When Good Books Turn Into Bad Movies

Today’s topic is one readers know all to well. When your favorite book gets turned into a move the following questions cross your mind:

What actors will they pick and will they do the characters justice?

What will they sound like and how will they pronounce the names/places?

Should I ever bother seeing them mess it up?

Or am I obligated to see my favorite characters visualized on the screen?

All of these questions are valid. My first book movie experience was the Harry Potter series and up until the third movie, I was incredibly happy with the film version. Then when the director changed and a character died, the films lost their magical connection to the books. I personally feel an obligation to see a movie made from a book I’ve read and especially loved. At the moment, I’m holding out for the movie version of Orson Scott Card’s famous novel Ender’s Game. Although nothing will replace the images inside my head it will be very interesting to see what other people envision and compare the p.o.v. after seeing the film.

The idea of making a film out of a book came to me because I saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo tonight. Since I have not read the book before watching the movie my opinion of the characters is only based on the actors/actresses. However, I could see the holes in the plot and detail that can only be filled by the lengthy paragraphs of a novel.

The fundamental question is…can a film truly capture the meaning of a novel or even a short story without using all of the information or always inside the head of the characters?

For me, it’s a no. It can’t. As a writer, nothing is more involving than getting inside the head of the character and knowing everything they think and being able to have the narrator give objective information all of the time.

While movies have the visual effect of showing you the entire street or the entire world of the story…and the narrator can say what’s inside the character’s head…it is never enough to completely immerse you. There is always something the director or screenwriter must leave out and most of the time that information is the most important.

Let’s go back to the Orson Scott Card example. I am immediately displeased that the actor playing the main character is too old and the character does not become that age until half way through the book. I am also upset that they probably will not show pivotal scene in the character’s life (killing boys that bully him) because the film will be rated for younger kids. This seemingly innocent piece of censorship to shield children from violence is altering the entire meaning of the story.

So, regardless of my complaints already I will see the movie of one of my favorite books. I feel it is an obligation to see all forms of the book and characters I love so much.

But now I turn the discussion to you dedicated readers and movie buffs.

What is your opinion on book movies?

Do any of them do a good job of depicting the book? If so what ones and why?

And for the haters-which movies did the worst job of depicting the book and why?

Thanks to Google Images for this photo


Filed under Idea of the Day

9 responses to “When Good Books Turn Into Bad Movies

  1. Well expressed! I agree with you, a movie can never really capture the story the way a book can. Apart from the difference in size of the story (a 500 page book will never fully transfer into a 2 hour movie), I have often thought that part of the magic of reading a book is that everybody comes away with their own interpretations of it – from the words on a page we imagine our own visualisations of the places, the people, the sounds and voices are ones we add ourselves to it, and when we see a movie all this is dictated to us, in such a way as to limit and constrict the way we interpret it. Having said this, sometimes a movie can present an entirely different perspective that breathes fresh life into the story, but generally I think books will always be more enjoyable, always allow us to use our own imaginations more freely.
    Great blog! 🙂

    • It’s true, the imagination is different in everyone’s head and it should be that way for some things. Take the Harry Potter example. I had the images of the characters in my head for years before it was made into a movie. Now all I see when I think of Snape is Allan Rickman (although that was an improvement) and I was embarrassed when the movies first came out because they said the names all wrong. It was nice to see Hogwarts come to life, but I prefer the crazy world in my head to the one that Hollywood cooks up.

      However, there is one movie I know for sure that has been a positive one for the book. What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson was made into a movie starring Robin Williams in the 1990s. The book depicts the life of a man after death. He goes to heaven while his wife kills herself and goes to hell. The husband leaves heaven and travels down to hell to rescue her. Now with the idea that the book describes the afterlife in a way we can only visualize in our imagination you would think the movie would be crap. In fact, it shows the more human side to the characters while the book focuses more on the elaborate detail of life after death. Both are fantastic viewpoints showing differences in the other.

      To me, I think they are companions to be read and watched to get the full effect of the writing because there was something missing in the characters that comes through with the actors. This is all just my opinion, of course, someone else may disagree and think one or the other is better. I am optimistic, though, even though there have not been movies that capture the entire meaning…maybe the movie can capture what’s missing on the page. Maybe there is something the author couldn’t fit in the story that can only be brought to life through the film afterward. In any case, I love the writer and read his book only after seeing the film. So, maybe there is something good for the author by making movies. It makes people read the book!

      • This is all quite true, as well. I think the best thing is to be open minded about it, and to try and see the film as a re-interpretation of the book, rather than seeing it as inferior just because it cuts out parts of the book. I mean sometimes it is inferior, but it’s a simplistic generalisation to apply to everything.
        I like your description of it being like companions! 🙂

      • Thanks, I like to think I have some good ideas. No matter what, I will always give the movie the chance even if I know it will be horrible.

  2. I asked all those question when they announced the HG film…

    • I was curious as to what people thought of the movie previews because I heard that book series was very well received. Are you planning on seeing the movie after asking all of those questions?

  3. My choices for best and worst:

    Best: NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR, based on the novel by George Orwell; Director: Michael Radford, Released by Atlantic Releasing, 1984

    The most faithful effort to imagine the book in film, and the best at truly living inside the source material. Every high point in the novel gets on screen in the film, and is detailed by Radford the same way Orwell imagines it. There’s true love of the source material expressed in every frame.

    Worst: SOLYENT GREEN, based on the novel “Make Room! Make Room!” by Harry Harrison; Director: Richard Fleischer, Released by MGM, 1973

    Harrison’s work was a thoughtful consideration of how people (fail to) cope when resources run out due to overpopulation. Fleischer’s film is a silly excuse for some outrageous bits that just could not happen if the world hit a Malthusian limit. How radical is the difference between the two? The film’s big spoiler just DOES NOT HAPPEN in the novel. Period. Full stop!

    • Haha I haven’t seen either movie, but now that you have affirmed 1984 I must watch it! They also made this really weird movie out of the short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper.”I feel like I have to watch it. However, it looks realllllly lame!

  4. Pingback: When Ka Decides Book to Movie Adaptations | Storyteller in the Digital Age

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