When Books Become Movies

Josie Leavitt -- March 18th, 2014

I can’t help but be curious how the Divergent movie is going be when it opens next week. I have not seen reviews yet, but judging from the increase in book sales last week, I have say people are getting excited. As a bookseller I love that the movie’s release is driving folks to the store; as a fan of the book, I can’t help but be nervous about the book’s adaptation.

When books get made into movies things change. Sometimes for the better, though this is rare. In fact the only time I think a movie has been better than the book was Ordinary People. Other than that, I usually leave the theater angry that so much has been left out or outright changed. There is a condensing of the book that has to happen, but often the parts that are left out were the ones that added richness to novel. Adapting a few hundred pages of a book into a something Hollywood thinks will work as a movie cannot be easy.

Customers are still mad at the changes in the Hunger Games films, although I thought they did a really good job of capturing the essence of the book.  Same thing happened with Harry Potter, although the general consensus is those two franchises did a really good job of keeping the book’s integrity and not jettisoning the quiet moments that made the books so good. One thing that I’m really enjoying is the rush to read, or reread books “before the movie ruins it,” as several customers have said.

So, readers, I’m curious: what are some of your favorite movie adaptations, and which ones are your worst?

10 thoughts on “When Books Become Movies

  1. Karen A. Wyle

    In the Heat of the Night was an unusually good movie adaptation — and even more unusual in making a major change that improved the story. The book’s sheriff was a transplant from the big city. Rod Steiger’s local sheriff, out of his depth and with no idea how to cope with a black Philadelphia homicide detective, worked better.

  2. Denise Ditto

    Let me start out by saying that I am a huge fan of Young Adult novels. I loved all the “Hunger Games” books and I thought Hollywood did a good job with the movie which was surprising considering they totally messed up “Golden Compass” leaving out so much very important stuff. I haven’t seen “Divergent” yet but heard from a fellow “Divergent” fan that it didn’t live up to the book. Now, I’m worried about what Hollywood is going to do with, “The Giver” which is one of my all time favorites and coming out this summer.

  3. Ana

    I personally think people shouldn’t make such a fuss about changes made to the movies that are based on books. I mean, I have also gotten mad at changes done to movies based on my favorite books, but since they are just adaptations (and it is obviously never specified how accurate they are), the best thing to do is to take the book and the movie separately and enjoy them as they are. However, I still think filmmakers should try and adapt the film so that it will exalt both the books and its author in the end.
    Great post! I am also looking forward to watching the Divergent movies and see how they turn out in the end. I hope they will represent the story and its characters as well as they were written (:

  4. Susan

    Oh, definitely THE BLACK STALLION–I saw it at the age of six, and every time I go back to it I’m amazed at how well Carole Ballard and Francis Ford Coppola captured the beauty of the book.

  5. Anne Lovett

    Forrest Gump was a wonderful movie. so I read the book. Boy, was I disappointed in the book! I also thought the movie version of East of Eden was better than the book. (OK, that makes me a philistine). As for the other way around, we won’t even get INTO The Great Gatsby–

  6. JOHN T SHEA

    I suspect movies as often improve as disimprove on novels, focusing as they must on the basic story. Stephen Spielberg’s movies of JAWS and JURASSIC PARK are classic examples. I liked both Percy Jackson movies but was disappointed ERAGON’S huge conical city within a volcano was so diminished in the movie.

  7. Melissa

    The City of Bones movie broke my heart, especially since I thought the casting was generally excellent. The Black Cauldron and The Dark is Rising are the two I think of as crimes against God, man, and literature.

    Divergent is not getting good advance reviews. I’m going opening night but not expecting it to be very good.

  8. Carol Chittenden

    I’m not much of a moviegoer, but doesn’t it make sense to expand an interesting picture book into a movie, instead of slicing off the toes of a novel to fit it into the cinematic glass slipper? Wouldn’t it be fun to see what they could do with The Day the Crayons Quit, or Journey, or More, or any of a hundred others?

  9. Spellbound

    The one in recent memory that angered me the most was the first Percy Jackson movie…definitely one of the times when I left the theater thinking, “Did the producers even bother reading the book?!” Most kid customers I’ve talked to about it were also fairly livid. The one that seemed to produce the most instant anger and disapproval was the movie of Eragon. I didn’t bother seeing it, based on the number of kids who regaled me with horrible reviews of it.

    We recently started a Book Vs. Movie club to invite just this sort of conversation. Only for movies already out on dvd, so we can watch them at the store and enjoy a potluck and conversation.

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