Don’t Judge a Book by Its Movie

In an earlier blog, I made a list of my top five film adaptations of books. Now is time for my worst five. These may not be the worst adaptations of all time, but they are especially painful to me because the books are so wonderful. You can probably tell from the state of the spines in the picture that these are well read books.

  1. The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien- I think these movies took me by surprise because I liked the Lord of the Rings movies so much. They didn’t get off to a bad start. I was even fine with some of the additions to the plot. I liked Gandalf’s side adventures. But I really started to have problems when the Orcs started flooding the screen . . . and just kept coming. The scene on the river felt like a tedious bit in a video game that you can’t seem to get past. When I was in the theater, I could only yell at the screen in my head. I watched the third movie at home, so I got to yell and groan in disappointment all I wanted. Much of that movie was unnecessary. I was also disappointed by Bilbo’s interactions with Smaug. They cut out some of the best parts from the book.
  1. The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher- This is a lengthy urban fantasy series, so a TV show seemed appropriate. Harry Dresden is a wizard for hire in Chicago, and the book series follows his cases and his battles against personal demons (both literal and figurative). However, the TV series quickly started burning through the books in a very unsatisfying way. They barely scratched the surface, and they had ample opportunity to take advantage of the rich story lines. Even if it hadn’t gotten canceled, I don’t think it would have gotten better. It is a great, addictive series that deserved better. These books have been turned into graphic novels, and I just added the first ones to my Goodreads list. I’m hoping it proves a better treatment.
  1. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams- I just realized as I was writing this that this is the second book on my list with Martin Freeman, but I don’t blame him for the issues with either of these adaptations. I had high hopes for this movie because it had some good casting. Alan Rickman is the voice of Marvin! Alas, my hopes were dashed. It turned out to be one of those movies that only made sense if you read the book. I have read and love the book, so I got what was going on and was able to laugh at things that were only funny if you read the book, but I can’t help thinking about an adaptation from the point of view of someone who hasn’t read it. This movie leaves most people confused and not in any rush to go read this wonderful book. The movie version of anything should be able to stand on its own.
  1. Nightwatch by Sergei Lukyanenko- Most of my Russian literature experience is with the classics, but this is one of the few contemporary works I have read. It is the first book of a dark urban fantasy series that I have not yet finished (but really need to soon). Don’t let the “light” and “dark” sides make you think that this deals with good and evil in a strictly dichotomous way. In fact, it really challenges the idea . . . not that you would get that from the movie. If you never read the book, I would be impressed if you could get much of a storyline from the movie. The movie seems to take for granted that you already know the backstory to follow the scenes from the book strung together. It had been awhile since I read the book, so I got lost a few times. This is a complex book that may be better suited to a miniseries. I find myself often thinking that about book adaptations.
  1. The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman- Speaking of complex books, I had a bad feeling that this one could not be done as a Hollywood blockbuster. It is another one that would be better suited to the miniseries treatment. The CGI was good, but the plot really suffered. As with Nightwatch, the fantasy world is intricate. People’s souls manifest themselves as creatures called daemons, and the characters set off to seek an alternate universe. There’s a whole lot going on that can’t just be glossed over so the story fits neatly into a feature film. Daniel Craig and the talking polar bears could not save this one.

5 thoughts on “Don’t Judge a Book by Its Movie

  1. I can only comment on the films I’ve seen. I agree (and zillions of others) that the trilogy of the The Hobbit was overlong, overhyped and overblown. Apart from Martin Freeman — who I thought did well in the part to get across Bilbo as a reluctant hero — the whole project was misconceived. I understand that somebody has done the opposite of an extended edition by distilling the essence of the book into one feature-length movie without the silly bits.

    The original BBC tv version of HHGG is far better than the film despite a few technical limitations (typical for the early 80s), just as quietblogster says. (Great theme music too!) Even better, I think, was the BBC radio adaptation which preceded it, which I haven’t heard since it was first broadcast in 1978.

    Pullman’s His Dark Materials is currently in production (maybe even post-production now) as a BBC tv series, and the pre-publicity makes it sound as though it will be faithful and authentic, certainly more so than the ill-fated if well-meaning cinema outing. We shall have to wait and see if it lives up to its promise!

    Liked by 1 person

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