When it comes to books getting adapted into movies or television series, everyone has an opinion.
Some people are excited to see characters and stories they love come to life. But there’s always those people who immediately dread the adaptation news, going from zero to one hundred, expecting the worst from the get go. They believe adaptations are the worst thing to ever happen to their favourite book, thinking that the only possible outcome of the project is disaster. In my opinion, those people ruin adaptations for us more than filmmakers and showrunners do.
But in my 26 years of life of being an avid reader and movie watcher, I’ve discovered the true secret to enjoying book adaptations: you have to separate the materials from one another.
What does this mean? Well, essentially, in your mind you have to recognize and understand that a book story is one thing and a movie story is another. You can have very successful adaptations when the filmmakers stick very close to the source material, but others where there are more liberties taken than you’d like. But the purpose of a screen adaptation is to showcase the overarching themes and meanings of the book in the best way possible, and sometimes that means that an adaptation cannot be as true to the book as it’d like to be because there are things on a page that simply cannot translate to the screen. But if the filmmaker is smart and they understand the story, they can change it in such a way that the story will continue to make sense and the message will still translate.
The best example of the book adaptation secret is The Maze Runner film trilogy. Some people might disagree, but I felt like the movies were far better than the books because the director, Wes Ball, handled it in such a way that it made more sense than the books ever did. He recognized that things in the book series, such as character telepathy, had no chance of properly translating to a movie even if it worked well in the book. There were also changes to character arcs to make them stronger, like Teresa’s, and the removal of the “WICKED was behind everything again” plot line in the second book, The Scorch Trials, to create a better flow. I’d also argue that while the first book in the series was quite well done, the second and third books felt more confusing and fell flat, but the movies made them make sense. At least, it made sense to me. I could understand better why the big bad WCKD (changed from WICKED for better flow in a movie-verse) was doing what they were doing in the story, why Teresa felt what she felt and why she “betrayed” Thomas and the others, and as a whole just understand the world in a much stronger way. While the books felt weaker as they went on, the film series remained at a constant pulse.
Now, as I said, this doesn’t mean that movies that follow the book page-for-page end up being terrible. Look at Catching Fire; not only is it the best book in The Hunger Games series but it ended up being one of the best book adaptations of all time. But when you have such a large budget that Catching Fire had, you probably have the capability to make such a true adaptation when you have the means to fund it. And even if the adaptation is so close to the source material, I think there are still ways to separate them from each other. The Hunger Games books are all told from Katniss’s POV so whatever she sees, you see; but with the films, the filmmakers were able to take some liberties here and there to show what went on with the gamemakers and with President Snow, really setting up what kind of villain he is. Things like this aren’t something that was straight out of the books but we’re happy about the addition regardless. It’s through story elements like that that help shape an adaptation for the better.
I think what’s important to remember about book adaptations is that it’s just a new and different way to tell a story. It’s a new way to see people you relate to, to immerse yourself in a new world, and to open your mind to things you might never have thought of before. And while the success of an adaptation can really go either way, given how everyone’s a critic these days, you can find enjoyment for yourself by simple mental separation. A book can be great in its own way and a movie can be great in its own way; it doesn’t have to be an either or.
The only time we should be worrying about book adaptations is if the author takes it upon themselves to write the script. Just because they’re a writer of books does not make them a writer of scripts. I’m just saying.