The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: Books Vs. Screen Adaptations

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Not many people are aware that the majority of films that are released each year, are derived from books (obviously WE know that).

Hollywood has always struggled with original ideas for films - that’s why we’re currently stuck in a period of prequels, sequels and remakes.

But they can always rely on books as a source of inspiration. Sometimes they get it right, but sometimes they really screw it up. And when they do, they can always rely on their fiercest critics - fans of the books - to make their anger heard.

I’ve compared some of my favourite books with their screen adaptations, listed below as the good, the bad and the ugly. Let me know about your best/worst film adaptations by tweeting me at @DickDoesBooks

The Good

A Monster Calls

Reminiscent of a fairytale, yet as dark and enthralling as a horror, A Monster Calls is a very special book.

When I heard it was being adapted into a film, I was initially very worried. Would they mess it up? Would the monster look stupid? How would it deal with the difficult themes?

Luckily, I didn’t have to worry for long. The film adaptation was beautifully done, bringing the pages of the book to life almost word-for-word.

That’s probably because Patrick Ness, who finished A Monster Calls on behalf of a friend, wrote the script for the film to ensure it was adapted properly.

Life of Pi

You may remember Life of Pi from you A Level English classes. It’s an enchanting book about a young boy, Pi, and his family. When Pi’s parents decide to move from India to America, they are forced to sell the family zoo.

However, when the ship they are on sinks to the bottom of the ocean, Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat, with only a Tiger, Hyena and an Orangutang for company.

Such a magical tale was always going to be difficult upon translation to the big screen, and there are some changes. Most notably, the movie version decided to introduce a young girlfriend into the picture - WHY must every movie have a romantic sub-plot?!

Despite this, I really enjoyed the film adaptation and would rate it as “good”.


Room is heartbreaking book about a teenager who is kidnapped and kept locked in a room and repeatedly raped by her captor. During her imprisonment, she gives birth to a baby boy and is has no choice but to raise him as best she can.

The film adaptation of the same name follows the book mostly faithfully, although omitting a few of the more gruesome, heartbreaking details in the book (this isn’t a bad thing).

As was the case in A Monster Calls, the author of Room - Emma Donoghue - also wrote the screen adaptation. In an interview about the film, she says:

“One nice thing about cinema is that, while the point of view in fiction can be really pure, the child is reporting everything he sees and nothing else. Whereas in film, unless you’re using some GoPro head-mounted camera, which would look gimmicky anyway, we always see the person and what they see. Film gives you that slightly doubled perspective.”

A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones isn’t particularly an easy read - but it is a wonderful dive into a realistic historic world which is not-all-so different from our own (with dragons!).

Series 1 of the TV adaption, titled Game of Thrones, is extremely faithful to book one, with only a few differences:

In the book, it is only the ‘wildlings’ who refer to the ‘White Walkers’. South of the wall they are known as the ‘Others’.
It is revealed in the book that Jon Snow has never liked Theon Greyjoy, but in the show they are shown on good terms before being separated.
The Stark children’s ages are different in the TV show than they are in the book; Robb and Jon Snow are 17 instead of 14. Bran is 10 instead of 7, Sansa 13 instead of 11, and Ayra 11 instead of 9. Rickon’s age is increased from 3 to 6.
Khal Drogo and Daenerys storyline is different. In the book, Daenerys take pleasure in her marriage to Drogo. In the TV series, however, she cries.

Unfortunately, as the TV series goes on there are more and more discrepancies from the books (and now, the TV show has actually overtaken the books!). However, I still think they did a fantastic job of bringing the books to life!

The Bad

The Martian

The Martian is one of my favourite books - so I was always going to be slightly worried about how the film adaptation was going to turn out.

I think the casting and cinematography was spot on. But it let itself down in a couple of big ways:

1. Everything in the film goes perfectly right. All of his plans and schemes work
without any major hiccups or failures. In the book, Watney’s journey home is a lot more difficult, fraught with mistakes and failures.

This is quite an important difference because watches of the film don’t get a full picture of how desperate Watney’s situation is.

2. The book ends abruptly without any further explanation. The film necessarily
felt like it had to give the audience ‘closure’ and extend the ending with a pointless ‘what happened next’ scene.

I think the film would have been more powerful if the ending had been faithful to the book.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

I watched the film adaptation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest whilst studying Psychology at A Level. Years later, I decided to read the book.

Both are excellent separately, but when compared the book easily excels. The book is told through the character “Chief” Bromden who is a selective mute.

I imagine this caused a bit of a problem for the film makers, who decided instead to lead with Jack Nicholson’s character - McMurphy. Whilst this change of direction works really well for the film, a lot of important information that comes from “Chief” in the book is lost.

The Shining

I watched The Shining before I read the book - and I have to admit I am a huge fan. The film is terrifying and beautifully shot, and still gives me the creeps every time I watch it.

However, it wasn’t until I read the original book by Stephen King that I realised how much the film was missing.

Danny’s powers are a LOT different in the book, and are explained in more detail. The endings drastically differ, and for some reason they decided the change the main character’s name?!

In the film, Jack Nicholson’s character is called Jack Torrance. In the book his name is John Daniel Torrance.
At the start of the book, Danny has a vision and sees everything that will happen at the hotel. In the film, he has unrelated visions, such as the twins.
The line “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” isn’t in the book.
Dick Halloran plays a bigger (and more important) role in the book.
The hotel in the book is ‘alive’ and influences John’s (Jack’s) behaviour - but in the film it’s just a hotel, with the implication being that Jack is crazy.
In the book, the hotel explodes at the end.

I still like the film version of The Shining, but I’m so glad I read the book version - and there’s no competition between the two. It’s just a shame more of the book didn’t make it into the film, because then it could have been even better!

The Ugly

All You Need is Kill

All You Need is Kill is written by a Japanese author about an alien invasion in Japan. In 2014, Tom Cruise, an American actor, starred in the American-made film adaptation, named Edge of Tomorrow.

As you can imagine, the title is the only thing that is different.

In the book, the main character is called Keiji Kiriya, and he signed up as a soldier to join the fight against the mimics (the name of the aliens). In the film, the main character is called Bill Cage, and he doesn’t want to fight.

The film also changed the appearance of the mimics, as well as the ending. In the film, there’s a happy ‘everyone lives’ ending which is very different from the book.

I think you can only describe Edge of Tomorrow as ‘loosely’ based on the book All You Need is Kill. And that sucks, because All You Need is Kill is a kick-ass book.

The Twilight Saga

Like everyone else, I got swept up into The Twilight Saga hype, reading and re-reading the books many times during my teenage angst (will anyone ever love me as much as Edward loves Bella?!).

I loved the series at the time, and still really enjoy parts of it now (although through more adult eyes I can also see the flaws).

But the films RUINED the whole franchise. The wooden acting throughout was, I suppose, meant to be edgy and grungy - but it just fell flat. There was no chemistry between any of the characters, let alone Edward and Bella.

The films were so bad, that all the love for the books was lost - and the whole saga became a laughing stock.

Suddenly, it was ‘uncool’ to light Twilight (people are so fickle). The films could have been much, much better, and I secretly relish the day we get a reboot.

by Louise Dickens (@ DickDoesBooks) from Dickens Does Books

This post has been kindly written in support of #Rebeccas24HourReadathon. SomeOne Cares is a charity that helps support survivors, young and old, who have suffered of rape or some form of abuse at some point in their life. 

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