Hollywood How-To: Making Great Books Into Not-So-Great Movies

A couple days back, I finished reading and reviewing The Martian by Andy Weir–in a nutshell, it’s pretty darned good. 5 stars. Now the movie will be hitting Oct 2nd starring a stellar cast [both pun and compliment intended], I hope it does the book justice.

But, I’ve been let down before.

Part of the problem of a movie not living up to a promising book’s expectations lies with the readers. We envision a character or house or scene or accent a certain way. But a movie is never the same on screen as in your head. Never. Sometimes that’s okay because the movie manages to overwhelms us with exactly how over-the-top and all-consuming they create an ambiance in ways a reader would be hard pressed to. Think Hogwarts, or Diagon Alley from Harry Potter movies, or nearly every scene in Lord of the Rings. These movies were so immersive they left little room for nit-picking on the epic scale.

Sometimes, the problem is that a writer’s style of writing doesn’t translate well to the screen. Voice-over narration in movies never feels as intimate as internal dialogue from first person narrators in books.

When I think back at my disappointment with the cinematic Golden Compass, I don’t know that I can even put my finger on the disconnect. But it was there. Probably, in dozens of little ways. Since I really enjoyed the source trilogy, it was especially disappointing to realize that the rest of the series would never get made since the first installment didn’t work. I felt that way about Avatar: the Last Airbender, too. It wasn’t a book, but the source material failed to translate to the live action big screen as planned.

Certainly, sometimes Hollywood makes the necessary changes to compensate for what is lost from the book. Alice Walker’s The Color Purple is great. So, is the movie. And not necessarily in the same way. And that’s ok. A little Oprah and the little Whoopie Goldberg can go a long way . . .

Have you been disappointed by an movie adaptation? And what book would you like to see make it to the big screen?

My answer to the latter question is Pierce Brown’s Red Rising series. Someone even bought the rights. But I worry. The first book is compared to The Hunger Games but the comparison doesn’t hold for the sequel, Golden Son, so I hope whoever makes it, does so with only the series at hand on their mind and not some formula that worked for a different series. I guess I’ll find out.

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One response to “Hollywood How-To: Making Great Books Into Not-So-Great Movies

  1. Very true. Every time I hear that they are making one of my favorite books in to a movie, I get nervous. It never looks like it does in my head and after I see the movie, I can only picture it through the lens of the movie. So many times a movie kills the characters I have imagined and I never get them back.

    Liked by 1 person

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