Thoughtful Ramblings” is a feature where we discuss bookish subjects. These posts are just our own thoughts about certain topics that may get us hot under the collar and we need a good rant or just things we want to share with fellow bloggers and readers.

Book to Screen Adaptations:
The Good, The Bad & The Downright Ugly

The written word has been the inspiration for many forms of visual entertainment. Before TV and movies, the theatre would have been the place where people would go to watch books and plays be preformed. By converting the written word to its visual form, it allowed those who were illiterate to experience the great works.

Now we see an abundance of movie and TV studios searching for the next big hit, and they are turning to the literary world in order to find that hit. The attraction is probably down to the fact that the books will already have a fan base, which the studios can build upon.

Now it is not to say that every attempt to bring a book to the big or little screen has resulted in the success that the studios have strived for. Results have been varied for a number of reasons. Some of these could be due to the fact that the filmmakers have lost sight of what is at the heart of the books. Parts that are vital to giving the books its voice could be watered down or completely cut.

There is also some niche books out there, that although are popular in the sub genre’s, they are just too secular to appeal to the mass audience. It’s a gamble that is taken time and time again.

Now, I am not one of the people who has a case of OCD where I will slate an adaption for not being completely accurate to the book. There are many factors to take into consideration on why filmmakers make the changes that they do. It could be due to budget or pacing. While a book has all the time the author needs to create the world so vividly, a film may only have two hours to cram in over three hundred pages.

TV shows may have twelve or more episodes to do the same, but it may end up slowing the pace too much. There is a chance that by putting in too much detail, the pace of the series will slow too much, thus making viewers turn off.

We have to remember as readers and viewers, the movie and TV business is just that, a business. They have to make money too. A balance has to be made, however much we want a dedicated adaption of our favourite books. As with everything, there have been successes and failures. In this post I’m going to discuss both.

Recently, one TV show has managed to do the impossible. It has crossed that magic threshold, where the mass audience has embraced it with open arms. That series is….. GAME OF THRONES.

Now if you have looked in your local bookstore, you will see how massive George R R Martin’s novels are. They resemble doorstops and are rich in detail. Somehow the creators have managed to translate these books that fans of the original material are satisfied with result. This could be to down to the fact that Martin is involved, but even so, it’s a feat that is unparalleled. These are epic fantasy books, a genre that hasn’t done very well in the past. (OK, The Lord of The Rings is the exception and could be thought of as having broken the ground for Game of Thrones).

What makes it such a fantastic TV series is that the creators have taken the heart and soul of the books. They have dissected it. Looked at their budget and managed to convey this very complex world. They have explained why the changes they have made were made. For me, this is must see TV and I look forward to each new series.

 TRUE BLOOD, based on the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris, is a series I am really familiar with. I love the books, so when I heard they were making a TV series I couldn’t wait to see how it was translated to the screen.

While the makers of Game of Thrones have stayed pretty faithfully to the books, the makers of True Blood seem to be using the books as a springboard. The first three seasons were very similar to the first three books, but season four and five have taken a pretty wide berth from their source material. Series five has differed from book five, much more than four. It has taken me a little while to get used to how far the TV series has strayed, but now I’m more comfortable with this and am like every other viewer anxiously wondering what the next step will be.

A few years ago, the Sci-Fi channel in America decided to take a shot at adapting the HARRY DRESDEN books by Jim Butcher. Again, they took the decision to only use the books as a springboard, but unlike True Blood, it seemed that they diluted the source material to make it almost unrecongnisable from the books. At least, that is what I thought. The rules of the world that Butcher had established, had all but disappeared. They made Murphy, Harry’s source in the police, a single mum. But for me, the biggest mistake they made was with Harry’s trusty side-kick, Bob. Gone was the haunted skull and instead we had a ghost. True, a haunted skull wasn’t the most cinematic sidekick, but with the right voice actor they could have done the character justice. Oh, and I almost forgot the fact that it seemed almost like a CSI knock off but with added magic. Unsurprisingly, the series was cancelled after one series.

