Whether it was the much awaited delivery of my Game of Thrones DVDs, or the fact that I watched the new trailer for Catching Fire, I’ve been thinking a lot about adaptations today. I’ve grown up, not only surrounded by stories through books, but also through movies and TV shows. As you can imagine, the interchange between these mediums has become important and interesting to me, to the point that my degree dissertation was on the topic in relation to what adaptors owed to the writer and the audience.
It goes both ways, books are turned into movies and TV shows, and TV shows get turned into a book series. The cross marketing of these mediums is huge, and so I thought I’d share some of my favourites… and least favourites.
As some may be aware by now, I am a big fan of the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. I started reading it at fourteen/fifteen years old, and it’s been a big part of my life. The Harry Potter series is what got me into writing because I connected with it on such a deep way that I had to explore further on my own. (This was long before Pottermore.)
When the movies came out, however, I was vastly disappointed. Plots that I viewed as important had been cut in favour of lengthy scenes where Harry let Hedwig out for a fly around the castle. Characters were inflated and deflated in importance, and a series of small changes that might not mean much to people who hadn’t read the books sent fans into a rage… Harry’s blue eyes, for example.
My dad would laugh about it. He’s the one who got me into the books, and yet he would openly mock my anger toward the films. I don’t mind much, he enjoys them in a different way to me, but now, as a writer, I can only begin to imagine how I would feel if this were done to my books…
The truth is, while comparing the books to the movies sends me into a rambling rage that, unchecked, could go on for days, as movies, I actually enjoy the Harry Potter series. As long as I don’t think about the books, I can enjoy them, and I do really enjoy the casting of the characters I love. Except for Remus, but we won’t go into that.
A Time to Kill (where the gifs above come from) on the other hand, I love! There are elements different to the book, but I adore the film in its entirety. The casting is practically flawless (anyone who can get Kiefer and Donald Sutherland in the same movie playing opposite sides of a race war automatically gets a thumbs up from me) and Samuel L. Jackson is astounding.
I believe the reason that I don’t mind the changes in A Time to Kill is because it is executed on its own in such an amazing way, and the themes remain entirely the same through both mediums. While I don’t know how much input John Grisham had with the creation of the movie, but through experiencing both the book and the movie, you can feel like he worked closely with the director to work toward the same themes.
The Hunger Games is another series that I loved as books first. I went to the cinema (having already been through my Harry Potter disappointment) ready to leave in a fit of loathing. It didn’t happen. I loved every second of the movies. Yes, there are differences… big sections that were left out with new sections being added. However, unlike Harry Potter, these added sections explained parts of the story that would have been impossible otherwise. They added meaning and clarity to, during the books, things that were taken for granted.
What I mean here, specifically, is the Game Maker scenes. We never saw these in the books because it is told entirely from Katniss’ point of view. As the movie did not involve a first person narrative, there would have been no way for the audience to understand these aspects without the extra scenes. Let’s also add that Wes Bentley’s beard completely made up for any changes, and Stanley Tucci’s blue hair was completely delightful.
From an abundance of hair to a distinct lack of it, we return to another adaptation that I loath. This time, I cannot say that I enjoy the movie if I watch it without the book, because I don’t. My Sister’s Keeper is one of my favourite books, it is a beautifully told complex tale. While the book strives to tell the story from all perspectives, giving it an amazing depth, there is still the overwhelming desire to smack the mother around the face multiple times.
Do I feel awful for her that she is losing her daughter, yes, absolutely. Do I sometimes feel that she is treated harshly for her actions, yes, of course. Does it make me like her any more because of it? No. For anyone who hasn’t read the book, the mother has focussed her entire life around Kate’s illness, including the lives of the rest of their family. She asks Anna to donate without second thought, and during the book, puts a guilt trip on her youngest child multiple times because Anna has said she doesn’t want to donate anymore. Every person in the book is in a difficult situation. Unfortunately, Mrs Fitzgerald is the person we sympathise with the least.
However, the movie had Cameron Diaz playing the role of the mother, and soon enough, the entire film became about a mother’s struggle to keep both her daughters. Parts of the plot were scrapped, and others changed completely.
In fact, even Jodi Picoult, the book’s author, came out publicly to say that she didn’t agree with the ending put on the film, that she fought against it and the director would not even hear her arguments. She was ordered off sets, refused to be spoken to, and generally ignored, even after she told them that, in changing the ending, they would lose money.
So I’m curious about how much importance other readers put on adaptations. Should they be considered as a different story, simply so that you won’t get angry when they change things? Will a hated adaptation alter your love of the books? How much does a good adaptation do to re-energise your love of a specific fandom?
If you’re a writer, do stories of bad adaptations and tales of authors being left out of the process make you rethink selling the rights to your work? Or are movie rights too big a payout to think about arguing over what they plan on doing to your story?