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Book-to-Movie Adaptations: The Best and The Worst

Written by Alexander Tucker   // 06/14/2012




I love books as much as I love movies. Which often means that I read the book before I see the movie. When I do that, I tend to be disappointed. When I’m disappointed, I complain. And when I complain, my entire family asks me to shut up about how the movie was different.


But I can’t help it. Sometimes, as far as I am concerned, a book is pretty much a screenplay ready to go. Sure, you’ll have to trim some of the fat to make it work for film. But that is not what upsets me. So, I present my list of best and worst book-to-movie translations.




Book1. The Princess Diaries: This teen book by Meg Cabot was turned into a major motion picture by Disney in 2001, starring Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews. The only thing they kept the same in the film translation was the character names and the fact that the main character, Mia, was a princess of a fictional country. However, the fourteen-year-old, tall, blonde, New-York-dwelling main character turned into the seventeen-year-old, brunette, beautiful, San-Francisco-native, played by Anne Hathaway. Oh, and Princess Mia’s evil, French, grandmother with the tattooed eyebrows morphed into the warm and loving Julie Andrews. I could go on, but I’ll spare you. This is, quite honestly, the worst of the worst and will forever be a thorn in my side.






Book2. Eragon: Another book for young adults, this one was written by Christopher Paolini. The screenplay writers of the 2006 film version decidedly shot themselves in the foot by taking details out of the film that are absolutely necessary for the sequel. Oh, this character and his love interest are absolutely crucial to the sequel, you say? Half of the second book takes place from their point of view, you say? By all means, let’s get rid of the both of them.









Book3. A Series of Unfortunate Events: This 2004 film helmed by Nickelodeon got a lot right, but a lot wrong as well. Based on the children’s book series by Lemony Snicket, the film perfectly captured the texture and senses of the illustrations featured in the books. The sets and costumes were unique and spot-on. However, the screenplay writers again decided that important details needed for the other movies, should be removed. Because of the popularity of the Harry Potter series, they decided that one of the main characters, Klaus (Aiken), shouldn’t wear his signature glasses, out of a fear that he’d resemble Daniel Radcliffe too much. Unfortunately, any one who has ever read the fourth book in the series can tell you that the glasses are beyond needed for the story. Furthermore, the overall dangerous tone of the book was lost in the translation, and instead felt silly and pandering. As if that wasn’t enough, major plot twists near the end of the thirteen book series, were revealed and solved in the first film.







Book1. Atonement: Released in 2007 and popular in the award circle, I consider this movie to be the very best book-to-movie translation ever. The original novel by Ian McEwan is very literary and has minimal dialogue. I can say that pretty much every word spoken in this movie came from the book originally. They took descriptive terms in the book and turned them into lines. These screenwriters truly understood the meaning of the book and how to respect it.









Book2. The Help: Highly popular amongst critics and audiences alike, this 2011 film is another example of a great book-to-movie translation. Is it exactly the same as the book? No, it isn’t. But what the screenwriters understood is how to keep true to the story, without changing every single thing. They kept the tone and told a very important story without compromising the integrity of the original novel.











Book3. The Hunger Games: Insanely popular amongst youth and adults alike, this recently released film is not a perfect translation. They changed a good handful of things, many of those things didn’t make sense at all. But, the tone of the book was captured perfectly in the movie. The actors knew how to embody their characters and made them practically jump off the page. I can forgive the changes to the screenplay, because I know that the filmmakers actually respected the original material.

It would seem that there is a trend among the movies based off of books for younger readers. Hollywood, pay attention, you do not need to pander to young audiences. They’ve read the books and the books became popular for a reason. Don’t disrespect audiences, readers, and the author by cheapening the movie and disrespecting the original source material.





Have you read these books or seen the films? What do you think?


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