Best Book-to-Movie Adaptations

There is a fine line between a good book adaptation and a poor one. The smallest thing can tip the scales: changing the ending, removing a character, inventing a character, or changing the character roles which alter their onscreen personality (looking at your Ron Weasley, you deserved better).

Booklovers crave and desire to see their favourite books come to the big screen, but at the same time there is a deep trepidation that there will be a great injustice and disservice to the characters and the overall story. I could write page after page of bad book to film adaptations and while that is tempting, it is negative and a bit mean so instead I want to focus on the few I have found which were truly wonderful movies that stay true to the original story.

If a book becomes a movie and I see a runtime of 2.5 hours I have a good feeling because so often it means a great adaptation with a lot true to the book. Not always the case, there will always be exceptions, but it gives me hope.

The Lord of The Rings Series (Extended editions) – Anyone who is out there thinking that 3 hours is enough time to swoon over Aragorn and his wonderful hair is greatly mistaken. I sat through the extended editions of all three films because if I was going to watch them I was going to do it right. No doubt unimportant plot points were included in those extra 30 minutes but it was a great representation of the books. All the little moments and extended scenes, the minor things that became big. The only issue is Merry and Pippin don’t get the serious portrayal they deserve, there’s cheeky but then there’s foolish which Jackson did a bit too much.

The Martian – I was curious how the greatest book of all time was going to be portrayed in film but I had nothing to worry about. There is so much to love about this movie and every minute was a delight. The only downside is the best part of the book was not included re: Aquaman and whales. Other than that, it was a marvellous film from start to finish and felt like a true depiction of the book, minor addition to the end aside.

Gone Girl – For all the hate I had for the book, the movie is actually an accurate representation of the story. I was curious how they would show the flashbacks and the ‘diary’ component but David Fincher has done a great job. It might have been a better movie to see without reading the book because I didn’t hate Nick quite as much in the movie.

Paper Towns – This one I was surprised by my own reaction to. There are changes to the story, a few character moments tweaked and swapped, but the overall theme and feeling of the book has been translated to the screen really well. It felt the same as the book, even though there were a few changes it didn’t matter. It stayed true to the message even with the required movie changes and I was impressed.

The Hunger Games – One of the best adaptations I have seen of a book. It had everything that made the books amazing and it felt as strong and powerful watching it as when I was reading it. I felt the books were playing out in front of me and I loved every minute of it.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – I remember this being the first movie adaptation of a book I’d really paid attention to. I have a vivid memory as it began thinking it was word for word of the book and I loved everything about it. Sure Peeves is missing, but there’s so much else true to that first book that brought that magical experience to life.

Honourable mentions

The Book Thief – I missed a few of the nuances and scenes from the book but it was still an emotional kick in the guts. Not quite as powerful as the book, but still excellent nonetheless.

The Princess Bride – I actually fell in love with the movie before I read the book many years later and I was surprised at their similarities. It’s not an unlikeable movie, quite wonderful in fact, but there are a few changes but the spirit remains and what was left in was delightful.

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I also hated Girl on the Train, and was yes, was surprised I hated the movie as well. Funny that…

These are only the adaptations I have seen, if there are some excellent movie adaptations out there of books please let me know so I can check them out.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Published: 24 May 2012 (print)/24 May 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Broadway Book/Orion Publishing Group
Pages: 415/19 hours 18 minutes
Narrator: Julia Whelan, Kirby Heyborne
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Thriller
★ – 1 Star

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

There have only been a few books that I felt cheated by, genuinely cheated by. These include The Last Battle by C.S Lewis, The End by Lemony Snickett, and to a very small degree To All The Boys I Have Loved Before by Jenny Hann. Being cheated by a book is more than disliking it, it is where I feel the author themselves have cheated me as a reader by building up my expectations and leading us to a point, only to dismiss our investment in their characters and turn the entire thing on its head with no point or purpose, ignoring everything that has come before.

