I am currently reading A GAME OF THRONES by George R. R. Martin all because I started watching the new HBO series and was immediately sucked in by it. I have just finished MILDRED PIERCE by James M. Cain, again because of the HBO mini-series and it has got me thinking about book adaptations, both TV and film. The film or TV series of a book can both inspire readers and cause them immense frustration. It all depends on where you come in; book first or last.
I am not a fantasy reader. The only fantasy series I have ever read before is, no surprises here, LORD OF THE RINGS. I did read the books before the movies but it was the movies that spurred me on the finally read them after having read THE HOBBIT as a child. I am really enjoying A GAME OF THRONES and at times it reminds me a bit of THE PASSAGE crossed with LORD OF THE RINGS. I was recommended A GAME OF THRONES last year after raving about THE PASSAGE but have only now started reading it. I am closing in on the point where my reading is going to overtake where I am up to with the TV series. One of the things I am really enjoying about reading A GAME OF THRONES is all the detail and back-story that the writers have been unable to fit into the TV adaptation and I am toying with the idea of stopping reading when I do catch up, reading something else and then starting reading again until I catch up once again. It feels almost sacrilegious to even contemplate doing that but I want to avoid one of the invariable pitfalls of book adaptations: the frustration over changes made to books especially plots and characters that are invariably left out when they are adapted.
The book is always superior to the film or TV adaptation. The medium of TV and film is constrained my time, budgets and a myriad of other things that don’t exist with books because books are only limited by the writer’s, and the reader’s, imagination. So when a book is adapted things need to chopped, abridged and sped up. The thing that frustrates me the most when books are adapted is when the intention of the original book is lost by this process. When a film or TV adaptation no longer resembles the original book, apart for some character’s names, you have to wonder why they bothered in the first place. Or even worse when they fundamentally change a character’s role. My pet hate is Mandras in the film of CAPTAIN CORELLI’S MANDOLIN by Louis De Bernieres, although that film has a very long list of problems (don’t get me started on Nicholas Cage). The film merges the character of Mandras (played by Christian Bale) with another that doesn’t exist in the film and therefore redeems a character that in the book deserves no redemption.
Changes to the original book are only noticed by viewers who have read the book. I have seen a few film/TV adaptations that I have liked only to discover after reading the book how utterly different the two are. The recent animated film HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON is a great movie but bears no relation to the book it is based on (which is an excellent children’s book). So while a bad adaptation often upsets me as a reader, people do discover books through watching a movie and then seeking out the book it was based on. And thankfully the book is always better.
Diverging from the book is not necessarily a negative either. A different interpretation of the story can give you a different perspective on a book. One of my favourite adaptations, THE THIN RED LINE directed by Terrence Malick and based on the novel by James Jones, often veers away from the book and its characters. It also blends in scenes and dialogue from one of the author’s previous books FROM HERE TO ETERNITY but the film still manages to capture the essence of the book. So while there are major differences between the film and the book of THE THIN RED LINE, I do love them both separately. (Apparently there is 6 hour cut that leaves nothing out – I need to see this one day!).
Books are always going to be adapted to the screen because the best storytelling continues to be told in books (THE WIRE being the exception!). The adaptations are always going to frustrate a lover of the book but I have found that the frustrations are usually diminished the bigger the time gap is between when you read the book and when you watch the film/TV (probably because your memory is hazier). And of course reading the book after you have seen the film/TV adaptation just makes you love the book more!
Here are my Top and Bottom 5 adaptations and a Top 5 wishlist. What are yours?
My Top 5 Book Adaptations (Books AND films/TV I love)
- THE THIN RED LINE by James Jones
- FIGHT CLUB by Chuck Palahniuk
- THE VIRGIN SUICIDES by Jeffrey Eugenides
- THE ENGLISH PATIENT by Michael Ondaatje
- BAND OF BROTHERS by Stephen E. Ambrose
My Bottom 5 Book Adaptations (Books I love, films/TV I don’t)
- CAPTAIN CORELLI’S MANDOLIN by Louis De Bernieres
- THE ICE HARVEST by Scott Phillips
- THE DEATH & LIFE OF BOBBY Z by Don Winslow
- CHOKE by Chuck Palahniuk
- THE BEACH by Alex Garland
My Wishlist of books to be adapted
- THE POWER OF THE DOG by Don Winslow
- Anything by Laura Lippman
- Anything by George Pelecanos
- Anything by Peter Temple (which I think are coming!!)
- THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY by Michael Chabon (which I also think is in development)