and took no shit from anyone. True Blood was a farce of a tv series that I gave up on partway through the last season. I couldn’t even bring myself to watch it any more because it had gone far past the point of ridiculous and into actual ludicrousness. It wasn’t just that I didn’t like Anna Paquin or Stephen Moyer portraying Sookie and Bill (I did love Alexander Skarsgård playing Eric North though); it was that they kept characters alive who should have died, killed characters that should have stayed, changed entire personalities, and made up brand new plotlines. This is one of the worst tv adaptations I have ever seen.
Love, Simon is a pretty cute adaptation of Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, but it’s certainly not perfect. My grievances with this were primarily that Simon has NO IDEA who Blue is the entire book. Not a single clue – in fact he’s far more fixated on Cal. Whereas in the movie he kind of guesses not once, but twice. Another thing I feel is missing is the whole Elliott Smith section. Because Simon is outed so early on as being Jacques, it gives Blue the opportunity to give cute little hints about who he is, and also leave Simon presents in his locker. That whole sweet factor was completely absent in the movie, which I felt was a real shame. Finally, I don’t remember the entire class watching Simon and Blue’s epic ferris wheel scene at the end – that was just weird on screen – also a HUGE ask of Blue who had only just come out to family to out himself in front of the entire school like that. (Maybe it was in the books, but I just don’t remember that.)
Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is another Netflix contemporary YA book turned movie. I actually really loved this movie, and the book. Or it’s just been so long since reading/watching them that I can’t really remember many differences. Did Lara Jean go to model UN class in this one or the second? Who knows? (You guys probably do.) But I’m not sure it took much away from the storyline either way.
IN CONCLUSION (FINALLY)
There’s lots of adaptations coming up that I think we’re all a bit excited about. I’m probably more apprehensive than excited, but it all amounts to butterflies at the end of the days…
The point I am trying to make (in a very long-winded way here) is that the best adaptations are the ones that don’t change the storyline. They become classics, not just in literature, but in film and television as well. Baz Luhrmann may not have been given a chance to make The Great Gatsby if he hadn’t absolutely smashed Romeo and Juliet out of the park.
As a reader, I’m not watching adaptations for new content – I’m there to see a favourite recreated in a new medium. And for those who haven’t read the books, it’s new content anyway!
Until next time, happy reading (or watching) ???
* No, Peeves is not really my fave HP character, but I would have liked to see him in the movies nonetheless.
** Weird choice, I know, but I wanted to include the Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 version.