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Movie Adaptations: the Good, the Bad, and the Unspeakable

April 2, 2012

I don’t have a new review to post because  I’ve been rereading The Hunger Games in preparation for the movie, so I thought I’d do something timely for a change (or it would have been timely had I finished this last week, when I intended to). So, in honor of the Hunger Games movie (which was great, although I don’t actually recommend reading or rereading the book immediately prior to seeing the movie – I spent far too much time nitpicking the differences), here’s a list of movie versions of YA books and my verdicts as to whether or not they live up to their source material.

The Good
Let’s start with the adaptations I liked. I should say right off the bat that this is going to be a very subjective list, as my enjoyment or non-enjoyment of these movies depends a great deal on my attachment to and familiarity with the original books.

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien – This is the cream of the crop – both my favorite book (well, books) and my favorite movie(s). I think almost everyone is agreed that the movies are faithful and thoughtful adaptations and the quality of the filmmaking is exceptionally high. The directing, the casting, the acting… the only flaw is that one has to set aside 3 or 4 hours to watch one of them.

Holes by Louis Sachar – The book was brilliant and the movie does it complete justice, faithfully replicating the plot and the characters, as well as the book’s spirit and sense of humor. Shia Labeouf isn’t exactly the spitting image of the Stanley Yelnats described in the book, but he did a fine job acting the part regardless. Also, Dulé Hill as Sam the Onion Man kind of makes my heart melt.

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling – Obviously some of the movies were better than others, but I think most of us can agree that as a whole the movies did a good job of living up to the books. I do have my suspicions that certain aspects of the plot wouldn’t be entirely clear for someone who’s only seen the movies, so for the optimal experience, it’s definitely better to read the books as well.

The Scott Pilgrim series by Brian Lee O’Malley – I loved the movie version of this graphic novel series so much when I first saw it that I immediately wanted to watch it again. Both the book series and the movie are completely bizarre and ridiculous, but that’s part of what I like about them. Low point: the song and dance performance of the first of the Evil Exes. High point: Kieran Culkin as Wallace.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman – Speaking of bizarre…this is another weird one, though wonderfully unique and imaginative while also following many classic fairytale tropes. I’ve heard differing opinions on the movie, but I personally enjoyed it a great deal and I thought the book translated well into film.

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau – This is a great post-apocalyptic story, and while the movie isn’t quite as good as the book, it is a pretty good, faithful adaptation. Low point: the giant, mutated bug and the mole. I may need to reread the book, but I’m pretty sure neither of these were in it. High point: Saoirse Ronan as Lina.

The Bad
Now let’s look at a couple of less worthy adaptations.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan – Interestingly, I actually saw the movie version before reading the book, and I quite enjoyed it. But as soon as I started reading, I became more and more irritated at the movie, for making so much less sense, for turning Grover into two-dimensional comic relief, and for taking bizarre liberties with Greek mythology.

Beastly by Alex Flinn – I didn’t love this book, but I thought it was a fun and interesting modern-day twist on the Beauty and the Beast story. I didn’t have high expectations for the movie either, so I wasn’t terribly disappointed but, well, it just felt less substantive than the book. In particular, the characters felt blander. The whole thing was just very underwhelming.

The Unspeakable
Finally, we have the movie adaptations that were so bad that I prefer to pretend that they don’t exist. Just…so, so bad.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine – I love this book. A lot. I’ve read it umpteen times and it’s probably my favorite after The Lord of the Rings. So I was thrilled when I heard there was going to be a movie version. And then I saw the previews and realized with dread that it was going to utterly destroy the story I knew so well. I watched it because I felt I had to, but it was painful. The obedience curse makes Ella defy the laws of physics and, like, freeze in mid-air, and Char has an evil uncle who’s trying to take over the throne, and just…what?

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper – Again, I completely adore this book, and the rest of the series. The only godsend here is that the movie didn’t do well enough to warrant movie versions of the other books. Because it’s just offensively bad. The degradation of Will’s character into this obnoxious American was bad enough, but then there’s this business with a missing twin and people trapped in, like, snow-globes or something, and it’s all just utterly horrific.

Thoughts? Agreements or disagreements? Glaring omissions? Which movie adaptations do you love, hate, and/or refuse to acknowledge the existence of?

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Katie permalink
    April 2, 2012 5:03 pm

    The giant mole in the City of Ember really bothered me too!

    • aftran permalink
      April 2, 2012 6:19 pm

      Yeah, it wasn’t enough to make me dislike the movie, but it was kind of like, “Wait, why are there rodents of unusual size?”

  2. Kristina permalink
    April 2, 2012 5:17 pm

    Love your take on the “Ella” movie. Bleeehhh, it was so bad, but the book is also one of my faves.

    • aftran permalink
      April 2, 2012 6:30 pm

      Seriously. That movie is the worst. Aren’t there even ninjas or something at one point?

  3. deb kirsch permalink
    April 2, 2012 5:59 pm

    Agree with you completely about HOLES, & THE DARK IS RISING.

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