Adaptations: Books, Movies and the Magic of it All

By: Amanda Libby

A movie adaptation; those words can either send joy into the hearts of readers, or sink them into a dark ocean of dread and despair.  A good adaptation makes moviegoers flock like birds to bread to their nearest book store paying hard-earned money to have the privilege of reading the book that their new favorite movie was based on.  A bad adaptation on the other hand, sends people running in the opposite direction, fleeing from anything remotely having to do with the movie, even though they might have enjoyed the original book if given the chance.  It is a sad, but true cycle of actions.

Whenever the topic of movie adaptations comes up (and it usually does when it comes to my friends) someone, usually the most intelligent of the group, almost always says that the book is better and the movie was terrible for various reasons that they proceed to list with clarity and sureness.  Being an avid reader who devours books instead of food at times, I usually agree, as movies have become notorious in making shoddy adaptations of some of my favorite books or series.

Two major trends in movie making and writing come to mind almost instantly as to why this is: the movie only skims the surface of what the book is really trying to say, and characters that were unique in the book were made devoid of the subtlety that was present in the literature.  I had the displeasure of seeing two movies that have these problems in abundance: The Giver and The Book Thief, which I now detest with the burning passion of a thousand suns.

6The Giver doesn’t even come close to what the original book was saying about the world and society.  It only scratched the surface of the deep themes of the dangers of love and the terrible loneliness that knowledge sometimes brings, especially to children.  The relationship between Jonas and Fiona was completely changed for the trend of teen romance, when in actuality the relationship was melancholy and full of longing that was never reciprocated.  

7The Book Thief was even worse, as it cut out all of the unique characteristics of the narrator until they had a monotone stock character that didn’t deserve to be titled Death.  The sparkling details and ominous backstory that made the human characters deep and memorable were gone.  I was disappointed beyond words when I viewed the credits for these two movies and had to dash to my library and furiously reread the books, to keep the trash from seeping into my memory.

Despite all this, I don’t blame the filmmakers or the writers.  They are taking a medium that can be as long and detailed and complex as it wants, and translating it into a medium that has to be a maximum length in order to attract a mainstream audience and follow certain conventions that cannot be broken.  They were bound by the written word and couldn’t stray too far from it or book lovers would chase them down in the streets and pelt them with their copies of the book.

Looking forward, I will probably still go see movie adaptations of books I enjoy, sometimes they surprise me with a good retelling that stays true to the core of the book without removing what made the book so magical.  The older Harry Potter movies are excellent examples with The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets both staying true to the source material and also luring new young readers into a world of mystery, magic and knowledge.

In closing, I will continue to read and encourage others to do the same.  Don’t let the movies speak solely for the books they represent, as the repeated phrase which goes: “the book was better” is usually correct.


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