Posted by: ckckred | August 31, 2014

What Do You Think of Book Adaptations?

A few weeks ago, I saw Peter Brook’s adaptation of Lord of the Flies.  While I admired parts of the picture (I hope to get a review up in a few days), I was ultimately disappointed that it didn’t live up to the high standards of William Golding’s novel, despite being faithful to the story.  This isn’t too uncommon, as many movies based on classic pieces of literature have failed to live to their namesakes (Huck FinnGreat Gatsby, etc).  While there exceptions to this rule (such as Orson Welles’ The Trial), I think the sky-high expectations to the novels hurt the pictures as a whole.

But what do you think?


  1. In general I think you’re right. It’s really hard to adapt a novel, especially if it’s a classic or really popular, because everyone is so attached to their own conceptions of it. However, adaptations are like remakes in a way, they always get a bad reputation even though oftentimes they don’t deserve it. Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence is a great example. It’s a great film on it’s own, but it also remains quite faithful to the novel (there slight differences between DDL’s character onscreen and in the book, and some scenes are condensed, but other than that not much is changed). David Lean’s Oliver Twist is really good, and I assume his Great Expectations is as well. However the greatest adaptation probably has to be The Godfather. Puzo adapts his own novel and needs two films to get it all in there, even with cutting a bunch of stuff. But the films and the novel feel exactly the same, and the stuff he cut out didn’t hurt the film a bit. I would guess that more often than not, films are adapted from books, but in most cases they’re obscure books and the films resemble them little. (Vertigo was adapted from a fairly obscure French novel.)
    But yeah, as far as I can tell there has never been a worthy adaptation of The Great Gatsby, which is a crying shame.

    • The Godfather’s one I should have mentioned, a fantastic book and an even better film. There are plenty of adaptations where I do love both the novel and movie, but many of the name-brand classic novels have a hard time. And I agree, there needs to be a Gatsby adaptation worthy to the book.

  2. I agree with you too. It is difficult to adapt a book especially a well-written one. However I like to think of watching adaptations as a different experience from reading the original source. The director or writer could only focus on certain aspects of a book so my adaptation experience wouldn’t be wholesome.

    I enjoyed the film version of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer because Ben Whishaw’s performance was spectacular. Another movie that I think is better than the book is The Fault in Our Stars. The movie’s Hazel Grace isn’t as annoying/self-righteous as the book’s. I love the writing/screenplay of the movie (sorry John Green!).

    I read reviews that the film version of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust is much better than the original source. Same goes for Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander (now a tv series).

    Stephen Chbosky directed the movie version of his own book ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’. Unfortunately I dislike the movie version because some scenes were not explored in detail hence making non-readers confused (I had to explain to my housemate when we watched the DVD).

    It’s up to director and writer to make the adaptation a success. A good adaptation does not only satisfy both readers and non-readers, it might encourage non-readers to read the original source.

    • I definitely agree with the last point, as many of the novels I do read have film adaptations I have seen beforehand.

  3. Great question, and you are right of course. I always separate the two in my mind and think of them as separate compositions. For example, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a great film but in no way compares to the depth–imagery, nurse, Big Chief’s perspective–it’s one of the best books ever written. I love them both separately. Same, too, goes with Jane Eyre adaptations.

    • I agree with you on Cuckoo’s Nest, I love the movie but think the book is better.

  4. I write on this subject myself quiet often. =) Most times a movie can never fully incorporate everything a book offers. But I did see movies that improved a rather bad book. So I’m kind of divided in this matter. However, if you like head over to my blog, I did several book vs. movie posts =)

    • I’ve seen movies improve on the book’s writing (Jaws is a rather clunky novel which the movie greatly improves on). I’ll be sure to check out your posts.

  5. I’ve always been of the view that book and film should be treated as separate entities and judged on their own merits. A film adaptation inevitably brings with it the weight of expectation and – usually – disappointment, but these films are generally on a hiding to nothing.

    • I do think it’s fair to judge books and movies on separate fields, but I do admit whenever I have a strong connection to a specific book (like Gatsby), I tend to lash out on an adaptation for not living up to the book.

  6. I like quite a lot of book adaptations, heck I’m a fan of Brontës/Austen adaptations like Jane Eyre, Pride & Prejudice, etc. I feel that book + film are such different formats that it’s not fair to expect the film to be EXACTLY like the book. The best ones usually take some liberties to fit the story in cinematic way, but retain the ESSENCE of the story and characters.

    • I agree with you on that last point. Even adaptations not entirely faithful to the book (like Cuckoo’s Nest) succeed because they have the same mood and tone.

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