Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Film Adapations of Books

I saw The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader for the second time today.  I hadn't seen it since the day it came out in theaters.  I only saw it today because they were showing it for free at the local theater as part of their free "Summer Kid's Movie Series" program, which is an ingenious way the local movie theater can make a lot of money by selling overpriced popcorn and soda.  I felt silly coming to a "kids' movie" without any kids, and since kidnapping is still illegal, I tagged along with the family I nanny for...on my day off.

Now, I've already written a blog about my thoughts on the third Narnia movie, and I really don't want to go into it again.  But the movie made me think about how some film adaptations of books are really well done, and how some of them really stink. 

Some people confuse me for one of those people who expect film adaptations to be almost identical to the book.  This just isn't the case.  I took a class called Lit and Film in college, which was one of the most interesting classes I've ever had.  And I agree with what the professor said--that a good film adaptation is one that properly captures the essence of a book.  That doesn't mean a good film adaptation has to cover every intricate detail of a book in exactly the same way the book handled it.  Sometimes things have to be changed for time (a 500 page book doesn't always fit well into a 90 minute movie) or because what works in print might not work well on screen.  I know some people who like to nitpick over minor details that don't change the basic themes of the story.  I'm not one of those people.

I am, however, one of those people who will get upset if I think a film did a bad job of translating a book on screen--particularly if I LOVED the book.  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader wasn't horrible, but I do have some major problems with it because I think the filmmakers missed the point of the book (FYI, I LOVED the book).

There are a lot of film adaptations that I really don't like because I feel that the filmmakers didn't really grasp the main themes of the books they were trying to adapt.  At the top of this list is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (the third one).  Not only did the filmmakers try to cram the theme of "time" into the movie, when the book really didn't have that overarching theme, but they left out all sorts of important themes and details that made the story understandable.  If I hadn't read the book and were just relying on the film, I'd have no idea what was going on.  And this was a common complaint I heard from people who hadn't read the book.  They didn't understand the movie.

A Wrinkle in Time is another film adaptation that leaves a lot to be desired.  It was a made for tv movie, but that doesn't give it the right to suck as much as it did.  The movie got several small details wrong--which might have been redeemable if they had been done well.  But almost nothing about this movie was done well.  The vast majority of the actors were miscast (so even the good actors like Alfre Woodard gave dreadful performances).  The writing was choppy and incoherent.  It makes me a little angry because A Wrinkle in Time is my favorite book, but the film version made it look dreadful.  So all of those people who like to see the movie first to see if they might like the book are now under the impression that it's a dreadful book.  If you're one of these people, I urge you to go read the book.  I promise it is SO much better than the movie.  I'm hoping that eventually someone picks up the whole Time Quartet series and does some major motion pictures that don't stink.  I do have to say, the music wasn't bad.  And the kid they got to play Charles Wallace was cute.  And Mrs Who was actually pretty likable.  Other than that...meh.  I've also heard that the Disney made-for-tv version of A Ring of Endless Light (another Madeleine L'Engle book) was also dreadful.  Maybe I'll see it for myself one day.

I don't want to spend much more time griping about film adaptations I don't like, but here is a list of others that really bother me (I still might watch these movies from time to time, as I often still watch A Wrinkle in Time, if only because I like to relive parts of the story when I don't have time to read the book):

Tuck Everlasting
The Black Cauldron
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (the 2005 movie version--which was not redeemable even with Zooey Deschanel as Trillian AND Alan Rickman as Marvin.  The cheesy 1980 BBC version, however, is epic!)
First Knight
The Little Mermaid (Okay, I like the songs.  And Sebastian.  But Disney turned the self-sacrificing (and unnamed) Hans Christian Anderson protagonist into a selfish spoiled brat named Ariel)
The Flight of Dragons (based off the book The Dragon and the George)

There are a lot of film adaptations of books that I really don't like, but there are probably a lot more that I do like.  The Princess Bride is my favorite film, and it's one of my favorite books.  I think one of the reasons I'm such a big fan of both the film and the book is that William Goldman wrote both of them (the book and the screenplay).  Not every detail was the same.  There were lots of omissions and changes in the film version, but the film was a hilarious and touching story that paid true homage to the book.

Some of the film adaptations I like are very different from the books, but they're still enjoyable AND they retain the basic thematic essences of the books.  Pollyanna is one of these.  Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (in case you're confused, I mean the Gene Wilder one) is another.  I do like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the Johnny Depp version), and it IS closer to the book than the Gene Wilder version "Willy Wonka," but I don't like it as much.  The Neverending Story is another film I love that doesn't follow the book very well, and it makes me sad that they tried to make it more like the book by making an absolutely horrendous sequel.  And another sequel--which thankfully, I have not seen.

