My Take on Novels vs Films

Over the past month, I rewatched the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, which motivated me to reread the books (it’s been several years). Half way through The Fellowship of the Ring novel, I realized that despite the differences between the two forms, I truly love each as a separate experience.

This isn’t usually the case with me.

It’s been difficult in the past seeing a much-loved novel made into a disappointing film. Intellectually, I know the limits, but more often than not, I’m frustrated when a film doesn’t live up to its novel. DuneI, Robot, the Keira Knightley Pride and Prejudice, the Gwyneth Paltrow Emma, and even a couple of the Harry Potter movies spring to mind.

Then, there’s the movies based on Stephen King novels. I’ve only read a couple of his books. One scared the crap out of me (IT) and the other really made me think about the possibilities (The Stand), but, like all of the movies based on his books, they were campy and cartoony and not even really scary at all. I have to admit, though, that because The Stand was a tv miniseries, it was much closer in detail to the book. I’ll give them that.

Another peeve I have deals specifically with what I think are poor casting choices in some films. Maddeningly, those are the images stuck in my brain on subsequent readings of the novels. It’s my personal opinion the casting director of Interview with the Vampire should have been shot for casting Tom Cruise as Lestat. It was after that movie I decided to be very picky which film adaptations I choose to watch.

For that reason, I refuse to see One For the Money because I love Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series and have very specific images in my mind of her characters. The actors they chose were so far from that it ruined my interest in the movie.

And don’t even get me started on the choice of Tom Cruise to play the very tall, ex-military cop Jack Reacher character from the Lee Child novels. That one just literally blows my mind and apparently other fans feel the same. (Please don’t think I’m against Tom Cruise. I’ve liked him in other roles.)

Strangely, this has never been the case with the Lord of the Rings trilogy of films.

Watching the “making of” videos included with my DVD set, it’s obvious these films were made with inordinate care and love of the novels. From the director, writers, and actors, down to the lowliest grip, most seem to have read these books at some time in their lives and loved them. How could that not show in the final product?

Yes, many beloved characters and scenes from the novels didn’t make it into the films. Yes, some of the actors were different from those I had in my mind. Yet, for some reason, none of this bothers me. In fact, I often feel the films are better than my imagination.

I can’t think of any other instances where I loved both the novel and film as equally as I do The Lord of the Rings. However, after wracking my brains, and ultimately turning to the internet for help, I was able to come up with film treatments of favorite novels that I did actually enjoy. (And, honestly, I didn’t want this to turn into a complete rant.)

Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. As a miniseries, it was able to include more of the story, the acting was excellent (Mrs. Bennett was dead-on), and they finally found an actor who, honest-to-God, was Mr. Darcy.

I truly loved the first three Harry Potter films and felt they were as faithful to the wonder and magic of the original books as they could get with movie constraints. I also liked The Deathly Hallows – Part 2, for the reasons I noted in a previous post. But the rest? I can take them or leave them.

Strangely enough, I must have been one of the few people who liked all the science in Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. I found it fascinating and it added to my belief that dinosaurs could be bio-engineered. However, I wasn’t upset they kept it to a bare minimum for the movie, and the rest of it was amazing.

I suppose when it all comes down to it, this is all very subjective.

What about you? What film versions of novels do you love or loathe?


8 comments on “My Take on Novels vs Films

  1. I also learned a long time ago to approach film adaptations as an entirely separate being; otherwise, it’d be impossible to enjoy any of them. And I couldn’t agree more about the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Not to mention, the special extended DVDs are the best set of DVDs I’ve purchased in my 15 years of collecting. There’s no denying Peter Jackson’s love of Tolkien. I’m crossing my fingers The Hobbit receives the same treatment 🙂

    One of the best examples of how a movie based on a book can become its own creation, completely detached from its book, The Wizard of Oz (1939). My sister read all the Oz books last year and shared a few tidbits – enough so that I’m going to read them too – and they’re really nothing like the movie. Yet, the movie is beloved and cherished. The same goes for Disney’s fairy tales, which invoke little of their original tellings, but are loved anyway.

    I’m with you on Tom Cruise as Lestat – what was the casting director thinking? I’ll tell you: box office sales. Big names usually mean big money.

    But I have to disagree about the movie It; I own it because Tim Curry as Pennywise scares the everlovin’ crap outta me. It is kinda cheesy in parts and some of the actors were miscast, yes. Again, I separated the book from the movie, which helped. Plus, I didn’t read the book until after I’d watched the mini-series.

    One of the best adaptations of King’s work is Pet Sematary. Holy shnikes! I still can’t watch the scene with Zelda and I’m 33 years old! And I sleep with the lights on every time I read the book. 😀 Misery is also a faithful adaptation with excellent actors.

    Another superb film based on a book is The Silence of the Lambs. The writer, director, and casting director weren’t sleeping on that job. Oh! Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula showed me why one would even want to adapt a novel to film.

    Not sure if I loathe anything. Some definitely irked me almost to the point of ranting:

    * Harry Potter #3 – #7 because Michael Gambon has to be the worst casting decision since Cruise as Lestat. There’s NO way in hell Albus Dumbledore would’ve EVER gotten physical with Harry like Gambon chose to do in Goblet of Fire. Richard Harris was THE true Dumbledore.

    * The Scarlet Letter because of casting issues and it did not do the book any justice, at all. It was actually one of the worst adaptations I’ve watched.

    * The Firm seemed to lack all of the tension and suspense which made the book such a page-turner.

    * Flowers in the Attic, need I say more?

    Okay, I think that’s enough for now. Whew, you picked a topic I can talk about for hours. 😉


    • E.K. Carmel says:

      I’m so looking forward to The Hobbit! Fingers crossed here as well.

