Why No Movie Can Ruin Your Favorite Book

Whenever I hear that a novel I’ve read has been adapted for film, I’m always a little skeptical about the results. I wonder how closely the writers will adhere to the events of the book, and how well the actors fit the roles they auditioned for, and how much of the actual essence of the story will be preserved. Of course, I’m hardly a film critic — although I’m not easily impressed, I do appreciate the hard work that goes into movie-making and will generally enjoy anything with a sound story-line and compelling characters — but if a favorite book of mine has been considered for a movie, I usually pay close attention.

When I found out that Sara Gruen’s novelΒ Water for Elephants (one of those books that has inspired me as a writer) would begin filming in May, I’ll admit that my feelings were mixed. With Robert Pattinson cast in the lead role, I feared that one of my favorite books was about to be transformed into a fluffy companion to the Twilight saga. I dreaded the onslaught of fifteen-year-old screaming fan girls who would comprise the movie’s main audience. And because I couldn’t imagine Rob as anyone other than Edward Cullen (even though I really liked him as Cedric Diggory), I immediately assumed he was going to ruin the movie. (Don’t get me started on my early disdain for some of the other casting choices.)

But then I had to reevaluate my initial assumptions. For one, the general audience of a movie should never be the deciding factor as for whether or not you go out and see it. After all, what makes one person any more of a high-brow audience than anyone else? To say I’m not a fan of the sparkle vampire franchise is definitely an understatement, but why should that affect the way I feel about a movie that’s entirely unrelated? Besides, even if the script deviates a little from the book, it doesn’t mean the movie is going to be a train wreck!

It’s like when a new Harry Potter movie comes out. Although I’m a huge fan of the books, I really enjoy the creative liberties that the writers have taken with the movies, because they still maintain the essence of what the series is all about. If I wanted a literal version of it all, I’d reread the books! Every time one of the movies hits theaters, I always get into the same arguments with my friends who have seen it. Many of them argue that “this scene never took place in the book,” or “they completely cut out the scene where ____ happens,” but if every second of the movie were 100% faithful to the books, we wouldn’t be able to leave the theater for days. I doubt if I could handle that… could you?

These days, I’m trying to take a different approach to the way I watch movies that were based on books. Take it from Gail Carson Levine, the author of Ella Enchanted (whose film adaptation I actually kind of hated, even though the book remains one of my all-time favorites). In an interview with KidsReads, she advised that readers of any book should “regard the movie as a separate creative act. You might want to think about the choices the screenwriters made and why they may have gone in the direction they did. But I hope you have the breadth and sense of humor to encompass both movie and book.

Even if a movie totally butchers the plot of the book it is based on and is a film disaster, it can never replace the feelings you had when you read the original. That being said,Β when Water for Elephants hits theaters in 2011, I plan to go in with an open mind and hopefully embrace any differences between the book and movie.

What are your thoughts on book/movie/television adaptations? Any that you love or hate?

9 thoughts on “Why No Movie Can Ruin Your Favorite Book

  1. Kevina says:

    Have you ever seen a movie before reading the book? I actually watched The Notebook before reading it, and I love both versions! Not sure how I would have felt had I read the book first, but I definitely think that the changes made in the movie really helped the storyline in a creative way. It actually did almost feel like two different stories. In a good way. πŸ™‚

  2. Valerie says:

    I did the same exact thing with The Notebook, and I actually liked the movie a lot better than the book! Same with Devil Wears Prada (although I’m not a fan of Anne Hathaway). I think sometimes the movies make really good supplements to the books because they take some of the best parts and most interesting aspects of the characters and really develop them, thus bringing them to life!

    I’ve always wondered if our brains are just sort of wired for us to like the first version of a story we see better than the others, whether it’s the book first or the movie. Most of the time it seems to hold true for me, even though I don’t intend for it to.

  3. mct88 says:

    Ugh, complete disappointment with the Count of Monte Cristo, so devastated when they made it into a movie. It was like they didn’t even try to capture how classic this book is!

    With a Walk to Remember, they did a fairly good job. Although, there are countless funny situations missing from the movie.

    • Valerie says:

      I haven’t read Monte Cristo or seen the movie but I know what you mean… I don’t think a lot of the movies seem to do the classics justice. I saw A Walk To Remember before I read the book, and although I liked the book better (I actually teared up a little while reading, which never happens!), I liked the liberties they took with the movie, even making it modern. I definitely see the two as totally different works, but I still really liked them both.

      • dissolute_dog says:

        >>>>>>”I don’t think a lot of the movies seem to do the classics justice.”

        I agree with this. “A Tale of Two Cities” is one of my favorite books, but from watching the most famous movie adaptation made back in the 1930s, you’d be hard-pressed to see why the story was so great to begin with, lol. The main character and the iconic unrequited love story weren’t characterized properly at all (therefore losing their gut-wrenching power), and the French Revolution just kind of happened (therefore doing no justice to the heavy social commentary and epic drama that the book had).

