Weekend Reads is a weekly post in which I discuss a variety of topics and mention the books I’m currently reading.
This week’s topic:
Not everyone wants a book-to-movie adaptation to happen. But those who think this are few, fortunately…or unfortunately. The majority of us, me included, are open to seeing a beloved story told in another format or reimagined as something else.
From a reader/fan point of view, adaptations provide a new way for me to engage with the story and might even provide a fresh perspective. There’s much debate among book bloggers about how to approach adaptations, especially movie adaptations, which often doesn’t closely follow the source material.
Some peeps prefer to first read the book then see the movie so they can make comparisons or critique how closely the movie follows the book or simply understand what inspired the movie. Others, like me, prefer to read the book after seeing the show. Some people avoid this because watching the movie first spoils the book, but seeing the movie first makes me judge it a lot less harshly and stops me from becoming annoyed when I realize how much the movie had deviated from the book. I enjoy the movie more when I see it first, usual YA book-to-movie adaptations. Instead of focusing on the differences between the book and the movie, I just accept the movie for what it is.
Movies I watched and liked before reading the book:
These days, if I read a book first, I won’t bother to see the movie, or I forget to, which is what happened with Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl, The Martian, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. But seeing the movie first always makes me want to read the book, which I believe is the publisher’s and author’s intent since movie/TV adaptations often drive up the sale of books.
How adaptations affect book sales
I once thought book-to-movie adaptations as Hollywood plundering publishers for inspiration; but according to this article in the Atlantic, the Hollywood/book publishing relationship is “more symbiotic than parasitic.” The article is from January 2015, so it points to data from 2014 to back up its points, such as that the list of bestselling books for 2014, according to data from the Nielsen BookScan, “reads almost like the showtimes board at your local cineplex.” So almost all the top selling books in 2014 were adapted for movies, or rather, all the books that were adapted for movies in 2014 became top selling books.
For a closer look at how movie adaptations affect sales, there’s this CNN article from 2010 (these are some old-ass articles but they’re the first ones to pop up when I did a quick Google search and since I ain’t writing no research paper, I went with them) that looks at how the movie adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat, Pray, Love affected book sales. The article also points to data from the Nielsen BookScan stating that “the book had 94,000 units sold in the week ending August 1 [that’s leading up to the movie’s release date – August 13], which was the same amount of books sold for the entire 2006 year, when ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ was first published.”
Book adaptations are less risky
It’s obvious that a movie adaptation is great advertisement for a book. No wonder all the authors want them! Well, I take that back. Some authors would rather not have their books adapted, but I’ll get to that later. Now, let’s look at this article from the Verge that tells us why Hollywood turns to books and comics for their next huge hit.
I thought it was because Hollywood ran out of ideas, but according Hawk Otsby, co-writer of Children of Men and producer on Syfy’s The Expanse who was interviewed for the article, “It’s all about managing risk for the studios.” Apparently, it’s difficult to sell a “blockbuster original script” these days because many avenues are competing for viewer interest, so it’s much more reliable to turn to what’s already popular, recognizable, has a fan base, “and can rise above the noise [and] competition from the internet, video games, and Netflix,” said Otsby.
The article goes on to discuss the benefits of TV adaptations versus movie adaptations, but I won’t get into all that. All I’ll say is that I much prefer TV adaptations because more time is spent making sure that the adapted story has a strong plot, nuanced characters, and better graphics (sometimes). Because of the time limit (and cost) on movies, they can sometimes be a bit rushed and the story loses what made it appealing in book form.
Now with all the movie and TV adaptations we hear of that will be dropping soon, or a year or so in the future (the Verge article mentions Frank Herbert’s Dune, V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings, and Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings), it’s easy to assume that all authors want a movie/TV adaptation to boost sales and that they all jump at the chance to get it. But I recently realized that’s not so.
Adaptations in the works that I’m excited for:
[Side note: Check out this article on Tor.com for a very long list of almost all sci-fi/fantasy book and comic book film and TV adaptations to come or in the works.]
Not all authors want their work adapted to film
Maybe that’s general knowledge to all bibliophiles and I’m one of the last to know, but I genuinely thought all authors want to see their books adapted to movies. The surprise hit me when I listened to this episode of the BBC World Book Club podcast featuring Carlos Ruiz Zafon, author of The Shadow of the Wind (which I bought right after listening to this). Around the 45:18 mark, a young lady asks Zafon if he plans to have his book adapted and his direct answer was no, though he has received offers.
The podcast episode is from 2010, so it’s possible that Zafon may have changed his mind since then, or not. But he believed then that he “owes it to readers to the keep the books as they are and not sell them as a piece of merchandise so they become something else;” thus retaining control of what he intends his books to be.
