Books to Film: The Awful, the Extraordinary and the Forbidden

The topic of books to film has been a long time debate. I am an advocate of adapting books to screenplays. I have watched many books come to life on the screen that I enjoyed immensely. That being said, there are also books that should be left on the page. I’m not talking about books that have been adapted and botched by the screenwriter and director…though I will get to some of those too. I’m referring to books that would not translate well onto the screen, and should be left for our individual imaginations. Let’s discuss, shall we?

Warning: There will be spoilers for both the books and movies so if you haven’t seen them and want to…look away!

First, a glaring example of taking a perfectly good book and twisting the story so that it is made more ‘palatable’ for mainstream audiences. This seems to be a phenomenon in North America…more whitewashing that has extended from how we are fed our daily news, all the way down to our forms of entertainment. I know there are many others, but this one recently stood out for me.

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My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult. In the book, a young Kate is diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia, and there are no bone marrow matches within the family. In a bid to save Kate, her parents have another child, Anna, in hopes that she will be a match. When Anna is 13, she goes to see a lawyer to emancipate herself from being a donor to her sister. Kate is very ill and needs a kidney transplant…but Anna holds firm and refuses. It comes to light that it was Kate who asked Anna to see the lawyer. She was tired of being ill and wanted to die. In a twist of fate, Anna is in a car accident and is severely brain-damaged. In the end, Anna dies and Kate gets her kidney. In the movie? They completely changed the ending. Anna lives and Kate dies…completely ruining the whole point of the story. You never know what life will bring or what it will take away from you. Why would they decide that audiences can’t handle seeing a healthy person die, in order for the person who was destined to die…live? Talk about ruining a good book.

In comparison, I have also seen some excellent adaptations from book to film. Lord of the Rings. I LOVED those books, and I admit I was afraid when I went to see the first one. I was not disappointed however…I was quite blown away. Peter Jackson nailed it for me, it was just as I had imagined it. A big complaint I’ve heard is that some really good plot lines were left out. Considering the length of the books, that’s quite understandable. One page of a screenplay equals one minute of screen time…that certainly put it into perspective for me when looking at 500+ page novels.

          

Two other examples of great adaptations from book to film are The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. I’m a huge Stephen King fan, and both adaptations were spot on with the novels. It also helps that both are short stories, they didn’t need to cut out much. It wasn’t just the story, however, it was the whole package. The actors chosen, the settings…almost every last detail was exactly how I wanted it to be.

Most of the time, I am content with the movie versions of novels. One thing I do tend to practice? If I haven’t read the book, I’ll watch the movie first. Reading the book is always a much richer experience and I’m never disappointed.

Now, some of you who have read my reviews, know by now that I am a huge fan of the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by J.R. Ward. Ten books in, and I’m still dying for the next one to come out next March. There has been A LOT of discussion by fans, wanting to see a movie or series made. I may lose the good opinion of some through the fandom, but I DO NOT want to see this series come to life on screen. Shocking, I know.

Historically, any time romance novels are made into a movie, it generally comes out as sappy and cheesy. Now, the BDB series isn’t strictly romance, which is what I love about them. They are about vampires. There are bad guys, the lessers. There’s lots of violence and some good steamy sex and etc., that would look amazing on the screen… the setting in the streets of Caldwell, the mansion, the clubs…all of it would look fantastic, there is no disputing that. So why don’t I want it?

The Brothers. Pure and simple. There is no way that any actor can match what I see in my head when I read the books. Every actor I can think of, falls short, through no fault of their own. These characters are larger than life. They are HUGE physically, they are primitive and base in some ways, they are complete fools for their mates…some of which could be acted out quite convincingly. Not convincingly enough for me. I wouldn’t want anything less than perfection. Call me picky, that’s just the way I see it.

