Friday, September 12, 2014

Movie adaptations of books: What works and what doesn't?

It seems like almost all movies these days are based on something else. In an earlier post I talked about comic book movies, but they aren't the only source material for Hollywood these days. Lots of Hollywood blockbusters are based on popular novels, especially those of the children and young adult genres. But undoubtedly some of these adaptations are better than others. So what works and what doesn't?

Let's start by looking at perhaps the most famous book series adaptation of all time, and what one could argue was the kickstart of the now extremely popular childrens/young adult book adaptation genre.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Over 400 Million Copies Sold (7 Books)
 $7,723,431,572 Box Office Gross (8 Films)

Harry Potter is without a doubt a cultural phenomena. Harry Potter is one of the most successful book series of all time, has been sold in over 200 countries, translated in 68 languages and sold over 400 copies. The film adaptations are the highest grossing film series of all time. There are few people who haven't seen a Harry Potter film, and even fewer who have never heard of the character at all. There is even a Harry Potter theme park in Universal Studios, Orlando.   

The films are mostly well reviewed, especially the final installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, which has a 96% positive review rating on Rotten Tomatoes. (And is personally one of my favorite films of all time, but that's besides the point)

So what works about the Harry Potter films? Well for starters there is an extreme respect and seriousness for the source material. It would be easy to make these movies all flash, or even hokey, but there is a great respect for the characters and the world of the books. Yet Harry Potter is easy to respect. It may be a children's series about a boy wizard, but the core of the story is about the casualties of war and dealing with death and loss. 

Not all books are as profound as Harry Potter. When you don't have good source material, it's hard to make a good adaptation. Which brings me unfortunately to my next example. 

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Over 100 Million Copies Sold (4 Books)
 $3,345,177,904 Box Office Gross (5 Films) 

Oh god, oh god why. Why did this franchise make so much money? Okay. Alright. I have a confession to make. I have read the Twilight books. Oh god, there I said it. (I was in 7th grade don't judge me.) However, and don't shoot me here, while they are in no way good books they are still 1,000 times better than their movie counterparts. 

The first Twilight movie is literally awful, it's honestly painful to sit through. The script is awful, the acting is awful, the special effects are awful, EVERYTHING about it is awful. To give the filmmakers some credit here, they didn't have much to work with. Unlike Harry Potter, the themes of Twilight involve enteral love on a scarily codependent psychological level. 

Yet still these films were extremely successful. So if quality doesn't matter, what is it that makes people flock to see novel based films? Well, what is it that the Harry Potter and Twilight films have in common?  Not much, but one of the few things both films do is closely follow their source material. Which brings me to my next point.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan
Over 20 Million Copies Sold (5 Books)
$430 million Box Office Gross (2 Movies)

Now I personally have not read the Percy Jackson and Olympians series, nor seen the films. I do know however, that fans of the series were widely disappointed with the film adaptations of the novels. The reason for the largely negative reaction from fans being that so much of the plot and events of the books are changed in the films. As a result, while the movies weren't box office disasters they also weren't nearly as successful as the Harry Potter or Twilight films, as they might have had the potential to be.

However, one must note that critics gave the films largely negative reviews as well. The first film currently holds a 49% positivity rating on Rotten Tomatoes, while the second an even lower 41%. So perhaps there is more going on here than simply disappointed fans. 

To continue this point, there are other films that differ from their books source material that still manage to be successful. 

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Over 65 Million Copies Sold in US (3 Books)
$832,678,739 million Box Office Gross (2 Movies)

The Hunger Games is one of the most successful ongoing film franchises. The series was well received by fans and critics alike, especially the second film Catching Fire which currently holds a 89% positivity rating on Rotten Tomatoes. 

There are certain things about the books that were altered for the films. Yet, unlike Percy Jackson, the fans of the Hunger Games don't seem to mind the changes. Perhaps that is because the elements of the story that were changed were changed because they simply could not work in a two hour film version, and not because of laziness or lack of respect for the source material. 

The Hunger Games films are honestly well made films, and can stand alone from their source material as just good films in general. It remains to be seen if the last two films of the franchise will be as successful as the first two, seeing as they will be based on the final book of the series which was largely the most negatively reviewed of the trilogy. 

So what do you think? What is it that makes a film adaptation of a book successful? Is it more important for the film to be good on it's own, or should it follow it's source material as closely as possible? Or does none of this matter, as there will already be a built in audience who will go to see the film regardless of quality? 

1 comment:

Thiri Mariah Boucher said...

I think it would have been cool for you to explore more into other book adaptations besides the young adult novels, but I love your comparison of the book vs. the adaptation. Personally, I think they were pretty spot on with comparisons, so good job there! (: I think a good example of a series that didn't work at all was Eragon, the move adaptation was completely off from the actual book, which was evident in the amount of money the film brought it (none). Besides those, there are a lot of other movies that were either great or terrible adaptations of books. Kiss The Girl and Along Came a Spider were part of the Alex Cross series with Morgan Freeman in them, but it would have been impossible for them to continue with the movie series because they killed off the main bad guy that actually continues in the book series. Which is why I think they revisited the series and started over with Tyler Perry as Alex Cross.