Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Novel Films Blogfest Part 2: What makes a good adaption?

For today, I decided to go a little off the beaten track with the Novel Films Blogfest. I love reading and watching movies, pretty much equally. So one would think that I would enjoy adaptions.


More often than not, I don't.

And this blogfest got me wondering why.

And this is what I came up with:

1) I generally don't like focus shifts. So if we move away from the story for some big budget special effects, I will hate the movie. I'm looking at you Harry Potter franchise.

2) If the movie veers from the story, but still manages to keep the essence (or my sense of it), I'll love it. For example, Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr.

3) I don't care if the actors are famous or unknowns, but I care when they can't carry the role. Probably why Julius Caesar with Marlon Brando as Marc Anthony is still one of my favorite movies. Also, it pretty much stuck to the plot.

4) I don't care if the book is a bestseller, if the entire story hinges on a massive plot twist, putting it on film might not be a good idea. Because if the ending is changed, I'll probably hate it. If it isn't, I'll spend about two hours bored. Except if the actors are brilliant. And even then I probably won't care. Tom Hanks and Ewan McGregor in one movie. Should be a winner, right? Not if everyone who read the Da Vinci Code decided to read the book before it. And not if the real villain is named in every publication out there. Think about it. It could be possible that fantasy novels and sci fi adapt because of this. I mean, sure there are twists (and I'm building up to a big one), but when it comes to epic, the twists sort of aren't the point.

5) And finally, books with either very minimal description (where the visual is open to interpretation) or where everything and everyone is described almost exactly adapt better. Because then people who read the book first won't have a "huh?!" moment. That's why I think that Chronicles of Narnia adapts well. C.S. Lewis style fosters it. Readers know of everything that's there, but not in such detail that seeing something in the movie is jarring. Also it's pretty hard to miss the essence of what Lewis wanted to say. Even in adaption.

That's my take on it, anyway. What's your opinion? Am I writing nonsense or did I miss something else? And yes, I am aware that I'm being very controversial about the HP franchise. But that's only my example, not necessarily the point I'm trying to make...

P.S. Sorry if the picture appear on the right. Wasn't in the plan. But alas the words "Align Left" mean nothing to Blogger. :-/


  1. Points 1&2 are dead on! The new adaptation the BBC did with Sherlock was a winner because it kept the essence of Sherlock Holmes and modernized his style to fit today. But they didn't go flashy and that's where I think HP became caught up in bloated budgets and overly high expectations of the crew (the audience never was listened to very much).

  2. Hard to say what can derail a book to film adaptation so badly sometimes. I suppose mostly it has to do with not sticking to the original material. :)

    I loved that version of Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr., btw.

  3. I hate it when a movie takes a turn from the book. Totally disappointing. Nice list. Have fun hopping around.

  4. I think you make some good points here, but I think part of the attraction of translation to film is to see the imagination envisioning that is made possible through the special effects. For me, in some films the action and effects are the primary essence of a film, although I do prefer good story and good acting in the end.

    Tossing It Out

  5. I loved the Narnia books (still do, actually), but I wasn't crazy about the films. I don't know why, honestly. I was all excited to see the first one and left feeling a bit let down. Wish I could figure out why.

  6. Nice post! But I think you left out one of the book/movie combinations that should always be mentioned. Maybe I'm biased...

    I need to stop here. I was writing a blog-sized comment. Sorry. Will blog about it :) Fan-girl...

    I totally agree with every point you made!

  7. I agree. I don't even care about special effects if the essence of the story is lost. For me, the score and actors for the HP films just work. The Narnia films work for me too, but having read the books as a kid, I don't remember every last detail. Da Vinci Code as a film was a huge disappointment. I was very unsatisfied, and it may have been a time when seeing the film BEFORE reading the book would've been nice. Plus, i hated the fact the actress didn't have red hair. That was a huge part of the story, I thought!
    Anyway, I'd be happy to send you my copy of Stardust. Honestly, I didn't enjoy the book nearly as much as the film. But if you want it, it's all yours! Send me an email with your address. I don't mind sending it overseas. :)

  8. Agreed! I always get so worried when a book I love is being made into a movie. SO many ways to mess it up!

  9. I agree with a ton of this. I have a certain fondness for the HP movies, but they had to grow on me. And I DON'T like the effects that break canon (the flying around and apparating within the Ministry in OoP took a lot away from Voldemort and then Snape being able to fly in DH.

    I think the point about description though, is spot on--Lord of the Rings is another example--Tolkein explains ad nauseum, but it really works in the movie.

    The other really key thing i've noticed is I think short works can adapt well straight across (look at a few of Stephen King's novellas, like the Green Mile, but a LONG book you nailed it--better to keep the spirit but not stick too closely. I also really LOVE movies that add a twist--like Princess Bride--having it be read as a story was a bit of brilliance for the movie.

  10. A very shrewd analysis. I'm with you on the big Holywood special effects. They can keep 'em. That's not what movie making is about, and it stands in the way of a great, enjoyable experience.

    The reason I haven't seen the Narnia movies is for exactly the reason you say here. My visualisation, when I read a novel, is all I need to enjoy it. Someone else's visualisation, constrained by the severe limitations of movie making, just spoil it.

    A thought-provoking post. Thank you.

  11. I loved the new Sherlock Holmes movies. There was enough "new" combined with the expected/traditional to make it interesting.

  12. Great points!

    If the focus is less on the story and more on the special effects, it really doesn't make sense. If it's based on a book, it starts with a story--if that's taken off, not much is left. (Though I did like HP.)

    I agree on the Chronicles of Narnia. :)

  13. You should read Beastly, then see the movie or vice-versa. The film adaptation was SO different than the movie, not only did it veer, it swerved. But it worked. I may have liked the movie better. This is a first.

  14. I agree with you: a usually enjoy the book more than the movie (with a few exceptions). However, I really liked the Harry Potter movies. I thought they complemented the books well. Just me.

  15. Honestly, I wasn't a fan of the Da Vinci Code the book. I watched the movie and thought it was "okay", better than the book.

  16. Aha at last I waited long enough for your page to load to get to the comments box! Love your blogfest entries. Thanks for taking part. I agree with you that still manages to keep the essence (or my sense of it), I love it. Sometimes I find that actors are throwm together in films just because Mr Actor and Ms Actor are the public's favourites for the year and so the film bods imagine it will make the film a 'must' for their fans to see regardless of whether they are the best chosen for the storyline and roles. On the whole I liked the Harry Potter films and appreciated that they couldn't include every element of the story. To get the whole picture it means you have to read the original books which isn't a bad thing.Is it? :O)


Thanks for commenting! I love to read what you think.

Feel free to ignore the check-box saying "Prove you're not a robot." My word verification is off, but I moderate comments to posts older than two weeks.