Breaking the Stigma: Book to Movie Adaptations

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Over New Year’s, I went to see The Hobbit with some friends.  I know that there has been some criticism of the adaptation for, among other things, becoming three long movies despite being shorter than any Lord of the Rings novel.  Probably thanks to the fact that I haven’t read the book since my father read it to me twenty-five years ago, that fact didn’t get in the way of my enjoyment of the movie.

However, for me (and for many readers out there), book-to-movie adaptations have a difficult climb into respectability.  First, I’ve already met these characters and know what they look like and how they sound.  And despite all that forethought, casting agents rarely (okay never) come banging down my door to see which actor will fit best into my vision.  Second, movies don’t have the same amount of time that books do to tell a story.  Inevitably, one of my favorite scenes gets cut, shortened or robbed of its power because all the rest of the scenes around it were either cut or shortened.

Overall, this contributes to adaptations seeming to me either mediocre or downright terrible.  Today, however, I thought I’d celebrate a couple movies which have managed to move from bad to truly wonderful.  One I count as even better (gasp) than its print counterpart.

That movie is Bridget Jones’s Diary.

I have a confession to make about this one: I hadn’t read the book before I saw the movie.  I had no preconceived notions, no scenes that I loved, loved, loved.  I did go in with eternal, well shall we say “adoration” for Colin Firth playing the role of anyone named “Darcy.”  And the movie lived up to those expectations.  It was just so wonderful and endearing that I couldn’t help loving it.  There’s such a campy spirit to it that’s underlaid by something very real.  I fell in love with Mr. Darcy all over again.

Filled with all this love for the movie, I hied myself over to my local bookstore to pick up the book.  I made it through, but just barely.  The book lacked the same sense of fun that the move possessed in spades.  I was deprived of some of my HEA (happy ever after), and the writing style just didn’t work for me.  Oh well, there had to be one, right? (By the way, we’ll just not mention Edge of Reason here, and it’s for the best.)

The second movie that I love, unabashedly, is Anne of Avonlea.

It’s kind of pathetic.  I’ll admit it.  I read every single Anne of Green Gables book voraciously as a child.  This movie doesn’t closely resemble any of those books.  It pulls pieces from about four of them, instead of committing to a single one.  And I’ll never get over their never making a real, true Anne of the Island movie (my first introduction to romance novels there).  But somehow, this adaptation works.  It throws off all the bowlines and charges directly into the face of its critics.

The reason I think that it works is that it retains the essence of the characters I loved so much.  It didn’t try to give a faithful adaptation of each and every scene; rather, it created almost an alternate universe for the characters to inhabit.  And unlike author LM Montgomery, the movie gives Anne the published novel we so crave for her.  I can’t help but love that.

So do you agree or disagree?  Do you have movies you’d add to the list?


Also, on another note, the series on “Exploring Romance and the Modern Woman” over at USA Today’s Happy Ever After blog has continued.  Links to parts two and three:

Part Two

Part Three

5 Responses

  1. Jada Bradley

    I loved the “Anne of Green Gables” series too! They made great casting choices. And you’re right–she did have a more fulfilling writing career in the movie version.

  2. Liz

    I agree with you about Bridget Jones’s Diary. I saw the movie, loved it and wanted to read the book. I don’t think I made it through the first two chapters – you made it much farther than I did.

  3. Erin McCann Arnold

    I like my adaptations to capture the essence of a book, so in that vein I enjoyed the ‘Time Travelers Wife’ adaptation (though Rachel McAdams was a poor casting choice) and I liked ‘The Notebook’ (where McAdams was properly cast). I don’t like it when they stay too close to the plot and lose the character development. For instance, the newer ‘Pride and Prejudice’ jumbles some stuff around while staying very true to the characters of Lizzie, Jane, Bingly and (to a lesser degree) Darcy. I second your thoughts on Diaries and Gables. ‘Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants’ was another I enjoyed – but I’m a YA sucker.

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