“The book was better.”
If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard that about a movie or TV show, I… well, I wouldn’t be rich, but I could certainly buy myself something nice.
Adaptations of books to the big and small screen have a tricky balancing act to pull off. It’s impossible to accurately turn every single page of a book into a movie or TV show; the visual medium is a completely different animal from the written word. Screenwriters and directors have the challenge of making structural changes to adapt the story to the screen while remaining faithful to the spirit of the book.
Or at least, that’s how I think about it. Some movies don’t seem to care, presenting an adaptation that shares nothing in common with the source material except for a title, leading to masses of disappointed fans.
But I’m not here to talk about the disasters. I want to talk about my favorites.
Friday Favorite Five is a weekly prompt hosted by Way Too Fantasy. This week’s topic is technically “Favorite Five Movie Adaptations,” but I’m cheating and sticking in some TV shows, too. Be sure to check out Way Too Fantasy’s top picks here.
This is a super creepy book, and fittingly, the movie is also super creepy. I’m a big fan of the Claymation style (which I’ll forever associate with The Nightmare Before Christmas, one of my all-time favorite movies), and the visuals are fantastic, all with a dark, atmospheric tone that really suits the story.
Since Coraline is a children’s book and on the short side, it’s not as much of a challenge to cram hundreds upon hundreds of pages of content into a two-hour movie. The movie follows the book pretty closely, and I think the changes they made, such as the addition of a new character to give Coraline someone to talk to, work well.
In any case, whether on film or page, the Other Mother stealing children and sewing in buttons for their eyes will never not be complete nightmare fuel.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read the original Sherlock Holmes stories. They’re some of my favorite comfort reads, and their short length means I can fly through a case in almost no time. When the first series of BBC’s Sherlock came out, I was intrigued by how they’d adapt the stories into a modern setting. Then I started watching, and it didn’t even take an entire episode for me to be 100% onboard.
It’s not a perfect show by any means, and I have some opinions about the actual plots of the mysteries. (I figured out the cabbie was the killer in episode one before Sherlock did. I should never be able to solve a mystery before Sherlock Holmes.) But the character dynamics between Sherlock and John make up for any weak and nonsensical plots points (of which there are many).
For how popular the show is, it’s hard to believe there are only nine episodes in total. Fingers crossed for series four.
3. Altered Carbon
So my number five pick was a children’s show, but number three is so very, very not. Seriously, please don’t let your kids watch this. I’m in my thirties and still don’t think I’m old enough to handle how twisted and disturbing this show is.
When Altered Carbon first came out on Netflix, I figured I’d give it a try since I’d read the book years ago, but I honestly wasn’t all that enthused. Then it took me by surprise with how great it was, and after the first couple episodes, I was hooked. The cyberpunk setting looks amazing, and the acting is fantastic. The TV show made some changes to both the plot and characters, but I think they added rather than detracted to the overall story.
Plus, as much graphic violence, sex, and horrifying situations that are in the show, it’s actually toned down from the descriptions in the novel. (Seriously, I remember reading this book on an airplane, taking a break after a particularly brutal torture scene, and having no idea how to reply to the flight attendant who asked, “How’s the book?”)
2. Wonder Woman
In many ways, I think adapting comics to the screen can be even harder than adapting a novel. At least with a novel you only have one book to worry about; comic book characters have decades of history, countless incarnations, reboots, retcons, and a supporting cast that can number in the hundreds. Screenwriters and directors have to pick from all those stories and boil that character down to the heart of what they stand for.
I’ve written an entire post on how much I adore Wonder Woman. I waited years for this movie, and it could have gone so wrong in so many different ways, but instead, we got a movie that’s not just good but excellent (in my opinion, anyway). The plot pulls from the core elements of her origin story, and her portrayal captures the perfect balance of fearsome warrior and compassionate heroine that’s essential to her character. I love this movie and have high hopes for the sequel.
But, you may be asking, if I’m such a Wonder Woman fan, then why is it only number two on my list?
1. The Lord of the Rings
Can you hear that triumphant theme music? I sure can. I re-watched this trilogy just recently and was struck by how amazingly it holds up. The special effects are seriously better than a lot of newer CGI, and it’s just such a well-told story. I get feelings watching this movie, you guys. I guess that’s why it’s in the top spot for me; I can’t watch it without feeling the desperation and joy of the characters or just being swept up in awe of Middle Earth.
Another thing I noticed on the rewatch is that this trilogy has spawned a lot of memes.
Like, a lot.
The movie must resonate with a lot of people, because it’s firmly entrenched in the popular consciousness. I think that just goes to show how fantastic it is.
And then you have The Hobbit—but I’ll save my list of disappointing adaptations for another day. 😉
So what are you favorite adaptions of books? Least favorites? Let me know in the comments.