Saturday, November 13, 2010

Books to Movies: Love Em? Hate Em?

So, I'm sitting here watching The Golden Compass on tv, and I started thinking about why some books that are made into movies succeed, and others tank.

Movies like The Golden Compass, Eragon, and Percy Jackson didn't get very good reviews. Others, like Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and The Princess Bride are just spectacular*.

I was SO excited when they announced the making of The Golden Compass, and when it fell flat I was disappointed.  But I couldn't quite put my finger on why it (and others) have fallen flat.  I think when it comes down to it, it's the ability of the director and screenwriters to translate the book into a movie.  Honestly, the acting in The Golden Compass was pretty good (plus there were lots of big actors in it), and the same can be said for Harry Potter.  Seriously, Daniel Radcliff's performance in the first Harry Potter was far from oscar-worthy (luckily his acting improved a million times with each film). 

So I think the key lies in whether the director knows how to translate the book into a movie.  He/she has to know what to put in and what to leave out.  They have to know what can be changed without angering the audience too much, and how to flesh the dialogue out and adapt it for the screen. 

I absolutely fell in love with Lyra and Pan, Lee and Iorek, and the relationship of Lyra and Will in subsequent books in Phillip Pullman's series.  The book itself is so complex and riddled with political commentary, but at the same time weaving a beautiful world of fantasy and souls that live outside the body.  I wonder if it was just too much to put in a PG film.  (Okay, and honestly, as I'm watching it- it's not too bad.  But maybe because I read the book- it's bringing back all those emotional feelings I felt while I read it.)

I always said the problem with Eragon, was it was just a "skeleton" of the book.  There was no flesh, none of the rich history to it


Percy just changed a whole lot of things, even though the kid that played him was wonderful in my opinion. 

So now I'm a little worried about The Hunger Games movie- what will happen with it? Will it go the Harry Potter route, or the Eragon route?  I've also heard rumors about a Sabriel movie which worries me even more- what if it's awful?  What if Garth Nix waited all this time (like Phillip Pullman) only to have a not-so-good movie?  I just hate that it might not do the book justice, and it will turn people off from reading it. 

It also seems like nowadays people are jumping to make all these YA books into movies.  They should let them simmer a little...get people excited about the book, let it become a classic, and then they can choose who they want to make the movie.  I think part of the problem is many authors have almost no say in how the movie is done.  Meg Cabot had pretty much nothing to do with Princess Diaries and Avalon High (which premiered on the Disney Channel the other night) and they were drastically changed with not-so-good reviews.

So what do you think?  What books-to-movies did you like or not like?  Is there a certain formula they have to follow, or is it just luck/bad luck on how well they do?

*Um, yeah, so I didn't mention Twilight for a reason- so many people loved the movie, but c'mon glittery vampires with make-up lines on their necks, looooong teenage angsty pauses, and dude...where the heck did Carlyle get that accent?  So, Twilight's kinda in a league of it's own.


Melissa said...

I agree with you about Twilight... not even worth mentioning.

I think your right, the difference between good movie adaptations is whether or not the author has a say. JK is pretty...strict with the Harry POtter stuff from what I've heard. She has her foot in that franchise and veto's what she thinks is completely ridiculous. But most authors don't have a say. Most don't have any power and then things can fall flat.

With the Hunger Games Suzanne Collins wrote teh script so... I mean... you gotta hope it's good. BUT there's another problem with that... so much of what made the HG good was Katniss inner commentary... They are going to need a freaking fantastic actress to even remotely pull it off...

Colene Murphy said...

When I read Suzanne Collins wrote the script my whole body relaxed for The Hunger Games movie. Now I'm just going to let myself be excited!

But I must agree on your points. (I love this post btw) I never saw the Eragon of Percy Jackson movies. Though I didn't read Eragon I love Percy and couldn't sit through it from what I heard. Didn't want to taint the books.

I Think and HOPE Garth Nix would be able to have a substantial say like Rowling and Collins do if they make that one cause I can see it going VERY wrong.

You think for HG they might do that voice over inside thought narration thingy for Katniss or just hope the actress can make it work?

erica and christy said...

I think it does make a big difference if you've read the book already. When I've read the book first, I'm bound to be disappointed by the movie - if I watch the movie first and like it, I keep liking it even after I read the book, just accept that they're different.

PJ - read first, was annoyed that Percy was suddenly 5 years older than I pictured him. Golden Compass - read 2nd and like both. Eragon - haven't read, but now I'll have to, since I actually like the movie!

Now I'm worried about Deathly Hallows. It's the first HP book I read before watching the movie!!

Shallee said...

Turning books into movies is soooo difficult to execute properly. I took a class on book to film adaptation in college, and I think that one thing a lot of movies fail to do is to nail the essence of the book.

One of my favorite adaptations is Lord of the Rings, because the movies were just as epic in their portrayal of the characters, world, and good-versus-evil dichotomy as the books were. It didn't matter that the movies were, at some points, wildly different from the book. The movies still caught the essence of the book-- managed to say the same thing the book did.

I don't even know if that makes sense to anyone else, or if it was just really vague... :)

Abby Minard said...

Melissa- You're right about the Hunger Games- at least Suzanne Collins was a screenwriter before an author, so it should be good!

Colene- you are right on Garth Nix, and I wonder if that's why he's holding out. I always thought that was the same with Anne McCaffrey and her books. She never let them be made into movies (yet)

Erica- I usually am like that too- I get upset if they don't include EVERYTHING in the book (and I know that's not feasable thought). But still, there's something about the HP movies that make them stand out.