The other huge detriment I would anticipate on film is the loss of inner dialogue. The physical and verbal representation of these characters are only half of it. Without being privy to their inner thoughts, I’m afraid they would come off looking less than they are. You can get some it across in action…leaving clues for the audience to read between the lines…but I honestly don’t have enough faith in the screenwriters or directors to pull it off. I’m frightened of how they would interpret these vampires, and that they may come out looking like meatheads. The problem with book adaptations is we often only get the vision of these books from a very few. We all know how Hollywood works, people. The ones who actually care about the story are those with the least amount of input. I’d like to think that if it DID happen, that J.R. Ward would have artistic license…but even if she did, the film budget and director would still be making the majority of the decisions.

So no, I would rather the series remain pure…I will happily read and watch my own visuals play out in my imagination, where it’s exactly what I want it to be.

I’d like to hear which books you loved or hated as film adaptations.  For you BDB fans out there, I’d also like to hear what you think about the BDB series being made into a movie. Bring it!

 Gina

14 thoughts on “Books to Film: The Awful, the Extraordinary and the Forbidden

  1. Lissa Bryan says:

    Some people have asked me if I’d ever want any of my stories to be turned into movies, and I’m very conflicted about it. Very, very rarely has a movie done justice to the source material. (Remember, the first script version of “Twilight” had Bella as a track star and ended with the FBI chasing the vampires on jet skis.) The movie version of a book rarely is as good as the “movie” I see in my head while reading. Most of the time, even good adaptions deplete a little of the magic from a story.

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  2. Great post! And I agree with all of your comments. 🙂

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  3. Morgan says:

    What a fantastic post Gina.

    Where to start…I found myself nodding my head while I read your words. (and losing my place). Also. I really appriciate that you singled out The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile as two examples of films getting it right, if not a little better. (Both films have the same director by the way and he has done only a handful of movies to date which would makee almost half of his filmography Stephen King period prison pieces).

    Another film that got it right was Water For Elephants. Interestingly enough, the film cut out the retirement home scenes where Green Mile kept them in. In both cases, it was the right decision and helped the movies give the stories to a wider audience.

    Peter Jackson proved with the Lord of the Rings films that even the most dense material can be properly chronicled (and that single books caan be kept inside one release instead of splitting them up…just saying’).

    I would like to think that a true fan would helm any BDB project and thatt HBO and Showtime be considered for their somewhat liberal content allowances.

    I really enjoyed your post. I hope you will do a “part two” and share your views on Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Hunger Games or any otther adaptations. I think this could really be an ongoing discussion…

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    • Thank you! That’s also another great one…Water for Elephants. I enjoyed the movie, and though there were a few things I was disappointed that they left out, I agree with you that the retirement home scenes would have been too much. I enjoyed how they opened the movie with Jacob at the circus, and his subsequent telling of his past.

      I had considered HBO as well for BDB, but look what they did to True Blood. The series is a huge departure from the books, which I have read. IF I hadn’t read the books, I probably would have been satisfied in most regards to the adaptation. I think I’m too much of a wuss to trust anyone to do the BDB series justice. It would be nice to be surprised though!

      Were you snooping around my head? *grins* Harry Potter and the Hunger Games came to mind, as well as Game of Thrones. However, I haven’t watched the Hunger Games yet, nor have I read Game of Thrones, though I do watch the series. I think each of those alone would warrant a post each, there is much to be said. Motivation to get those movies watched and books read!

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      • sleeptalker1 says:

        I preferred the True Blood TV series to the books. Yes, some of acting was… questionable, but the books bored me to death to the point of not reading passed the first one. I’m told they got better as the series went on, but I really got force myself to find out lol

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      • shay aka 50shayds says:

        I am glad to see that i am not the only who missed the retirement home. It broke my heart. I read that book in 24 hours then slept for 2 days. Lol

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  4. Morgan says:

    He Gina, me again, I was hoping that my comments about Lord of the Rings would compliment your own but it reads like I disagreed with something you said when I allowed for a side bar about how the films didn’t have to be split up.

    I don’t get my comments beta’d unfortunately. Anyway, it read weird to me afterward so I just thought I’d clarify.

    Also, what about Life of Pi? Have you read it? THAT movie could be epic.

