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Doing Justice – to Books and Movies.

With so many book-to-movie adaptations these days, we always hear the question: was the movie as good as the book? With very few exceptions, the answer is usually “no.” To my way of thinking, the job of a movie based on a book is to make viewers want to read the book. It’s to draw non-readers over to the side of being readers. I think we (readers) need to adjust our way of thinking. The real question should be: does the movie do the book justice?

In order for a book to be made into a movie, it generally has to have a built in audience. This audience knows the story, they love the characters, but they want to see the familiar elements come to life. The burden of the filmmakers is to do justice to the story elements while still making a coherent movie. Unfortunately, many interpretations fall short of meeting this burden. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a HUGE fan of the Narnia books. I’ve read all of them at least twice and many of them more than that. The first of the most recent adaptations, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe met its burden. It remained loyal to the story and the spirit of the book. A few changes were made for the sake of cinematic value, but for the most part it satisfied the most ardent fans.

Prince Caspian, the next film in the series, strayed further from the story. I thought it did justice to the book, for the most part, although some of my hardcore friends at NarniaWeb might disagree with me. Much of this disagreement hinges on one or two additions, such as a certain kiss, that many deem unnecessary.

Then came Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Oh, VDT, we had such hope for you. Sadly, in the hands of a different distribution company with different expectations, the filmmakers decided to worry more about cinematic appeal than doing justice to the book. The result? Even if you forget the fact that it is based on a book, it is still a mediocre movie. If filmmakers are going to take such a route, they need to make sure the movie is at least enjoyable. The movie version of Ella Enchanted bore very little similarity to the book, but most people were ok with that because it was still a fun movie.

There are very few adaptation movies that I go into with high hopes these days. The Help was one. And it didn’t disappoint. Did it follow the book scene for scene? Of course not. The audiobook was 18 hours. They managed to condense the story down to 2.5 hours. But it did the book justice. The casting was perfect. You believed Emma Stone was Skeeter Phelan. Octavia Spencer embodied Minnie. Bryce Dallas Howard seemed born to play Hilly Holbrook. While there were parts I wished could have been included, no extravagant changes were made to the story. Every character did what they were supposed to and reacted in the same way they did in the book.

More filmmakers need to take note of how the adaptation of The Help was done. Tate Taylor recognized what needed to be in the film to do justice to the book and what had to be left out to do justice to the movie. It’s a balancing act. They managed it (for the most part) with the Harry Potter films. And totally failed with the Twilight movies (Kristen Stewart *shudder*). I’m in the middle of reading the Hunger Games trilogy, praying that they realize this formula as they make the films. Like the Twilight books, they have cinematic books to work with. It’s simply a question of remembering the balance of justice.

What books do you think the movies have done justice to? Which ones have been criminally unjust?

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3 thoughts on “Doing Justice – to Books and Movies.

  1. The only movies-from-books I’ve loved were the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Otherwise, everything has been a major disappointment.

    Oh, wait! Both North & South and The Tenent of Wildfell Hall were incredible (Gaskell). But I didn’t read the books first, so it’s hard to judge. When I read the books, though, I loved them. Still loved the movies more. 🙂

    1. LOVE North and South. I haven’t made it through the book yet (it’s on the TBR list). Most classic adaptations these days are pretty spot on. The latest ITV Austen movies were great.

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