Now, there is word that Sherrilyn Kenyon’s DARK HUNTER series is to be made into a TV show. If the show runner’s understand what makes this series so popular, then they could have a hit. With twenty plus books in the series, there is plenty of source material to find a hit show.

Recently, a number of movies based on books have managed to really make their mark on the box office. Three that instantly come to mind are THE HARRY POTTER SERIES, THE TWILIGHT SERIES and THE HUNGER GAMES. You could also argue that comic-book movies like BATMAN, THE AVENGERS and IRON MAN have also made their mark. The difference really is that the comic books the movies have been based on have been around for up to sixty years. The former three series are no more than ten years old.

Now the reasons for the success for Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games could be down to the way the movies have been handled.

In the case of Harry Potter, J K Rowling made sure she was heavily involved in the development of the movies, this, coupled with the fact that the publicity was handled really well, made these movies a hit. The films were also a hot bed for well respected British Actors. It also benifted from appealing to many ages. It started off as a kids book, but managed to transcend that age group until adults were also waiting for the next instalment.

This is a series of films that captured the heart of the books. True, there were cuts and changes made, but like Game of Thrones, these were done for pacing and budgeting issues. It may be hard for a true fan to accept, but if a film maker was to faithfully adapt the books, the movies would have been monsterous. Plus, it must be noted that the last few books were being written in parallel to the films being released.

No one can argue that this is one of the most successful adaptations, but that doesn’t mean many others aren’t trying to emulate that success.

The TWILIGHT series is one such contender. True, there have only been four books, to Potter’s seven. However, Twilight has managed to show that Young Adult books are a force to be reckoned with. In my opinion, Twilight was the series that succeeded Harry Potter. The young girls who grew up with Potter and were interested more in the romantic angle of the later books, moved on to Twilight. Edward was the Heathcliff for this generation. The tormented, tragic hero most girls hoped would sweep them off their feet. Robert Patterson, who appeared in a Potter movie (don’t ask me which one) managed to capture the hearts and affections of many a teenage girl (and grown up woman). I was never a fan of the books, and Kristen Stewart is not my favourite actress, (even before THAT incident), yet I can’t deny the appeal of the movies.

As I read the first book in the Twilight series I will say the film makers did do it justice, but for me both book and film failed in their pacing.  For a movie, Twilight felt too slow, too drawn out. The big bads of the first film were underused, but this can be attributied to the book. The threat never really truly materialises.

I have watched the rest of the films and they begin to get better, with regards to pacing. What should be noted is the change of director. This could be a factor in why the sequals are much tighter films to watch. I can’t compare the sequals to the books, because I couldn’t read them after finishing the first.

Again, Twilight itself could be attributed to the commissioning of both True Blood and the TV series THE VAMPIRE DIARIES. Not to mention that without Twilight, we would never have the FIFTY SHADES series, and the impending movie…

The latest smash, THE HUNGER GAMES, is kind of a hybrid between what made the Harry Potter series and the Twilight series of films so successful. OK, so there is no magic in this book or movie, but it is taking the action elements from Harry Potter and the love triangle aspect of Twilight in order to appeal to both sexes.

One of the main difficulties with transferring The Hunger Games to the big screen was the inner monologue from the main character, Katness. Now, I must warn you all, I have yet to read this trillogy so am only going on what was reported in the media and what I’ve heard about this series from friends who have read the book. From what I understand, the film-makers did a pretty good job of transferring the book to the screen. True, there were changes but this was all explained by the film makers on why they chose to do so.

From a film fan point of view, The Hunger Games is a fantastic piece of film making, if a bit slow to begin with. A lot of credit has to go to the writer and director. They could have gone all out and tried to have the blossoming love triangle between Kateness, Peeta and Gale the main story. Many other films post Twilight have. Yet, the writer and director GOT that this wasn’t about romance. This was about Katniss’s survival.

An excellent example of a film which seemed to have everything going for it, only for the film to fail miserably at the box office is JOHN CARTER, or to give it its full title John Carter of Mars. The film had been in development hell for years, being deemed impossible to film. Numerous big name directors had come and gone, until Andrew Stanton was given the go ahead by Disney to take a stab at the movie.

