Book to Movie: What makes a good adaptation?

I am sure we’ve all seen our fair share of movies adapted from books but, what exactly does make a good book to movie adaptation? Now I’m no expert on this, but I am an avid reader who also loves film, so here are my thoughts on this subject.

First off, you need a story that will translate well onscreen.

I think books like Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, are perfect examples.  Both stories are full of action, suspense, and complex characters which when you read them, you can easily picture them as movies.

Next, I would say when bringing a book character to life onscreen, it is important to make sure there are no major deviations.

I know there is such a thing as “creative license,” however when there is a major deviation in an important character, it can upset the reader. One example is in the film adaptation of Anne Rice’s Queen of the Damned. In the film, Lestat has woken up the mother of all Vampires Queen Akasha who he falls in love with.  In a strange turn of events which still bothers me to this day, he then falls in love with a mortal named Jesse. He later works with other vampires to kill Queen Akasha, and saves Jesse by turning her into a vampire. In the book that never happens.  Lestat just pulls Jesse briefly onstage while he’s performing and says, “Love you Jesse” then moves on with his life.

Obviously, there are times when changing a character works well.

A perfect example of a good character change was Anastasia Steele in the Fifty Shades films. In the books, Anastasia is slightly more childish and very much a submissive to Christian. On the other hand, in the films, Anastasia is much more strong-willed and has a very mature sense of self.

Lastly, lets talk about the thing that can make or break a book to film adaptation. The plot twist.

While seeing our favorite books onscreen is an amazing experience, watching everything happen just like it does in the books from beginning to end, can be somewhat dull.  I admit while watching a film adapted from a book I’ve read, I found myself saying “oh, the part with blah, blah is coming next.” If you focus on that it can take you out of the moment.  While we can all agree there are key scenes from books that must make it into a film adaptation, the occasional plot change can be very enjoyable.

In Breaking Dawn part 2 for example, the battle between the Cullen’s, their witnesses and the Volturi was unexpected because that didn’t happen in the book.  Although it was a plot twist that didn’t originally happen, it was still authentic to the Authors work. Stephenie Meyer knew how badly her readers wanted the Cullen’s and the Volturi to fight in the last book.  She had voiced many times if they did fight, everyone would die.  Stephenie and the entire team knew what the readers wanted and definitely delivered an unforgettable moment.

I think if screenwriters and directors take all these elements into account when planning to take on the task of transforming a book into film, they will have a winning formula.


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