Zafon ranted a bit about book-to-movie adaptations, sharing his displeasure that almost everything has become a franchise (books to movie to toys and other paraphernalia). His opinions on the topic reminded me of another BBC World Book Club episode, which featured the now late Terry Pratchett. Around the 22:34 mark, Pratchett was asked a similar question regarding the Discworld books, and, like Zafon, his response was a negative.
From the interview, I gathered that Pratchett liked selective appeal of the Discworld books, that only those who are genuinely interested in such books, in fantasy, would seek to engage in them. He said that the Discworld books would probably not adapt well to film, which is why I was surprised (again) last month when I read that a Discworld book, Good Omens, would be adapted for a 6-part TV series (it was the first I’d heard of a Discworld book being adapted). Since the BBC podcast is from 2003, it’s obvious that Pratchett probably had changed his mind about adaptations or thought it best that his own company/team should adapt his work. (Narrativia, one of the companies producing the adaptation, was founded by Pratchett.)
A strong point that both Zafon and Pratchett made is that the success of their books afforded them the liberty to choose not to allow their books to be adapted for film. Zafon expounded on this point saying that authors know a film adaptation will boost sales, so some will take a chance on that route especially if there’s a strain on their finances.
George R.R. Martin, author of the Song of Ice and Fire series that were made into the HBO TV series Game of Thrones, makes a similar point in this episode of a Nerdist podcast (recorded in 2013). Around the 37:10 mark, he discussed his displeasure with authors who agree to film adaptations of their work because of the money they’ll get from it but later complain or denounce the production because it’s not to their liking. Martin sees that as hypocritical because the authors could have refused the deal or asked for creative control of the work so what’s produced is more to their liking.
Authors who disliked the film adaptations of their work:
[See this Mental Floss article and this Lit Hub article for more. *Referring to the 2003 movie adaption of A Wrinkle in Time*]
Which is what Terry Brooks did when his Shannara Chronicles was optioned for an adaptation. In this episode of Speculate SF podcast (recorded in 2015), Brooks said that he’d always been interested in having his work adapted for film but jumped at the chance for a TV adaptation because a TV series allows more time for the story to be told. He made sure that the agreement was worded in his favor so that he could retain some creative control.
But for this fan, it doesn’t matter to me whether or not an author likes the film adaptation of their work. What matters to me is how well it’s done, so I lean more toward authors retaining some creative control when their work is being adapted. I think there’s a greater chance for a book-to-move/TV adaptation to be good, even great, when the author is involved…or at least when more effort is put into it.
My all-time favorite book-to-movie/TV adaptations:
[Note: Only 2 of the 9 above I haven’t yet read — The Prestige and 300 comics. The Strain is a TV show that aired on FX. I loved the first couple seasons, but the plot got weak toward the end. I haven’t yet completed the trilogy.]
Since this post is already quite long, I won’t bother to share what I’m currently reading. I’ll instead leave you with the book-to-film adaptation I DISLIKE the most:
All the Harry Potter movies!!!
Okay, okay, they aren’t so bad, but I really didn’t like them. They didn’t match what I had in mind. My imaginings of the story is way better!
(Also the Hobbit movie. Hated it. And Eragon too. Ugh!)
30 thoughts on “Weekend Reads #85: Book-to-Movie Adaptations – not everyone likes them; not everyone wants them”
I do really get what you mean about watching the movie first making you a lot less judgemental- I do try to read the book first cos it does ruin it for me otherwise, but at the same time I often don’t know it was a book first (so many movies are based on books!). I found it so interesting hearing the different author’s thoughts on this as well. I think both Zafon and Pratchett make fair points. And I really get what GRRM is saying- although I also don’t care if the author likes the adaptation. Honestly, I don’t care if this gets me in trouble, I actively dislike the Harry Potter movies. They’re aesthetically nice at times, but some of the character things they did and choices they made in the adaptation really bug me. Also the Hobbit movies suck (not seen Eragon, thankfully) Awesome post!
Same here. Don’t care what the author thinks of the adaptation.
And yes! regarding those HP movies. I don’t think they did right by Ginny.
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And yes! So agree about Ginny! (although I should probably add that lots of the casting I love. but there’s enough I don’t like about the movies to cancel it out)
I need to watch Eat Pray Love. I loved the book. I think some of the best adaptations that I have watched include, Carrie by Stephen King, Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, The Book Thief, Boy in Stripped Pyjamas and all Nicholas Sparks movies such as Dear John, Message in a Bottle and The Notebook.
It is interesting that you watch the movies first and that doesn’t ruin your reading experience. I like your reason why though.. I usually watch the movies first if I don’t intend to read the book. There are movies such as Lord of The Rings that I loved but would never watch.
I love love Shadow of the Wind. Didn’t know about Carlos’ view on not having the movie but I get it. The book is so beautiful though.Glad you got a copy.
