adaptations · discussion

What I Look For In Adaptations

More and more we’re starting to see adaptations dominating the new releases at cinemas. It’s starting to feel like almost every day there’s an announcement of another book – primarily Young Adult – that’s been picked up by a film company. This is a good thing on many levels because it feels like Young Adult content is starting to be taken seriously. Fancasting is a common thing in the book community and many of us openly say we would love to see our favourite story in a visual format (I personally cannot wait for the A Darker Shade of Magic TV show). A phrase that’s batted around a lot is “the book is always better than the film.” I am the absolute worst for watching an adaptation with someone and going “you know in this book…”

In my final year of my undergraduate degree I took a module titled “Film and Literature” where, you guessed it, we read a book and watched its subsequent adaptations then discussed them in classes and essays. In my exam, the highest marked question was “All good books make bad adaptations. All bad books make good adaptations. Discuss.” I remember starting at the paper in horror. How was I expected to write a minimum of three pages about how this is entirely subjective? (I tried and failed miserably I still don’t know how I passed the module at all)

I still firmly believe that this is subjective: what may be someone’s favourite adaptation may be the worst thing ever to someone else. So I put the question to various people on social media sites to see what they thought. I was surprised that a lot of the responses I got focused on the feel of it: people seemed rather happy to have the adaptation veer off from the original material as long as it was true to the story. Capturing the real essence of the world and characters was naturally the overwhelming response I received. After all, how can you enjoy it if the meaning of the tale is lost? Naturally another common response I got was about accuracy: as long as everything is exactly as it happens in the book, it’s sure to be good. But with a need to streamline stories, a lot of seemingly unimportant stuff gets cut. For example, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the longest book in the series but the shortest film out of the franchise. (Come on, did you really not expect me to slip Harry Potter in somewhere?

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I am the traditional reader who will pick up the book before going to see the movie. Mainly because I like to imagine everything for myself before that is permanently tainted by someone else’s interpretation of the same story. When I watch the adaptation, I am one of those people who lives for accuracy; even the smallest change can completely take me out of the world. It’s a curse.

So to turn these thoughts I have into something a bit less hypothetical (and probably make this post much longer than it needs to be) I’m going to share two adaptations I really enjoyed and two that are better left forgotten out.
Allegiant (2016) 

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I absolutely adore the Divergent series and the final book is my favourite. I was amazed at how well done the first two films were and often find myself re-watching them. But watching Allegiant felt like being trapped on a train that had derailed over a bridge. Not one once of this adaptation reflects the source material. Nothing was really explained and it felt like the real message Veronica Roth was trying to get across had been muddled in all the changes that were made for the sake of more action scenes. I did a full spoiler review of it on my channel which you can find here if you want to hear me rant.

The Fault In Our Stars (2014) 

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It’s only writing this that I noticed I have coincidentally used two examples where Shailene Woodley is the main actress but I had to talk about this film.  I’m sure everyone has heard about this book regardless of whether they’ve read it or not. I remember sitting in the cinema as the credits rolled, tears rolling down my cheeks while I breathed a sigh of relief. This one of few adaptations to me that really got it right; so much so that I didn’t mind the minor changes. Everything about this is perfect, from the  soundtrack to the aesthetic, to the acting. As I said in the introduction, keeping the message is important and you really do feel it in this film.

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (2016)

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My tolerance for horror and anything creepy is almost non-existent which makes it odd that Tim Burton is one of my favourite directors. So when I heard that he had signed on to work on a story about peculiar children and there was a book… you can see where I’m going with this. I ended up loving the overall series more than I ever thought I might as it is out of my comfort zone ins some respects. The adaptation is very mixed more me as I really didn’t like some of the actors, and for the life of me can’t understand why the roles and names of Emma and Olive were swapped for the film, but it has some redeeming element to it; mainly the aesthetic. I feel like enough of the world is there and that information is presented in a way that makes it easy to follow (whereas Ransom Riggs’ prose gets difficult to follow at times) but I think it did the right thing in changing the ending as I don’t think it did well enough to work on Hollow City. 

The Book Thief (2013)

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If you watch at least one adaptation in your life, please make it this one. The book is a very dark, haunting read. (What could you expect from a book narrated by death?) With such a strong narrative voice, I felt this might be lost once it was changed for screen and in a lot of ways it is but the acting is absolutely beautiful. I think it’s impossible to watch this film and not feel with every ounce of your being for these characters and the unfortunate situation they’re having to endure. The message is clear, visually it’s gorgeous and while a very slow burn, it’s so worth it for the re-evaluating of your life you’ll definitely do after.

And there you have it. You’ll notice that I didn’t use Harry Potter and that’s for a good reason: I plan to do a whole separate post about the franchise. Stay tuned for that!

What do you look for in adaptations?
What are some of your favourite adaptations and why?

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