People like books. People like movies. Some people like movies that are adapted from books. But, almost every time, there are subtle or not-so-subtle changes that happen between taking words on a page and making them happen on the big screen. What gives? Why did they leave out my favorite character? How come they didn’t include that sub-sub-sub-plot I loved so much in the book?
I’ve had these thoughts too. I remember in early high school when The Lord of the Rings movies started coming out. I was pumped. I had grown up on those books with older siblings reading them aloud and then diving into them myself. I remember walking out of the movie with the thought, “That was amazing…but…where was Tom Bombadil? Why were the Barrow Downs entirely left out?” I felt slightly betrayed.
Then there’s the experience of reading the book after you see the movie. One specific instance I can remember is Tarzan. I thought the Disney movie was pretty great, so I went ahead and got the book from the library. They’re like… not even close. Clayton wasn’t even the villain in the book. Why does Disney sugarcoat all of these classic tales?
And then one day, I had an epiphany. I had borrowed the Watchmen graphic novel from one of my friends and basically spent a whole day devouring it. So many different philosophical points of view that all culminate into a giant Nihilistic poop-fest. I remember feeling the weight of the story, the worldview and how affecting it all was. The next day, I went to see the movie, and I was… bored. The movie (with the exception of the very end) was almost a carbon-copy of the book. Maybe it was ruined by me having just read the book the day before seeing the movie, but everything that popped out of the book didn’t translate as well when it was presented basically as a moving comic book.
I know it’s a common complaint that the movie isn’t always as good as the book. The Atlantic had a piece a few years ago talking about the differences in the Hunger Games movie. The Independent also had an article that says that a lot of thematic elements get lost in translation in book adaptations, with a few exceptions.
There have been times when the book’s author liked the changes from the book. Other times, they hated it. I’m sure there’s a variety of reasons why the writers/directors/producers make the changes they do from plotlines and characters bloating the film version to something not testing well with screening audiences to basically taking creative, almost fan-fiction-like licenses with the film.
And I’d argue, for the most part, that’s ok.
Hermione didn’t fight for the rights of the house elves in the movie version. While that was an enjoyable storyline, it wouldn’t have made the movies quite as streamlined and concise. It takes me probably the same amount of time to read four chapters of Harry Potter that it does for me to watch an entire movie. And—though it slightly pains me to admit it—perhaps the Barrow Downs and Tom Bombadil would probably have derailed the movie.
My wife got me into The Magicians books. Shortly after we had finished reading those, the TV series got started. We’re still going strong into the third season and are still enjoying it, despite how the show has gotten a lot less similar to the books than when it first started. And again, that’s ok, because it presents something new and enjoyable with these familiar characters and still maintains a lot of the important story elements in the process. Why would I want to watch the exact same thing that I just read?
And before the purists come to my house with torches and pitchforks, I think it’s important to note that what really should be done is to take movie adaptations on a case-by-case basis, because sometimes the changes are questionable or downright bad. The Hobbit movies felt like the classic book had made it big, spent a wild weekend in Miami, and came back home with debts and regrets. There’s definitely such a thing as too much creative license or completely taking a dump on the original essence of the book’s story.
But, for the most part, I think movies are way more enjoyable if you’re willing to give the creative differences the benefit of the doubt rather than going into the movie expecting purity like I used to. So when Annihilation and Ready Player One come out and will likely have differences from their paged counterparts, try to view the changes as a welcome change—if it’s worthy.
And if George R.R. Martin ever releases The Winds of Winter you can join me in saying, “That’s not how they did it in the show!”