Giiirrrlll!!! If you love the book then yes! Absolutely watch the Eat Pray Love movie! I loved it and it doesn’t deviate too much from the book.
Oh yes! I love the Carrie films. I didn’t mention in the post adaptations I watched first and liked but didn’t like the book when I read them after. It’s a short list and Carrie is the only one on it, I think.
Me Before You was one of those books I read before the seeing the movie and forgot to watch the movie. Dunno why I keep doing that. I do like movies based on Sparks’ books too, but I’ve never read any of his books.
I think most peeps sway that way – see the movie first because they don’t intend to read the book. I don’t mind spoilers much most times so it doesn’t bother me.
Awesome you like Shadow of the Wind! I’m eager to read it.
I’m pretty sure the Harry Potter movies are the only adaptations that are satisfying for me!
A lot of peeps do love them and I can understand why, but they just didn’t work for me.
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I love adaptations even if sometimes I complain that they didn’t follow th source material closely enough. 🙂 But I get excited when I see an adaptation coming, because who doesn’t ant to see a favorite story on the screen?? And thanks for the info- I didn’t know some of this stuff, especially about WHY Hollywood adapts so many existing properties.
Interesting too about Martin, I didn’t know that tidbit but it’s fascinating given the changes HBO has had to make with Game of Throns. I guess that may explain why he tends to hold his fire when journalists or whoever ask him what he thinks of changes. He has shown displeasure a few times but he seems to make a big effort not to show it or dwell on it publicly.
Anyway, your examples. 🙂 I haven’t read Bird Box but it looks super interesting. I love the Princess Bride but haven’t read the book. I thought they did a good job (mostly) with the LotR films. Same with the Hunger games. I still need to see Gone Girl…
You’re welcome! 🙂 Am glad the post interested you.
Martin gives some details about working with a film team to adapt a work and critiqued them too saying that adaptations should stick close to source material instead of changing too much. The podcast is really interesting.
I haven’t read Bird Box either, now I’m debating whether to wait until after the movie or not.
If you’ve seen Princess Bride, then you kinda read the book because it sticks close to it. But I’d still recommend reading it. Gone Girl movie made me read the book and even though I knew what would happen, I was still hooked.
I love Eat, Pray, Love! The movie made me cry as much as I have while reading the book! And yes, I agree with you, tho I never really had the time to read the HP books yet. I wonder if reading the books will change my perspectives about the whole HP series.
Weirdly for me, it was the EPL movie that made me want to go travel. I love and treasure the book though. I find it very inspirational.
Well it might. Some folks who watched the HP movies are surprised when they read the books because of all that was left out, like Peeves the Poltergeist, who I think is a very important character.
I look at book-to-movie adaptations differently. I know that it’s not going to be the same so I usually let it go. The one thing I hate is if the adaptation sucks or is not made really well. Like The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. That movie really sucked.
One book-to-movie adaptation that I read and love both book and movie is Jurassic Park.
When I hear that one of my favourite books is being adapted into a movie, I usually shudder and stay far away from it. (Like The Hobbit. I only saw the first movie because my nephews insisted. It was “okay”. Actually some parts were neat. But I won’t watch the other two.)
That said, there have been some adaptations that I have liked. The Giver for one. (Um. Not sure if I can think of any others.)
Oh, and The Princess Bride… is just awesome. (Then again, the author of the book was also the screenwriter.)
I totally understand that reaction because there’s no telling whether or not the movie will do the book justice until you see it and by then it’s too late to unsee the wreck.
I actually didn’t like that first Hobbit movie much. Well, I liked it up until the end and then I didn’t and didn’t bother to see the others though, now that you mention them, I might watch them this coming weekend.
I intended to see the Giver movie. I even reread the book for that reason…and then I forgot to. See. It doesn’t work for me when I read the books first.
Yea, I think Goldman is the reason why the Princess Bride movie is so good.
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I hadn’t read The Giver in a while before watching the movie. But as soon as it was done, THEN I did my re-read and was quite surprised at many of the details that the movie got right from the book!
One of the biggest changes is that they aged Jonas. He’s maybe 16 or 17?? Definitely older than 12 (as he is in the book). But it’s hard to get a really good child actor. So, this wasn’t a problem for me at all.
For a moment there, I thought maybe they upped his age because he had to bathe the elderly. I believe that happens in the book. Dunno if they included that in the movie.
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It’s has been a few years since I saw the movie. I don’t remember if the bathing scenes are in it.
The filmmakers DID decide to focus a little more on Jonas and his romantic feelings for Fiona (this is only hinted at by Lowry in the book… with the pills Jonas is supposed to take because of the Stirrings). The romance in the movie is all very innocent. Here are 16-year-olds and they don’t even know WHAT a kiss is. Come to think of it, aging the characters actually augments the “something-is-not-right” feeling you get about the Community.
