Saturday, July 17, 2010

Books vs. Movies

Lately it seems like children's books are being made into movies so quickly, kids barely have time to finish reading a novel before it appears on the big screen. Bookivore personally thinks this is because Hollywood had run out of ideas for films, so is desperate to put anything out there that might equal the success of the Twilight books, or Harry Potter.

The problem is, these movie renditions often fall far short of the books. Bookivore will concede that there have been a few -- a very few -- movies that did justice to the books they were based on, and that there have been one or two movies total that improved on their book sources. One example of a movie that at least did justice to its source work was Holes. It's a straighforward retelling of the book -- the book in visual form, actually. The casting gurus completely missed the boat using Shia Labeouf as Stanley Yelnats, who was supposed to be overweight in the book. Not that Shia was bad, just that I think he should have played the first half of the movie in some padding. And of course, the movie loses the lyrical quality of the book -- the beautiful language and the fabulous characterizations of the boys at camp. But otherwise, it's a solid effort. Another similar movie would be Twilight -- although some of the casting struck me as a bit off. The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe surprised me by being a pretty nice adaptation as well.

A movie that improved on its book -- and I know I'm going to get zinged for this -- was Fellowship of the Ring. I know it committed the heresy of leaving out some beloved characters, but I always felt Tolkien needed a better editor anyway and the movie cut out a lot of stuff that, while nice, just didn't do it for me. What emerged was a leaner, more streamlined, dramatic story, rather than the meandering trip down a river that the book is. Another good example is Horton Hears a Who.

But the largest category by far is Movies that Fell Short of the Books. Into this I can toss scads of examples: Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief; How to Train Your Dragon; The Black Cauldron; the Harry Potter movies (all of them); the Pride and Prejudice remake with Keira Knightly (so, so bad...not stictly a kids' book, I know, bu t it does appear on some high school reading lists); Nim's Island (so close, but just didn't quite measure up to the book); The Cat in the Hat... and the list goes on.

Sometimes the problem is in casting -- Pierce Brosnan as Chiron? Are you kidding me? And sometimes the problem is that the book is just too big, too rich, to adapt well to the screen (like all the Harry Potter movies). Sometimes Hollywood takes just a shred of an idea from the book and goes off at right angles to it, producing something that resembles the book only in that they have the same title (How to Train Your Dragon). Sometimes a book just shouldn't be made into a movie, period. I think The Cat in the Hat proves that beyond a doubt.

The worst thing about movies based on books, though, is that they may prevent kids from reading the books at all. Why read Harry Potter when you've seen the movies? This is my 11 year old nephew's opinion and it drives me crazy. You read the book because it is so much better than the movie.


There are so many more -- Because of Winn Dixie, Despereaux, Hoot, Guardians of Ga'hoole (coming in September), City of Ember, Ella Enchanted (ugh!), Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Freak the Mighty, How to Eat Fried Worms, The Princess Diaries, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Inkheart -- all made into movies that kids may see and think are the be-all and end-all of the story. They're not bad, necessarily, just not good substitutes for the literature that inspired them.

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