      Many of the films you mentioned I’ve seen, but not read the novels they were based on.

      Loved The Wizard of Oz, heard the books were different and one of these days I’ll get to them. I like Tim Curry and I thought he was the best thing about IT. Saw Pet Sematary, but the thing I remember was the little boy *after*, now that freaked me out. Silence of the Lambs is one of those movies where every beat is absolutely perfect. Coppola’s is my favorite of all the Dracula movies.

      Michael Gambon. Yeah, that bothered me. To go from Richard Harris’ perfect casting to someone so different was jarring. Maybe I just got used to him because he doesn’t bug me as much now.

      The Scarlet Letter was bad. Just. Bad. Funny story: I remember Wynona Rider saying in an interview that during filming on The Crucible, a bunch of the actors went to see the newly-released The Scarlet Letter and laughed through the whole thing at the glaring mistakes and liberties taken with the time period, story, etc. I definitely liked The Crucible better, but that time period just gives me the willies and it’s not a favorite film.


  2. curiocat says:

    Both adaptions of Lord of the Rings are my favorites, too. Peter Jackson’s vision of LOTR is so powerful it not only meets but exceeds, in some instances, Tolkien’s own. The only quibble I had with Jackson was at Helm’s Deep where he brought in then killed off all the elves. I didn’t buy these ancient, experienced beings as so easily killed. Maybe it’s just me.

    On the other hand, one thing I love that Jackson did is to strengthen and give depth to Aragorn’s character. This past summer when I read the books again and went to see the revised movies in the theater I was surprised by how much more I liked the onscreen Aragorn than the literary one. Peter Jackson and Viggo Mortenson did an excellent job in bringing that character to life.

    I have not heard good things about the film version of Stephanie Plum so I haven’t seen it either.

    The True Blood series? I could cry over that travesty. I love the Sookie Stackhouse books and the tv version figuratively and literally sucks.

    Emma, as written by Jane Austen, is not a book that I’ve read which is probably why I loved the movie with Gwyneth Paltrow in it.

    Ummn. Julie Garwood’s For The Roses. I don’t think any film adaption has created an angrier fan base than when the producers took that book and trashed the characters and storyline as they did. They were supposed to make a sequel but most of us let them know not to bother. We weren’t nice about it either.

    It still makes my blood boil when I think of it. I realize it’s not her fault but I’ve never felt the same about Garwood or her books since. If there’s a lesson to be learned it’s probably don’t mess with romance fans and their iconic, beloved characters such as Mary Rose.

    Tom Cruise did not fit my vision of Lestat either but I actually liked him in the role once I saw the movie. I thought he did a good job.

    This is a fun subject. I could go on but I think you probably want your blog back now. 🙂


    • E.K. Carmel says:

      I really enjoyed the deeper characterizations overall in the films. The books have that kind of mythological feel to them and kind of pull back a bit with certain characters. I particularly liked the film’s expanded Arwen. That is my main disappointment with Tolkien: lack of women in his stories. Or, rather, his putting them on such a pedestal, they seem too far away to get to know. You know?

      I love Sookie too and wasn’t able to watch more than a couple episodes of True Blood.

      Fans, when they are in big enough numbers, really do have a lot of power. I’ve read Julie Garwood before, but not the Roses series. It’s really hard to see something like that happen.

      Critics can do the same thing, like with The Golden Compass. I think any plans to make more films were stopped dead. That’s also another on my TBR list.


  3. l15as3arl3 says:

    I have to agree with you all on the LOTR films. I saw the first one then decided to read the books and although they gave different experiences I loved them both.

    The one film that really grates on me is The Other Bolyn Girl by Philippa Gregory. I read the book and absolutely loved it and couldn’t wait for the film but was sorely disappointed by it. I was foaming at the mouth by the time it finished, my husband on the other hand not having read the book quite enjoyed it. But I really had to question whether or not the director had actually read the book at all. The key part that saves the main character’s life is given a five second scene, so I was furious about that too! Awful film!

    I find the film adaptations that work the best are the ones that don’t try too hard to be true to the books but manage to capture the initial magic/essence of the book and portray it visually. As has been said about LOTR the passion of all the crew and cast came across in those films, but the key themes were still evident throughout. Another of my favourite adaptations is Memoirs of Geisha. And I loved all of the Harry Potter books and films, if only being slightly disappointed by the first film and its glancing over of the final tasks faced by the three young heroes.


  4. Lisa Searle says:

    Sorry about the user name, I put the wrong one in 🙂


    • E.K. Carmel says:

      No problem, Lisa. Thanks for commenting!

      I never read the Phillipa Gregory novel, but I read some of hers years ago and enjoyed them (I’m sorry to say I can’t remember the titles, now). I did see the film and, while I loved the gorgeous “look” of it, I felt the story itself was kind of abrupt and lacking cohesiveness. I chalked it up to it just being another vehicle for a group of popular Hollywood actors.

      Now that’s interesting about Memoirs of a Geisha. I’ve heard others say they hated it. It’s another one I’ve seen the film but not read the book. My daughter read it and kept commenting about the differences while watching the film. My absolute favorite part is the dramatic dance she does and I’ve wondered how that was handled in the book. Oh, well, guess I’ll just have to read it!


  5. Kaylin says:

    Drat. Moderated.Main Entry: 2mod·er·atePronunciation: \\nt™Ã¤-dÉm-ËŒrāt\\FuncˆioË: verbInflected Form(s): mod·er·at·ed; mod·er·at·ingDate: 15th centurytransitive verb 1 : to lessen the intensity or extremeness of Doom moderated? Not so long as that is a meaning of the word.


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