        To be fair, after re-reading the book recently, I’m almost convinced that it’s an unfilmable novel. So I can’t blame filmmakers too much for making a movie that doesn’t capture the essence and power of certain books, when those books are so darn hard to adapt into a movie script to begin with, haha.

        I was quite impressed with the “Shiloh” movies though (the ones about the boy and his beagle dog). =P

  4. dissolute_dog says:

    By the way, I noticed on your other past blog that you hadn’t seen the film version of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Have you gotten a chance to see it since that time, and if so, what did you think?

    Unfortunately I have never read Capote’s book, but I did see the movie (Audrey was hawt =P) and I thought it was a pretty awesome story about how we find ourselves lost when we allow our lives and societies to be built on all the wrong, materialistic, ruthless, and selfish things. Although, I’m not sure if the book came off that way as well.

    Definitely not a perfect movie, but if nothing else, it’s definitely a very stylish movie, and even today we can see why the film and its star are as iconic and classic as they are.

    As modern critics and modern articles have pointed out, the only real huge taint on the thing — in retrospect — is Mickey Rooney’s “yellowface” portrayal of Holly Golightly’s Asian landlord in the movie. The character embodies almost every racist prejudice against Asian men to the extreme (from the gross teeth, to his cutthroat behavior when it came to dealing with his acquaintances, to his creepy perverted spying/blackmailing of Holly, to his outrageous and annoying antics). Even the filmmakers and Mickey Rooney have today stated that they regret making the character that way, especially considering that it didn’t serve the story in any case.

    But other than that, definitely a classic movie I think.

    • Valerie says:

      You bring up a good point… maybe some books will *never* work on film, regardless of who is involved and how well-cast it supposedly is. When you read a good book, everything you liked about it was controlled by the author, so in that sense, the author was the ONE person who invoked in you whatever feelings you had. A movie can be scripted virtually identical to the book, but if the actors can’t pull off the lines the way you expected to hear them, you might not connect the same way as you did with the book. Therefore, a movie depends on all these different creative forces — directors, screenwriters, actors, set designers, etc. — and if one fails to capture the book as you would have wanted, then it can feel like a failure.

      I still haven’t seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s… I was actually going to rent it with my family back home, but we never got around to it, so I’ll probably wait until the next time I can get home to see it. I’ve heard that the book and the movie differ in a lot of places (the narrator doesn’t have a name in the book, and although he is clearly in love with Holly, he never pursues her in that way and she never reciprocates his feelings), but I think I’ll probably like what they did with it.

      I saw the Asian landlord in the trailer, and that was just offensive! I don’t even understand why they would put him in the movie so prominently in the first place. I think he appears maybe twice in the book (possibly as a tenant?) to let Holly into her apartment, but that’s terrible that they exaggerated him so much. Still, I can’t wait to see it.

      Thank you for your comments!

      • dissolute_dog says:

        >>>>>>”A movie can be scripted virtually identical to the book, but if the actors can’t pull off the lines the way you expected to hear them, you might not connect the same way as you did with the book.”

        So true. Another problem is that even if a movie is identical to the book, the book’s particular story structure might not work in the medium of movies, and therefore the impact of the story gets lost in translation, so to speak. Adapting a work is definitely a tricky business, haha.

        >>>>>>”Thank you for your comments!”

        No problem! And thank you for your IMDb signature on the GLEE boards; if not for that, I never would have stumbled across your blog of interesting topics lol. You have such a cool flow of ideas in your writing!

        I especially liked your entry about Capote’s story, and how you found that Holly Golightly’s struggle related to your struggle to find your home, in every sense of the word home. I too have heard that the movie deviates from the book in a lot of places, but one thing I DO think is definitely intact in the movie — by comparing to your description of the book — is the essence of Holly’s main struggle to find what is important to her, find her home, find herself. Such a great character!

        Like you said, even a story written before we were born can still be relevant. I suppose that’s part of the definition of a classic; I’m still amazed that one of my favorite books (listed in my first post above, over 150 years old now) can still be so socially relevant, and that I can understand the protagonist in almost every facet of his struggles.

  5. Valerie says:

    @dissolute_dog: I’m glad you’re enjoying my blog! : ) I had wanted to bring traffic to my Blogger back when I first started so I put it in my signature, although I had no idea anyone was actually going to look at it. I’m glad it seems to be working though! And I love getting comments from you… they are very thought-provoking and I enjoy reading your responses!

    Holly Golightly really is such an iconic character… so glamorous and fascinating, but also extremely relatable in certain ways. I’m glad the movie maintains that struggle to find herself and home, because that probably had the greatest impact on me when reading the book. She reminded me of a few female characters in other books, and I realized afterward that those characters were probably somewhat based on her, since she is so interesting to read.

    I think the classics show us just how intertwined our lives really are… how even with the entire world changing around us, we are really the same inside (our wants, needs, fears, emotions, etc). It’s great to find characters from generations back who are still like us in many ways.

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