Book-to-movie Adaptations that don't suck... pt. 1
Updated: Jan 1, 2019
No matter how wildly our opinions on certain books may vary, there seems to be one conviction that unites all booklovers: the movie is almost never as good as the book. In probably 99% of cases, I agree with this opinion, but there is that one percent of adaptations that just hits the nail on the head. It’s that single percent that makes us keep adding movies to our Netflix to-watch list, buy that DVD, or walk into the cinema filled with hope. Tomorrow night, I’ll be seeing Fantastic Beasts 2, with friends in the cinema, hoping it falls in that single percent. In honor of my anticipation, I decided to pay homage to 15 book-to-screen adaptations that didn’t suck. Part one will and include movies and tv-shows that were as good as the book. In part two (to be uploaded tomorrow), I’ll go one step further by listing 5 movies/shows that I enjoyed more than their book-counterpart. In part three, I’ll list some of my favorite adaptations of plays or scripts to the big screen.
Let's start of with part one: Movies as good as their book-counterpart.
Harry Potter series (2001-2011)
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. Like for most people of my generation, both the Harry Potter books as well as the movies were a part of my childhood, and as such they carry a fair bit of nostalgia with them. Although I still love the books a little more than the movies, this is quite a close call for me. What makes this adaptation so great is how much it captures the magical and cozy feeling of the books. Although some differences do exist between the books and the movies (most prominently the characters of Ron, Ginny and many others, the omission of plotlines like the marauders, and personally my biggest gripe: the ending scene with Voldemort), for the majority the adaptations feel true to source. The Harry Potter movies are a staple Christmas-watch for me and allow me to consume the magic of the wizarding world in a shorter time that if I had to reread all the books.
The Martian (2015) I can be pretty brief about this one: The Martian is one of my all-time favorite books, mainly because of its tone, its smart humor and its incredible main character. I was both excited and scared to see how this would translate, and luckily wasn’t disappointed. The Martian is a very true adaptation of the book, keeping not just the plot and characters intact, but also the lighthearted tone and humor. The main appeal of the book is Mark Watney as a character, and this hasn’t changed in the adaptation. Like Mark in the book, Matt Damon “carries” the movie with his charisma, humor and personality, and I couldn’t have wished for a better portrayal of one of my favorite male characters in fiction.
The Descendants (2011) The Descendants, in both book and movie form, seemed to have flown under the radar for many people. Unfortunately so in my opinion, as I personally enjoyed both a lot. The story of The Descendants is set against the background of beautiful Hawaii, and told through the voice of Matt King. His wife is left comatose after a severe boating accident, with only a small chance of ever waking up again. Whilst trying to cope with this loss and doing the best he can as a now single parent to his two daughters Scottie and Alex, he is also confronted with a big financial and moral dilemma regarding a piece of land his family inherited. The story is the perfect tragi-comedy: it’s heartbreakingly sad one moment and hilariously relatable in the next. The three main characters (Matt and his daughters Scottie and Alex) are very real and come to life on the page. All these aspects are present in the movie as well: beautiful Hawaiian scenery, emotional yet funny story and a strong cast of characters (most notably George Clooney as Matt). I’ve seen this one twice in cinema upon release as an indication of how much I loved it the first time round.
The last two entries on this list are a bit different from the previous ones, and might surprise some of you. The first three adaptations were “true adaptations”, translating the book as closely as possible to a new medium. These last entries represent the complete opposite of the spectrum; adaptations so loose you could almost call them “interpretations” or re-imaginings of the original. I admit, this is always hit or miss for me; usually miss. In these two cases, I loved both the movie/series as well as the book separately, even though you could argue they have little to do with each other. Coincidentally, both are Netflix originals.
Anyone who has read Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer can probably relate to my surprise of the movie announcement back at the beginning of 2018. How was anyone going to translate a book that leaves so much to the interpretation and imagination of the reader to the big screen? What I loved about the novel Annihilation was its portrayal of an experience that you cannot describe or completely understand. It’s a very personal thing to me, and you can read a little more of this in my review. In a way, it’s not the story that makes it one of my favorite books, but a kind of visceral feeling it brings across. A feeling that is very different from a visual experience, which is why I frankly didn’t think it would translate well to a movie. I was wrong. The movie Annihilation throws the plot of the book almost completely out of the window, but manages to convey the exact feeling I loved the book for. Even the director himself says that the movie is only “inspired” by the novel, only keeping the core themes and emotional charge the same. Even the title “Annihilation” has a completely different meaning in the book than it does in the movie. In my opinion, both should be seen as completely separate entities: you don’t even have to like one to enjoy the other. In my case, both the book and the movie are in my top 10 of all time.
Beware though: whilst the movie isn’t a full blown horror movie, it can be really scary. I don’t scare too easily but this movie has one of the most unnerving scenes I’ve experienced in a long time. (for those of you who’ve seen it: the bear-scene)
The Haunting of Hill House (2018)
Last on the list is the newest Netflix Original series: The Haunting of Hill House. Like Annihilation, this is not an adaptation so much as an “inspiration”. I was nervous about this one, fearing that the profit-seeking Netflix producers would abandon the psychological suspense of the book, in favor of jump-scares and CGI-ghosts. They didn’t… Okay maybe a little, but this still is one of the best horror series I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. The Netflix series does not follow the same characters or storyline as the book, instead focusing on a family of 7 that moves into Hill House. The 5 children are named after the original book characters (Nell, Luke and Theo) with the addition of Shirley and Steven, in an homage to two fairly obvious horror-authors. The series is set over the course of two timelines, both following a major loss in the family, possibly brought on by Hill House. Although very different from the book, the series shares the psychological roots of the hauntings and does to beautifully. What I loved about the series most was its portrayal of grief through its characters and their experiences in the house. I was blown away as I figured out each of their arcs, and the fact that they all represent a stage of the classical grieving process (denial, anger, bargaining depression, acceptance). If you want to read or hear more about this, there are plenty of analysis of the show out there. I will link some of my favorites below for those interested. Again: even if you haven’t read the book yet, this show can be enjoyed as a completely separate entity, although you may miss some references to the original. Both come with my highest recommendations.
If you enjoyed this list, or are just curious to see what movies I think are BETTER than their book-counterparts: check back in tomorrow for part two, or follow me on Goodreads
Links to articles mentioned
Haunting of Hill House, stages of grief
https://www.tvinsider.com/728507/haunting-of-hill-house-stages-of-grief-siblings/ Haunting of Hill House, analysis of ghosts