Stanton is known for his golden touch in the Pixar films, having directed FINDING NEMO and WALL-E. He had an appreciation for the original book, written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose most famous work is Tarzan. Burroughs book has been quoted as being the inspiration behind numerous modern sci-fi films such as STAR WARS.

Nothing seemed to indicate that this film could be anything less than a hit due to its cult status, along with the Hollywood heavyweight Disney behind it, yet bomb it did. Whether it was down to miscasting or due to the fact that many audience members felt they had seen this all before in the afore mentioned Star Wars or AVATAR, who knows. This was a collosal flop, which could have seriously damaged Diseny’s profitablity had it not been for the success of a little film known as THE AVENGERS.

That is the real danger with movie adaptations. Film studios are wanting to make as much profit as possible, so they want to appeal to as many people as possible. By only catering to one group of people it reduces their chances of making a profit. Writing this article has helped me understand what goes into making a successful movie and TV show. True, I don’t like all the book series that the films or TV shows are based on, but I can appreciate what all the parties involved are trying to do. They are trying to cater to what is in fashion at that time.

So, what movies/TV shows do you think have succeeded in capturing what you loved about a book? Which ones disappointed?

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A self confessed geek who likes all things paranormal (except zombies as they scare her) Genre wise she likes horror, paranormal romance, urban fantasy and historical fiction. [Gemma no longer reviews for BCC]


Carolyn September 11, 2012 at 4:25 pm

Great post, Gemma! I will admit that I am OCD about my books being made into films. The one’s that annoyed the hell out of me that come to mind now are I AM LEGEND by Richard Matheson, an excellent book with a fabulously unpredictable ending was butchered when adapted to film. Especially with the casting. FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelley, an amazing novel which was changed for no apparent reason by Kenneth Branagh for his movie, which I hated just because it changed what was already a pretty perfect story. THE WOMAN IN BLACK by Susan Hill, which was just released as a movie got it majorly wrong too and I couldn’t even finish it. So you see, I get MAD when they’re changed.

I understand about trying to cram a book in a two hour film, but to change the endings or the characters in my book is unacceptable and it annoys the hell out of me! Ok, I’ll step off my soap box now ;D


Gemma September 11, 2012 at 4:33 pm

Well, from what I have heard…. *whispers* They have changed the ending of Breaking Dawn Part 2…….

I hear you on the ending of I AM LEGEND. The book ending was just amazing, but that Holywood ending????

I’ve never read THE WOMAN IN BLACK. Have seen the film though. (review to come soon) I’ll be interested to see what you think of my review. :)


Carmen September 11, 2012 at 5:30 pm

My Dad loved John Carter – he keeps trying to get me to borrow it but I already have a stack of his DVD’s that I just haven’t got round to watching 😛 Having said that he has only recently seen Avatar and never was a Star Wars fan so maybe he wasn’t that influenced in that way…

I think my worst film adaptation to date HAS to be Queen of the Damned. I lost count of the amount of times I couldn’t help but explode with “oh, COME ON!” in the cinema! Watched once, wasted my money – never watched again.


Gemma September 11, 2012 at 11:39 pm

Its a shame because i thought interview with the vampire was a pretty good adaption. Queen of the Damned just peed all over it.


Ryan September 11, 2012 at 6:11 pm

I must agree that I Am Legend is enjoyable if you ignore the fact that it is based off a book. I also don’t like the first movie version of the book, The Omega Man with Charlton Heston. The middle movies, Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price, is an okay adaptation though.

I also agree that Queen of the Damned has to be one of the worst of all time.

I tend to enjoy the PBS adaptations of Agatha Christie books, even when the add characters or change something about the overall story, normally fleshing it out too much. Maybe it’s the fact it’s PBS and eveyrone has a British accent, who knows.

Speaking of Agatha Christie, I adore the movie adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express. The cast is amazing.

One of my favorite book to movie adaptations is the 1963 version of The Haunting. Based of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, I think it captures the spirit of the book. But ignore the 1999 remake of the movie, great visuals, but horrible casting and plot changes.

