We’ve all heard the saying before, “the book was better than the movie,” when one of our favorite books is finally adapted for the screen after years of waiting. After watching one of these adaptations, I have repeatedly said that phrase. And I will repeat it.
Now, there are many reasons why a book might translate poorly to the screen. Reasons could be terrible casting choices, bad marketing, a poor understanding of the source material or studio meddling with the final product.
I understand that books and movies are vastly different mediums with different expectations. There are no limitations in books; the imagination can run free. But with movies, there are limitations. It could be budget restrictions or, if the book was big to begin with, having to cut out portions of the plot to fit a two-hour runtime. But sometimes the changes are unnecessary.
I have watched a lot of adaptations over the years, and throughout many of them, I have observed the same mistakes that make them not box office darlings.
Both Percy Jackson movies (2010, 2013) and “The Giver” (2013) do one of my least favorite changes. They age up the protagonist, and that can drastically change the story.
In the “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series and in “The Giver,” both of the main characters are 12 years old and in the movies, they are 16 (Percy Jackson) and 18 (Jonah from “The Giver”). Aging up the characters to be in their mid-to-late teens changes the tone of the plot and character development.
“The Giver” changes have always made me heartbroken because I was around the same age as the characters in the novel when I read it, and it immediately became one of my favorite books (it still is). And when I went to see the movie, I did not feel the same connection with the characters as I did when reading it.
I took AP English my last two years of high school and I sat through many subpar films based on our required reading, and the three big ones I watched were all made in the ‘90s. They were “Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights” (1992), “The Scarlet Letter” (1995; this one was “freely’” adapted from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel) and “The Crucible” (1996). All of these did the bare minimum in retelling the story, but overall, all were not that remarkable.
The only one I will give slight credit to is “Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights” because the movie decided to adapt the second part of the book, which follows the offsprings of Heathcliff, Catherine and her brother Hindley. The second part is never included in other adaptations.
On the other hand, Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” (1980) made significant changes regarding the adaptation, but I do not think it is a bad movie. It is not a great adaptation of the Stephen King book of the same name.
I enjoyed the film and the book for separate reasons. The book really dives into the inner workings of the characters and the movie nails down the eeriness of staying in an isolated hotel.
King disliked Kubrick’s changes so much that in 1997, he wrote a three-part miniseries that was more accurate to “The Shining” book. But the public will always associate “The Shining” with Kubrick’s film, not King’s original work. If I say, “Here’s Johnny,” you will know the reference immediately.
Some authors are so disappointed by the end product of the film version of their work that they ban all future adaptations of their writing—one of the most famous being J.D. Salinger.
Salinger was so disappointed in the changes to his short story “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,” (1948), renamed “My Foolish Heart” (1949) for the screen, that were done, that he refused to have any more of his stories adapted. That is why readers have never seen a film of arguably his most famous work, “The Catcher in the Rye” (1951).
I’m all for artistic liberties, but when it strays so much from the source material, can it still be called an adaptation?
At this point, make an original story, but time and time again, studios produce these films, promising the fans they will not be disappointed with the result, but we always are.