Shallee- wow, that class sounds so awesome. Makes total sense!

Alex said...

Shallee you explained it pretty well from my point of view. The book to movie adaptation is about capturing the overall feeling you get from the book and having the characters and their motives and feelings come alive. Two excellent adaptations though very different from the books in terms of the flow of the plot, leaving things out, and even adding things are Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, and High Fidelity.

Both are just terrific and leave you with a lasting feeling the same way a good book would. Nick and Norah's may even be better than the book as the soundtrack and acting captured the emotions and romance maybe better than the book which became a little overly angsty and breathless at times. Also About A boy translated into a good film as well.

I think the themes and characters of Nick Hornby books are fairly accessible to the directer and actors.

Right now I'm reading It's Kind of a Funny Story because I saw a trailer for the film and felt I'd really like it. Right now I can tell the film will probably be very different in terms of the plot line from the book yet will convey some of the emotions and feeling from the book.

Does anyone have any take on Youth In Revolt?
I saw the movie but have not read the book and am interested to see. I feel the book may be better than the movie.

Sorry if any of this is unintelligible. But even though it's late and I should be sleeping I read the post and thread and was inspired to jump in.

Rachel Morgan said...

I was SOOO disappointed with how the Golden Compass movie turned out. I absolutely adored that book (and the Subtle Knife and Amber Spyglass) and the move just falls so unbelievably far of where it should be.

I enjoyed the Percy Jackson movie because I hadn't read the books yet. Then I read the books and loved them WAY more!

I have to say that I haven't been a very big fan of the Harry Potter movies. The trailers are always awesome (!) but I just never got from the movies what I got from the books, and the only thing I can really come up with is the pacing. I don't know, the movies just don't *move* the way the books do. Thankfully, though, the acting has improved with each movie! (And I do still watch them all!)

Madeleine said...

Good question: Lots of action, epic, quest and a mix of males and female characters that are strong, I reckon. :O)

Abby Minard said...

Alex- they really do have to get that feeling right, or else it's all wrong (even if the acting is great)

Rachel- I think it's been so long since I read each book, that by now I don't remember a whole lot about Deathly Hallows that I think I'll enjoy it much better than if I had just read the book. If the memory of the book is far back in your head, I think it makes the movie a little bit better becasue you aren't focused on those details they leave out.

Madeleine- yep, I think all those things have to come together smoothly.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I thought the Twilight movies were below average.
LOTR has been the best translation so far. Those movies reflected Jackson's love for the books.

Maria McKenzie said...

Most authors don't have any say regarding film production once their book's film rights are sold. So much depends on the director and how well he can translate a book onto the screen.

Percy Jackson wasn't the greatest movie, but my kids enjoyed it. Last night we watched The Amazing Mr. Fox. I didn't read the book, but my nine year old had. I asked him if the movie was anything like the book. "No," he said, "this is funny."

Donea Lee said...

Great post, Abby! I've wondered the same thing - how some amazing books that I just LOVE can totally flop on film.

I feel that maybe it could have something to do with the director. I'm not sure how they are chosen - if some of them maybe haven't even read the books. Or just read it to do the movie or what. I wonder if their passion (or lack there-of) has anything to do with it. Like with LoTR - Peter Jackson LOVED the books and it came through in his movies. They were epic and excellent and I love them!

I also love HP - but, then those books are so amazing (imho) I mean, how could they go too wrong?

Percy Jackson - also really loved these books and I was sooo disappointed with the movie. They made it in a way that if it tanked, they didn't need to make any more movies...which, makes me think they didn't have high hopes for sequels in the first place. How can you make something awesome with a ho-hum outlook to begin with. I feel the same way about Inkheart. Great books! Not so great movie.

It's about the passion and wanting to make something great, I think.

Keeping my fingers crossed for HG!!

Sam said...

Stardust! That's been my favorite book to movie. They made one big alteration, and normally I wouldn't like it, but in that movie, it works.

Jen Daiker said...

I so think that you're onto something here Abby... this was such a fun post! It all points to the director, they have to just as creative and in love as the agent/publisher was when those novels were found.

YAY!!! Harry Potter!!!!! Next week stop by every day for Harry Potter MADNESS!

alexia said...

Oh my gosh, so much to say on this subject... I saw The Golden Compass before I read the book - I loved the movie and I loved the book even more because of all the thought provoking political and religious stuff they left out of the movie. I loved Percy Jackson even though I haven't read the book. Not sure why those two bombed in sales, because they were both good movies. Eragon was just not a good movie - way cheesy fantasy overboard. I totally blame the director for that. But, I'm not a huge of the book either. It is worth noting that JK retained a ton of control over the HP movies, whereas other authors do not. And Twilight? Yeah, I was furious over the first movie, with all Rob's dreadful acting and facial expressions that were supposed to be emotional or contemplative but just looked constipated.

Shayda Bakhshi said...

Firstly, thanks so much for visiting my blog!

Secondly, I already know that you're 100% awesome based on the fact that you're first-listed favorite book is SABRIEL.

And oh my goodness, I'm terrified about the SABRIEL movie. I hope they get all unknowns, preferably Australians. It hurts me enough when they change things in the HP movies, but it would totally break my heart if the SABRIEL movie doesn't follow the book.

Although, do you know how long it's been since I've seen SABRIEL on a Barnes & Noble shelf? That irritates me. Hopefully a movie would build some sort of hysterical demand for the book.

SABRIEL is the best ever. :)