Here's a list of film adaptations I really like:

Jurassic Park
Jurassic Park: The Lost World
October Sky (based on a memior originally published as Rocket Boys--it's an anagram)
All of the Harry Potter films except for Prisoner of Azkaban (I just can't forgive it)
Ramona and Beezus  (I would love to see more Ramona movies!)
The Hobbit (the Rankin Bass cartoon version, since the live action one hasn't come out yet)
The Return of the King (again, the Rankin Bass version)
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (the Peter Jackson ones)
The Bridge to Terebithia (both the 80s version and the more recent version of this)
Winnie the Pooh (even after Disney mutilated A. A. Milne, I still like it)
The Phantom Tollbooth
2001: A Space Odyssey (the book was written at the same time as the film, but I think it still counts)
The BBC versions of The Chronicles of Narnia (they only did up to the Silver Chair...which makes me sad)
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
A Christmas Carol (while almost any version--including Mickey's Christmas Carol and Scrooged--is likable, my favorite version is the Patrick Stewart one)
10 Things I Hate About You (based on Taming of the Shrew.  True story.)
Alice in Wonderland (again, pretty much any version of this would do--including the Johnny Depp version which was very unlike the original Lewis Caroll story.  I like what they did with it)
Anne of Green Gables/Anne of Avonlea
Hook (which was based off Peter Pan, which was a book)
The Little Prince
The Secret of NIMH (Based on the book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH--they changed a lot, but the movie was still amazing!)
The Face on the Milk Carton (made for tv and really cheesy, but it's not too bad)
The Jungle Book

I'm sure I could name more, but...that would take longer than I want to spend on typing a blog. 

There are rare occurrences when I actually prefer the film version of a story to the book.  The Wizard of Oz is one of these.  Perhaps if I had read the book before seeing the Judy Garland/Ray Bolger rainbow-riffic classic movie from 1939 (the same year my daddy was born--which makes me extra sentimental about it), I might feel differently.  But I tried to read the book as a grown up.  I found it dreadful and unimaginative.  I get that it was a political commentary and all that, but that didn't increase my enjoyment of it.  I much preferred the musical film version. 

Another musical movie I preferred to the book was Phantom of the Opera.  The book wasn't the worst thing I've ever read, but it couldn't compete with the haunting genius of Andrew Lloyd Weber. 

I also preferred the happy ending Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame to Victor Hugo's classic where everybody dies (hopefully didn't ruin that for you).  The incredible songs, again, didn't hurt either. 

I have to admit I also liked the 90's version of The Three Musketeers way better than the book.  Rebecca De Mornay.  Keifer Sutherland.  Chris O'Donnell.  Tim Curry.  Oliver Platt.  Oh, and Charlie Sheen LONG BEFORE he went crazy.  Ah, what a great flick!  I had a cassette tape of the song "All For Love." Yep.  I was awesome.

Right now I'm anxiously awaiting a couple of film adaptations.  I've read that they're probably going to do "Magician's Nephew" (Chronicles of Narnia) before "Silver Chair" (and that "MN" isn't coming out until 2014).  So I'm not holding my breath for those.  I wouldn't be surprised if they got dumped.  Which is sad.  But after seeing what they did with "Dawn Treader," I'm not sure I want them messing with Puddleglum.

But I'm getting a little excited (along with a lot of people) about The Hunger Games, which is set to come out in March of next year.  I'm thinking that The Hunger Games is the new Harry Potter, at least in terms of waiting for the next movie to come out.  Oh...and I'm waiting for the final HP movie, too...but it will be here VERY soon! 

Other books I'd love to see made into good major motion pictures are:

A Wrinkle in Time and the other books in the Time Quartet (as I said before)
A Ring of Endless Light and the other Austin Family books by Madeleine L'Engle (actually starting with Meet the Austins)
The Chronicles of Prydain (The Black Cauldron was based on the first two books, but it fell sadly, sadly short.  I would love to see the whole series done in epic live action LOTR style.)
The Bunnicula Series
The Space Trilogy by C. S. Lewis

Again, there are probably others, but this blog is long enough. 

How about you?  Are there film adaptations you LOVE?  Are there film adaptations you HATE?  Are there movies you like better than the books?  Are there any books/series you would LOVE to see made into movies?

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