By Brooke Thompson
We all have that favorite book we wanted to see get adapted into a movie. However, upon a trip from the theaters or a viewing from your favorite streaming service, we find ourselves thoroughly disappointed and sometimes frustrated with the end product.
These frustrations can stem from differences in the characters’ physical features, such as the wrong hair color or age, or how the movie’s plot was vastly different from the book’s. Or worse, how our favorite characters or scenes were not added in the movie.
We ask ourselves these infuriating questions: why? Why couldn’t the directors or writers stay faithful to the source material? What was the point of changing the story?
After going on a quest to set the record straight, here is what I found out. Here are the major reasons your favorite book doesn’t get a faithful movie adaptation:
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1. A movie adaptation goes through development hell.
You hear all the time of books being sold their rights to become movies. But the logistics of it actually getting adapted is a whole other story.
Some scripts get trapped in what is called “development hell.” This is where any type of media, concept, and idea are passed around different places or go through several scripts before it makes it to production.
This was the case for several years with the James Patterson’s Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment. Though its film rights were sold in 2007 and scheduled for release in 2010, the movie itself was not made into a film until 2016.
What happened was that Maximum Ride changed hands with different directors and producers almost within a decade of the initial announcement. What held off production was that one director, Catherine Hardwicke, wanted to rewrite the script so it could contain more action. This understandably delayed production.
Later, Hardwicke quit the film in 2012, and one of the screenwriters Don Payne died a year later, furthering the delay of the film. Finally, in 2016, the film was released on Digital HD with Jay Martin as the director.
Unfortunately, the end product of the film received a lot of negative criticism by both book fans and critics alike. This is depressing to think about, especially with all the trouble the film went through to be made.
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2. The characters’ features are not true to the book because of creative decisions with the crew.
A common complaint about a book’s movie adaptation is the fact the film’s version of the character does not look exactly like the book’s version. Be it something as simple as hair color or eye color or something drastic as age or height, these differences are something to set off the viewer.
However, there are reasons for these changes. For example, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the titular character is supposed to have green eyes. However, Daniel Radcliffe tried wearing colored contacts but had an adverse reaction to them.
The film’s director Chris Columbus asked Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling if it was okay if they changed the eye color from green to blue – Radcliffe’s natural eye color. Rowling obliged, stating that as long as Harry’s eyes matched his mother Lily’s, she did not mind that they were blue.
Another example is Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. While the movie was a loose adaptation of the book, many fans had issues with the characters’ ages and appearances.
All the characters were supposed to be around 12 years old, yet they were 16-17 years old in the film. The idea that they were aged up was to appeal more for young adults than children, who were the books’ target audience.
One of the main characters, Annabeth Chase, was supposed to have curly, blonde hair with grey eyes. However, the portraying actress, Alexandra Daddrio, had straight, brown hair with light blue eyes. According to an interview, Daddario revealed that she remained a brunette due to a creative decision made by the filmmakers.
While she never elaborated on what this creative decision entailed, one could speculate that perhaps the filmmakers wanted to add a bit of diversity in the cast by having a brunette female lead rather than a blonde.
3. The characters/scenes cut are not integral to the script or are not adaptable to film.
What is heartbreaking to see in some of these films is when a beloved character is not shown in the movie. While this reason varies between movies, most of the time it’s the result of them not playing a huge part in the story.
This was the case in the The Hunger Games movie where the characters Madge and the Avoxes are not present. While there is no clear indication why these characters were not shown in the first film, it is implied that since the characters had no major impact on the story, they should not be in the movie.
While this occurs on a case by case basis in book-to-movie adaptations, the fact The Hunger Games movie lost these characters loses the impact of the book’s message.
Madge is the one who gave Katniss the Mockingjay in the books while the Avoxes were there to show the brutality of the Capitol. Sure, these are “minor” details, but, as mentioned prior, the missing characters take the impact of the book’s message with them.
4. The film tries to appeal to a broader audience.
Some films will change the book’s plots or even their characters to better appeal to a broader audience. These movies always tend to do worse in the box office as these plots tend to not make any sense and lose the overall meaning of the book.
This is evident in Netflix’s adaptation of the Japanese anime/manga series Death Note. While it was originally adapted for Western audiences, the film is just painful to watch. The only thing the film gets correct is the manga’s premise: where a teenage boy finds a notebook in which you write someone’s name in it, and they die.
Going through all the things wrong with that film would take days, but the main issue many fans had with the film was how horribly the character of Light Yagami was treated. In the manga, Light is a calm, charming, and intelligent sociopath.
Unlike his manga counterpart, in the Netflix version, Light, whose last name got changed to Turner, is neither charming nor sociopathic. The directors actually had him “split” these traits with his girlfriend Mia. The end result was that Mia was more like the manga’s Light than the actual film’s version of that character.
Not only did this turn the film’s script into a mess, but this change did not sit well with fans. Overall, the film was unbearable to watch.
5. Producers try to save time
The standard run time for a movie is anywhere between 90 minutes to 120 minutes. Adapting an entire novel might make the film anywhere between three to five hours long versus one and a half to two hours long. The idea is that no moviegoer will sit for that amount of time to watch a film.
Not to mention, there are some novels that would be difficult to condense even in those time constraints. That is why we saw long novels, like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Twilight: Breaking Dawn get split into two, successful films.
There would be so much material to cut if they all had to be squished into one project that it would be an even less faithful movie adaptation than splitting the two. And the payoff worked. Both were box office successes and enjoyed by audiences everywhere.
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No matter how you look at it, it will be hard to find a faithful movie adaptation of a book. Be it creative differences, character or scene cuts, or marketable appeal, a film will, for the most part, be different than the book.
But that’s okay. Sometimes these movie adaptations are what unites an audience into forming a fandom. Or better yet, helps people find a new book to read.