Book to Movie Adaptations: Which Are Better?

By Linh, Grade 9

Movie adaptations of books can be entertaining interpretations; it is incredible to watch a story come to life and to visualize your favorite characters on-screen! However, it is typical to hear people say that “the movie will never be as good as the book”. Only some films are considered as good as the book, and even fewer are considered better.

A book is a dense sea of information, a written work containing hundreds of pages and thousands of words. The characters, setting, and plot are crafted carefully, and many small nuances and details are impossible to capture on screen. How do you portray what a character is thinking? How do you stay true to the plot while cutting essential elements of the story? Movies have to condense an immense amount of work into a two-hour slot, and consequently, the directors have to make crucial decisions about what to keep. Every part of a story is meaningful, and every part contributes to the impact on the reader, yet not all of it can make it into the final production. So how does this process work?

First, an option agreement occurs. This agreement ensures that the movie producer has sole right over the story rights for a given period - a common contract period is eighteen months, but this period can be as short as half a year. In turn, the writer gets compensated from anywhere between $500 - $500,000, a price that depends on how badly the producer wants the rights, and the amount of films made. For example, a producer may film a sequel, a show, or advertisements, which would make the value of the book much higher. Sometimes, option agreements can fail if a producer does not have the appropriate funding or support, leading to the term expiring before a movie is made.

However, if a producer has the right tools, the next step is to make the movie. One thing that may change in this process is the title; a title might work for the book, but not be as popular in the theaters. In addition, major plot points and themes of the story may be completely removed from the story, disappointing many plans. An example of this is the sixth Harry Potter movie, which was directed and produced by David Yates. Fans felt that he made very questionable choices, omitting important details and overall portraying the wizarding world incorrectly. J.K. Rowling’s book, The Half-Blood Prince, focuses on developing Harry’s friendship with Ron and Hermione, as he continues to rely on their support. Also, a major element is Harry’s quest to find what Malfoy is hiding, which becomes an obsession, and is a mystery that is not revealed until the finale. According to fans, David Yates did not delve into these topics very deeply, leading to a movie that focused more on teen romance; consequently, the film lost the nuance and impact of the book.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince

Furthermore, there have been cases where producers completely rewrote parts of the book to better appeal to audiences. A recent example is the romance movie The Idea of You. This movie follows Solene and Hayes' relationship.  (There are some spoilers ahead, so if you do not want to spoil the movie or book, skip to the next paragraph!) They love each other very much, but their sixteen-year age gap (Solene is much older), makes them the topic of gossip and hate. Solene has to think of her daughter’s well-being because the criticism eventually starts hurting her. Upon much deliberation, she breaks up with him. However, the producers end the movie with the two lovers resuming their relationship happily several years later. I understood why they did this - if the movie ended with the two never seeing each other again, I would have been upset. I am sure others would have been as well. Unfortunately, the author, Robbine Lee, did not react well to the changes. She felt that she was very uninvolved in the process and that the movie left out the message of her book; although the ending she wrote was unhappy, and although Solene never saw Hayes again because of her devotion to her family, it served an important purpose. Lee said that the movie was a “completely different medium” from the story she wanted to tell because she wanted to emphasize how “women…put others' happiness before [their] own”. Solene sacrificed her chance at happiness to help her daughter, and she could not be the person she loved. Although this movie was a success for audiences, it does not change the fact that the producers strived for a safer, satisfying ending instead of telling the raw version of the book.

The Idea of You

Movie and video streaming services are growing in popularity recently. There are hundreds of adaptations available, some of which are very similar to its original, and some that have completely deviated from the plot. They are diverting forms of entertainment, and there are many incredible movies, but for the most part, movies cannot truly portray the story a book tells. Each word in a book is chosen carefully by the author, and there are pages of detailed description, character development, and nuances. Moreover, a movie tells you what to think and presents a one dimensional and limited world. When reading a book, you have the creativity to imagine the setting, the characters, the world the author is describing. You interpret the story and the ending, and you get to explore the endless possibilities.