Adaptations: A Tricky Business

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about books that are adapted into movies. The movies usually stem from books that a) are popular with the masses; b) would make a cool film; or c) are completely and utterly heart-wrenching.


Everyone feels differently about movie adaptations, especially when the book is one of your favorites. And that leaves me wondering: how do the fans, the people who are completely devoted to the literature, feel when their favorite novel hits the big screen?


I could sit here for hours and spew out own my feelings on the topic: books based on movies are fine as long as they’re done well. It’s not hard to keep a movie in check with a book — all of the details are right in front of you. Yes, you will have to fill in some dialogue here and there. But the events, the actions, the places… You’ve got all the information at your disposal. So it disappoints me when a movie based on my favorite novel fails to live up to even the simplest expectations.


The day the trailer for Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief aired on television was one of the best days of my life… for about five seconds. I remember falling in love with the Percy Jackson series: the characters, the storylines, and the dynamics between all the friendships. When you’re a young and ambitious writer, you become devoted to even the most minute details of a story.


The Annabeth in the book was blonde. Blonde. It was written right in. So why couldn’t the director/script writers get it right? No one knows. The first movie was released and she was brunette. Now, this isn’t a stab at the actress by any means. It wasn’t her fault. But I’ll never forget when the second movie came out and her hair was blonde. I feel like, at that moment, the entire fandom shook their heads. The director messed up the first movie and made an attempt at redemption—needless to say, it failed. Fans classified the movie as “the worst adaption of a book they’ve ever seen.”


In an effort to gather others’ opinions, I explored the corners of the Internet. I thought it would be interesting to see what people thought about various movie adaptations. I found a list of the “50 greatest book movie adaptations” on gamesradar. I recognized some: Forrest Gump, Die Hard, The Color Purple, and Carrie. I’ve read and viewed The Color Purple and I must say, it was astounding. What made it so great was the film’s ability to portray the content of the book in an adequate way. The actors were how we imagined the characters, the emotion was raw, and even though they were a bit subdued, the themes were present.


According to a 1985 review of the film in The New York Times, “It does not much matter that the film lacks fidelity to Miss Walker’s tone; a lot of her book is too blunt to have been successfully translated to the screen anyhow. What’s more crucial is the film’s peculiar unevenness, and its way of combining such wild extremes.”


The film may not have matched the tone, but the characters were accurate. The content was there. And that’s what matters when you’re crafting an adaptation of a book. You can have creative freedom with it, but only to an extent. When you go so far as to change the appearance of the character and the setting, when you add/remove events that were important to the book… That’s when you start to upset people. That’s when you make mistakes that stick in people’s brains — especially when you’re working with a series of movies instead of just one.


The mistakes can’t be remedied with the I’ll-make-it-what-it-was-supposed-be-in-the-first-place style of backtracking. The first movie is out there–it’s always going to be out there. There is no going back.


And that’s what makes adaptations a tricky business.


–Kiera Hufford