I also enjoyed the movie versions of The Name of the Rose, Starship Troopers, To Kill a Mockingbird, and I could go on but I won’t.


Gemma September 11, 2012 at 11:41 pm

I admit I did like the house on haunted hill 1999 version, but i didn’t know it was based on a book.

I also didn’t know that the omega man was a version of i am legend either.

Learn something new everyday


Melanie September 11, 2012 at 7:44 pm

Excellent post Gemma
I always think making a good movie/tv show out of a book must be one of the hardest challenges. There is that fine line between leaving enough of the book in the movie but not having the movie end up being 7 hours long. I don’t however like when they manufacture another movie out of a final novel (Harry Potter & Twiglet for example).
I also don’t like they they take a series and go totally off piste like they have done with the Sookie Stackhouse series.
Thankfully, I never new Sci Fi tried to ruin the Harry Dresden series…small mercies


Gemma September 11, 2012 at 11:45 pm

Oh that annoyed me too with the fact they are splitting books into two films. They are doing the same with the hunger games.

True blood has departed massivly from the books. In a way I’m glad now cos i don’t keep saying “That’s not what happened in the books.” Season 4 seemed to skirt round book 4 , stealing elements and totally screwing them.

Be greatful you didn’t see the dresden files. i watxhed one episode and didn’t watch any more


Eva September 12, 2012 at 9:12 am

I saw twilight before reading the book, and I loved it. Not so much the second film because it was so different… Now I´m used to the new stile i can enjoy the films, but I miss the romantic tension of the first film!
Regarding the Hunger Games, I had to high expectations on the books, so when I read them I was disappointed! The film was good, but to much did not match the book… And I wonder if someone who has not read the book understands everything? And finally, Sookie: I loooooove the books! And I love the tv-series. But I don´t think they should be compared! The books are easy, “sunny” and (for lack of a better word) cosy! While the tv-series is kind of dark… (And I think the vampires need to be introduced to showers and shampoo!) So if I pretend they are not “related” I can enjoy them both!


Gemma September 12, 2012 at 9:45 am

There is a good documentary on the BLu-ray of The Hunger Games that explains why the film-makers deviated from the books. Its really interesting and you should give it a look.

I agree with the Sookie Stackhouse and True Blood. The two are almost like parallel versions of each other. The books are lighter, but I wouldn’t say Sunny as much. :)


Becs September 12, 2012 at 8:46 pm

Great post Gemma, I love seeing books come to life on the big screen but I am really bad at comparing the two and hate it when the story doesn’t match up. The Hunger Games did an ok job but I’m so annoyed that Peeta doesn’t lose his leg! yes I’m heartless but I can’t see how they can do part of the next book.
I’m very much looking forward to City of Bones coming out next year, my version of Jace is so much hotter in my head so I hope I’m not let down as it’s one of my favourite YA Series.
Fantastic ramblings Gemma x


Gemma September 12, 2012 at 9:31 pm

I’ve never heard of City of Bones. Will need to look that up.

I’ve still to read the hunger games books so I can’t comment on how faithful the movie is.


Erin September 14, 2012 at 5:11 am

Excellent, well thought-out article.

My fiance watches Game of Thrones and it’s not my thing. I know the books are quite popular as well, so will give them a try sometime.

The Sookie books were novels I read years before the show came out. I dig the show, it’s fun, but to me (other than perhaps the last book or so), the books are much better. It seems the first seasons always started off like the book did, but then around midseason it would usually do a big change. Now they are just continuing with their own stories and ignoring the books completely to make it work, which is fine.

They were going to make Kim Harrissons Hollows series into a TV show but glad CW changed their mind. The changes we were hearing about is terrible – No Jenks, Trent a stalker, Kirsten a witch….sigh. If they have to change it that much why bother!?


Gemma September 15, 2012 at 12:02 am

I didn’t know that it was the CW that was looking to turn Kim Harrisons Hollow books into a series. From what you say, it could have been another Dresden files.

I hate when tv or movie people option a book then rip the heart out of what made the book special.

Thanks for the kind words.


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