Granted, each of these books cheated me in different ways, but Flynn’s crime here is not only making the book boring to read, toxic characters or not, but also because there is no satisfaction in anything that happens. The reader is not rewarded for dealing with this story, nothing to reward us for getting to the end of this long and tedious book. I don’t need a happy ending, make it as messed up as you like, but there was frustration in that conclusion, not a decent conclusion to the nonsense I had to sit through.

Irony could have played a great part, karma, justice, all these things. Instead, we’re left with these characters who I hated from page one and hated even more by page 400. It just got worse and then even when it got interesting it was still terrible. The writing was terrible which makes you hate the story they were telling. They were both poorly written, poorly expressed, and I think even though Flynn tried to give Nick some emotional baggage, the fact it is poorly explored means it all comes to nothing.

Surprisingly, the audiobook was also a bit terrible, Heyborne’s odd emphasis of some words catch in your ear and every time he said “my wife” (which, again, poor writing, is said A LOT), he sounded like Borat. I couldn’t escape into the story because having it read aloud highlights the problems even more. There is repetition, both characters constantly compare things to how it’s done in a movie, and they whine. They might have been decent characters if their story was better written.

When I hit part two I groaned because there was another chunk of this book. But luckily it somehow it managed to get more interesting. Predictable, but interesting. I got the result I expected, I was impressed that Flynn went the direction she does, but it didn’t remove the issues. The fact Nick’s narration is infuriating, and the language Flynn uses is repetitive, sexist, and boring. Even in the “exciting” part it is boring and monotonous.

When Part Three came, I rolled my eyes and prepared myself for another long boring section of this book. I can see the plan to make the ending some tragedy, some Shakespeare tragedy for us to wallow over, but it didn’t work. I could think of three better endings for this book and I wish any of them had been picked. I know this is apparently a psychological thriller in concept, it is not in execution. How Flynn has managed to make this story unentertaining is beyond me. The framework is there for a thriller, you get inside character minds and see their motives which was intriguing, but it wasn’t enough to save the story.

You can purchase Gone Girl via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus and Robinson | Dymocks | Wordery

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon | Audible

 

The Women in Black by Madeleine St John

Published: 30th March 2009 (print)/10 September 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Text Publishing/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 233/5 hours 56 minutes
Narrator: Deidre Rubenstein
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fiction
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Sydney in the late 1950s. On the second floor of the famous F.G. Goode department store, in Ladies’ Cocktail Frocks, the women in black are girding themselves for the Christmas rush. Lisa is the new Sales Assistant (Temporary). Across the floor and beyond the arch, she is about to meet the glamorous Continental refugee, Magda, guardian of the rose-pink cave of Model Gowns. With the lightest touch and the most tender of comic instincts, Madeleine St John conjures a vanished summer of innocence. The Women in Black is a classic.

This is a curious book. It was a decent read, the characters were all unique in their own way and yet have the wonderful conformity of the 1950s, and the era comes to life with St John’s words. I am caught between liking it and thinking it was just ok. Somewhere in the 2.5 star field because somehow I couldn’t give it a three.

If I stopped listening I found myself forgetting I was reading it at all. There was nothing in the story to get me back into it, and yet I didn’t hate it while I read it. I wasn’t bored per se, it’s just that nothing happens. I think it was the final third or even further when something happened that I finally got into it, and even then it’s not much. I think that was more the ending coming to a head so it felt conclusive.

This is a novel that is character driven, certainly more so than plot. I certainly have nothing against character driven novels, I think though that enjoyment comes from having characters that interest you so you want to read about their lives. I enjoyed Magda, and Lisa was endearing, but so few others piqued my interest. I felt two or three of these women took centre stage and felt more real than others which may have had something to do with it.