The other thing I liked is that they changed HOW the Giver gives the memories to Jonas. In the book, Jonas removes his shirt and lies down on a bed and the Giver places his hands on his back. (In today’s world, that sounds a little iffy, whether the kid’s 12 or 16!) In the movie (see the movie poster), they have two chairs and the Giver transfers the memories through contact with Jonas’s forearms.
Oh that makes sense – the focusing on romance – since most movies geared toward a YA audience these days usually do that.
And I agree that it’s a good change for how the memories are transferred. It’s so interesting how we have to change how certain things are presented in material from the past because of changes in society.
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So many new adaptations coming out, I need to catch up. I had no idea they were adapting “The Amulet”, such a good graphic novel series. I didn’t like “The Shining” at all (I’m not sure if I want to read the book either). And Ella Enchanted was just plain awful!
I had no idea about the Amulet adaptation either until I looked at that Tor.com article listing all adaptations in the works. I’ve only read the first volume of Amulet, but I liked the story so I’m excited for an adaptation.
Hmm… I need to see the Shining movie. I loved the book, not sure though how much the movie deviated from it.
Lol! I loved Ella Enchanted movie. I thought it was fun and hilarious but that’s probably because I’ve never read the book.
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I so rarely get around to watching the movie after the book. But I am looking forward to Annihilation and Bird Box. Great post 🙂
And I heard Annihilation is great. The movie made my bro want to read the book.
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I am really looking forward to the movie, although from the trailers I’m not sure how true it will be to the book. But it still looks good haha
I am a fan of author James Ellroy. The movie ‘L.A. Confidential’ was a pick and choose hodge-podge of scenes from several of his novels. If you don’t knkow the books, then it is a good movie, but if you are a fan of the books it is horrible.
‘Fight club’ the movie stands on it’s own outside of the book.
I liked both versions of ‘American Psycho’, also.
The old 1939 movie ‘The Maltese Falcon’ is a true version of the book. Nothing is changed. I love that movie and that author, Dashell Hammett.
lol an interesting perspective there, but that’s why I lean toward seeing the movie first so I can appreciate it as its own thing and then read the book.
That’s what I’ve heard of Fight Club. I’ve never seen the movie nor read the book, but I want to.
…same too for American Psycho.
I love adaptations like that – ones that stick close to the original source. I love those for books I’ve read before seeing the movie, like the Princess Bride.
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I am looking forward to The Discovery of Witches too!
Jodi Picoult also hated the movie adaptation of My Sister’s Keeper, and I did too. They literally changed the ending, which totally made the book. It was horrible.
I’ve wanted to read the book (Discovery of Witches) for a while now and have had the book on my shelves for a few years. Now I don’t know if I should go ahead and read it or wait until after the movie comes out and I see it.
Ahh that sucks about the My Sister’s Keeper adaptation. Sometimes making such a huge alteration to the story can really change it’s tone.
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Oh god, yes, yes yes on all the Potter movies!! I mean, I kinda liked the first and the second movie, but after that they just got worse and worse, with the 5th being THE worst. I watched them all, but most of them only once and I was mostly disappointed…
I loved ‘The Princess Bride’ as well, it’s one of my favourite Fantasy movies. But I never read the novel. Not sure if I ever will.
I was aware that King hated the adaptation of ‘The Shining’ (he made it well known^^) but I didn’t know that Michael Ende didn’t like the adaptation of his book, that’s sad! But I guess it would be hard for an author to accept their work visualized.. Even we, as the fans, start complaining quickly, if we don’t like some of the actors, they leave something out etc. Would be even worse for the person who actually invented everything 😀 You probably have to find a good balance and distance yourself a bit from it.. see it as a different version…
‘Apparently, it’s difficult to sell a “blockbuster original script”….’ —> Mr. DZ and I are always talking about how we’d love to see more original movies and less adaptations..I like book adaptations, especially as TV shows, but we feel like we haven’t seen a great movie in a while, that was not based on a novel or was a remake..
Loved reading your post!!
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Ha! I knew I wasn’t the only one who thought that of the Potter movies. Thanks for seconding it. But yea, they’re just not as charming as the books.
The Princess Bride book is really good, the movie basically follows it closely so you’re not missing anything if you don’t read it.
Yea it would be harder I guess on the author, maybe that’s why it’s a good idea to have the author help out in some way, consulting maybe, when the adaptations are being made. I also didn’t know Ende didn’t like the movie until I read the article stating so. I liked the movie as a kid, but not so much now. I prefer the book.
Yea, I think the same. Everything these days is based on something else. I even thought Shape of Water was something fresh, but lots of folks are saying it’s very similar to a sci-fi novel or movie (I forgot which) from back in da day.
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