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    • *laughs* No, I didn’t take it that way at all. I completely agree that it a great feat on Jackson’s part to pack in so much of each book, into each movie without making two for each book…which could easily have been done. Regardless of the plot lines that were dropped, it didn’t interrupt the flow of each film and I really believed that he covered most of what the audience who hasn’t read the books…would need to enjoy the story fully as films.

      Life of Pi is on my TBR list. It has been made into a movie…I saw a preview a few months ago. I will likely wait for the movie to be released and watch it before reading the book.

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  5. sleeptalker1 says:

    The Lord of the Rings Trilogy was done brilliantly – I’m hoping The Hobbit lives up to the standards too.
    Directors etc often use the excuse of having to cut so much out to fit the film into the usual one hour & fifty minutes. It’s said audience can’t concentrate for longer than that. Really? are we that brain dead we can’t cope with a storyline over two hours long? You’d think Lord of the Rings would have blasted this ridiculous theory, but yet they still stick to the ‘standard’ time.
    I agree with you Gina on the BDB debate. I think it would be impossible to match most of the things in the books. Just the basics of finding decent actors which could match in physical appearance would be impractical. This completely irritated me in The Twilight Saga with Jacob – he was obviously way too small (so were the rest of the pack) & it made some parts of it just seem stupid.

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    • I think the issue with longer movies is that there are so many that shouldn’t be that long. Read: boring as hell. With the right subject matter, like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, there is so much going on plot-wise that the end of two hours plus, you’re still wishing for more.

      I agree with you regarding the wolf pack. The only one who was even remotely convincing in size, was Sam. Yes, Taylor worked his ass for the bulk, but that does nothing to address the height issue. There were a lot of holes in the screenplays for each book. I thought it was done well overall, but it definitely catered too much to fans who had read the series. If I hadn’t read Twilight before watching it? I don’t think I would have cared as much for the characters.

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  6. shay aka 50shayds says:

    I never want to see my bdb vamps on film for those same reasons.
    In P.S. I Love You, the movie was sooooo good that i bought the book. Could not wait to read it. Sadly i could not. I read up to chapter 6. Jerry was Irish and married a american but the book was all irish. I lost interest in it.

    The haunted airman which stars rob pattinson is a made for BBC tv. A friend on twitter said it was a book and now i want it. She said they cut a lot out.

    Bel Ami, i was soooo pleased that they got that one right. I know a bunch of people who hated both but they love rob. I LOVE ALL 3 OF THEM!

    You must 1st see The Girl With The Pearl Earring then read the book. It was a lovely surprise that there was more too the story than the way the movie ended.

    Another one that shocked me was The Count of Monte Cristo! When i read the novel after i saw the movie, i just about died when Robert was NOT the counts son. Then i was uber pissed when i found out that i read the abridged version. So what did i do, i got and read the unabridge. It was hard with all the french words in it but i got through it. Best thing i ever did.

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  7. Tamie says:

    I too loved The Green Mile, and The Shawshank Redemption as books and movies. I was really disappointed in the film adaptations of My Sister’s Keeper, and The Lovely Bones. Both were amazing books that for me failed as movies, because of the changes that were made.
    Great post Gina!

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  8. katiebirdie says:

    I loved everyone’s comments!! I tried to read Skookie Stackhouse books, and didn’t care for them. I love the HBO series though. Alan Ball is a genius. 🙂

    I loved WFE, the book and the movie. The changes made sense to me, and didn’t take away anything for me. I too loved Bel Ami, the book and the movie. BUT I also do wonder what I would have thought about the Twilight movies, if I hadn’t read the books first.

    I was surprisingly happy with The Hunger Games movie, and am looking forward the next movie. The books are great though.

    One book adaptation that I am really nervous about is Fifty Shades of Gray. God, I hope they don’t mess it up, to make it easier for the masses to accept. I read 9-1/2 Weeks and was disappointed with the movie.

    Cool post, Gina.

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  9. Agree. I would be devastated if BDB was made into movies. I cringe at the thought. I love my Brother’s just the way the are perfectly in my wicked imagination. 😉

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