I did love the writing style. St John’s words are elegant and natural without being formal or unnecessarily complicated. The language puts you into this era and it separates the characters from one another with ease, almost so you don’t even notice it. This is emphasised by Rubenstein’s narration. Her use of voices and tone brought this story to life and highlighted St John’s beautiful words. There is slight humour but not enough to be a distraction, and the conversations are often humorous simply for their stark contrasts to modern times. This language was also why I enjoyed the ending. St John concludes this novel with style and it was a seamless ending that suited the characters she had created. There was a heartfelt sentimentality that gave extra meaning to all that had come before it, all through the characters she uses to bring this story together.

Oddly enough, I also found the obituary at the end of my audiobook quite enjoyable. I enjoyed listening about St John and her life from someone who knew her. It was interesting too because I learnt that the book was actually published in 1993. I was impressed because St John captures the language and the feel of the 50s remarkably well. It didn’t feel forced or over the top and there was class and charm in her words that she managed to recreate the era remarkably well.

I will be interested in the movie now (retitled Ladies in Black) because I would like to see how they portray this, if not for the story, but to see these wonderful cocktail frocks for myself.

You can purchase The Women in Black via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus and Robinson | Dymocks

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon | Audible

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Published: October 1st 1998 (print) / 1 May 2017 (audio)Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Harper Perennial / Bolinda / BBC audio
Pages: 248 / 2 hours 32 minutes
Narrator: Eleanor Bron
Format:
 Audio
Genre: Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Life moves at a leisurely pace in the tiny town of Wall—named after the imposing stone barrier which separates the town from a grassy meadow. Here, young Tristran Thorn has lost his heart to the beautiful Victoria Forester and for the coveted prize of her hand, Tristran vows to retrieve a fallen star and deliver it to his beloved. It is an oath that sends him over the ancient wall and into a world that is dangerous and strange beyond imagining…

I had watched the movie years before I even knew it was a book, and was glad enough time had passed that I didn’t remember it so I couldn’t compare the two. I listened to this as an audiobook too which was actually a full-cast dramatization from the BBC. That made it a really great experience, aside from the fact they get a bit too detailed and you have to listen to people talk while they’re eating and drinking which for me was super uncomfortable to listen to. The cast did a great job telling the story. It had great voice casting as well as accompanying soundtrack and sound effects. It was a little something extra than a normal audiobook experience.

One thing I found really interesting about this is that it felt like a short story, even though it was a full novel. The whole book had this duel sense to it, it had a simple premise but it felt full whilst reading it, and it felt substantial even when it wasn’t an overly busy plot.

Tristran is naïve in a way, he is in love which makes him idealistic. He doesn’t pick up on cues from Victoria about her lesser interest in him and he is determined to win her heart. On his quest to find the fallen star we see his good nature shine, and we become involved with his story and worry for his safety because there is no telling where this story might go. The unexpected and the cruel happen much like any fairytale story, but there is still a sense of good shining through.

The thing I love about magic is how the rules can be interpreted and how the regular rules of the universe don’t work. I loved the way Gaiman told this story, I loved how magic is used and how the rules of the magical world play out in the human one in different ways. There are twists and turns and for a simple find and recover story, there are intricate subplots happening that intertwine and connect, even when you don’t realise it. This is where Gaiman is good at his storytelling, creating a story that captivates you and pulls you in, without making it needlessly complicated or grand, yet still providing substance and beauty.

One thing which I both enjoyed and was a bit struck by, was the ending. It is great certainly, but it does end rather abruptly. You get a satisfactory ending for the story that’s told, but I feel like more could have been said just to round off the edges better instead of cutting it so sharply. But that may be the way of the fairy tale Gaiman was trying to tell.

When I finished I did sit down with the intention to rewatch the movie, but from the first instance I saw the differences I turned it off. Even if it was a decent adaptation, one of the things I loved most about the book was changed in the movie and I chose to preserve that memory instead. The way Gaiman uses magic was some of the best parts and when that didn’t translate I chose to not continue, though I’m sure it was a decent movie, it was more a personal choice than that it was a poor adaptation.

You can purchase Stardust via the following

Dymocks | Booktopia

Book Depository | QBD

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Fishpond | Wordery | Angus & Robertson

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