Top 5 Worst Book-to-Screen Adaptations

Not a definitive listing, just the ones I currently find the most egregious. 

Anne With an E (2018, TV)

 

 

I am a purist in that I think movie or television adaptations of well-loved books should stick as close as possible to the source material. The first season of Anne With an E stuck fairly close to the Anne of Green Gables book. Parts of the narrative were changed for dramatic effect, with mixed results, and to add some realism to the story. Season 2, which just aired on Netflix, used the book more as a suggestion. Other than the character names, nearly none of the events of Season 2 occurred in the book or are altered beyond recognition. Part of the problem is the series creators’ decision to insert modern morals into the story, which changes the underlying tone of the narrative. Instead of a sweet story about an orphan who finds a loving home, Anne With an E turns Anne of Green Gables into a feminist, bisexual awakening narrative. Apparently everyone on Prince Edward Island at the turn of the century struggled with sexual identity and easily fall prey to unconvincing scammers. Married women transform into shrieking shrews and two girls of a similar age cannot have a close friendship unless they harbor romantic feelings towards each other. When taking a story from one form to another, some artistic licence is expected. However, I am not a fan of screenwriters who rewrite a well-known classic in order to create a commentary about modern sexual morals. If the series creators wanted to explore suppressed sexual mores in turn of the century Canada, they should have created an original series in lieu of shoehorning their message into an adaptation of a classic. Fans of the book series should stick with the 1980’s Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea for a faithful adaptation of the story. 

Anne of Green GablesSignet Book, 2003 (reprint), ISBN: 9780451528827

Eragon (2006, Movie)

 

 

I love this book and all the sequels. The narrative follows a young boy who lives in poverty with his Uncle and cousin. One day he discovers an unhatched dragon egg and his life changes forever. While the books are not the best written fantasy, they are enjoyable and keep the reader engaged. Unfortunately, the movie falls flat. The screenwriters took the main points of the story — boy finds dragon egg, goes on adventure, meets people, fights battles — and threw out everything else. Instead of a straight forward adaptation, the movie crams in dramatic elements from the first three (the 4th book had not been published when the movie debuted) books and develops none of the characters. Random supporting characters show up with no explanation, offer some truly horrific exposition, and then disappear. The CGI budget was blown on creating the dragon and everything else carries a B-movie level quality. If you have never read the book, then the movie has just enough plot to make an enjoyable enough fantasy flick. Otherwise, steer clear. There is a reason why the movie flopped.

EragonAlfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2005, ISBN: 9780375826696 

A Wrinkle in Time (2018, Movie)

 

 

The first book in a quintet, A Wrinkle in Time follows the adventures of Meg Murray through time and space as she searches for her missing father. Charles Wallace, her younger brother, and Calvin, an admirer from school, accompany her on this journey. The book explores religion, faith, superstition, family, sibling love, adversity, and the ties that bind families together. This remains one of my favorite childhood books and I still reread it on a fairly regular basis. Unfortunately, the movie took the name of the characters, some plot elements, the title, and threw out everything else. Alex Murray is turned into a deadbeat father who does not understand morals or ethics until his teenage daughter explains them to him. Calvin’s admiration for Meg’s intelligence and non-romantic interest in her (the romance angle does not develop until book 3) is turned into a puppy-love/infatuation that involves him saying “I love your hair” about a half dozen times. This is supposed to be “inspiring and body affirming” since Meg has curly hair in the movie, in the moment, it just seems stupid. The underlying Christian themes of the novel are ignored and replaced with a vague “love is good, the light always wins, avoid the dark” new age voodoo-tinged religious philosophy. Last, but not least, Mrs. Whatsit, Who, and Which, broadly hinted at being Angels/Cherubim in the books, are turned into ambiguous “servants of the light” who serve no master and turn up when “they feel a disturbance”. This unnecessary censorship of religious themes robs the movie of a significant amount of the emotional and moral heart of the book. It is impossible to replace the Christian themes in the narrative with bumper sticker self-affirming power quotes without leaving a giant hole behind. I left the movie feeling depressed and saddened that the screenwriter chose to turn this amazing book into just another run-of-the-mill “girl power/self-love” fantasy movie of middling quality. 

A Wrinkle in Time, Farrar Straus Giroux, 2017 (reprint), ISBN: 9781250153272

The Hobbit Movies 

 

 

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

The Hobbit is a self-contained children’s story set in Middle Earth. JRR Tolkien wrote a mostly lighthearted tale about a young hobbit who longs for adventure and ends up in over his head when a wizard comes to call. For fans of The Lord of the RingsThe Hobbit is a short addendum that fleshes out some of the vaguer references woven in throughout the main narrative in the trilogy. The book would make an excellent standalone movie, possibly two. Three movies proved exhausting, both to the narrative and the fans. Instead of doing a straight adaptation, Peter Jackson threw in a bunch of on-the-head references to the original movies and created new characters in order to appeal to the “female” audience. This included an overly long and completely illogical Elf-Dwarf love triangle. By the third movie, Jackson seemed to have given up and allowed the narrative to succumb into farce. All three Hobbit Movies are both over long and completely forgettable. (More in depth review here)

The Hobbit, Houghton Mifflin, 2002 (reprint), ISBN: 9780618260300

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011, Movie)

 

 

The book tells a darkly depressing tale of Lisbeth Salander, a women on the fringes of society. She survived a traumatic childhood, grew into a troubled adult, and shuns modern life as much as possible. When mutual interests align, she teams up with journalist Michael Blomqvist in order to research a decades old missing persons case. Two cinematic adaptations of the novel exist, a Swedish version starring Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist, (2009) and the American version starring Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig (2011). The American version is quite bad. There is a lot of gratuitous sex scenes that add nothing to the narrative and the ending is dramatically changed, for no good reason. The change to the ending robs the narrative of the emotional payoff from the book and changes the arcs of the next two books. I would watch the Swedish version if you want a faithful adaptation of the book. (I did a longer review of the movie here)

The Girl With the Dragon TattooKnopf , 2008, ISBN: 9780307269751

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