We’ve all seen at least one book-to-movie adaptation, given that in recent years there’s been a craze over turning novels, specifically young adult and middle-grade ones, into films. The popularity of the Harry Potter films ignited an awareness in the film industry that stories written for children and teenagers could be massively successful.
After the Harry Potter series, we were given the “Twilight” series, “The Chronicles of Narnia” franchise and “The Hunger Games.” Along with these popular film series, we also had several unsuccessful adaptations, such as both Percy Jackson films, “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” and “The Darkest Minds,” among many others.
Why did many adaptations fail while others skyrocketed into popularity? There are several possible explanations. Perhaps the films did not adhere to the source material. While the “Twilight” movies were not cinematic masterpieces, they still managed to gain tremendous popularity because fans of the books were pleased with how the films were similar to the source material.
On the opposite side of this, we have the Percy Jackson films. These tried to reach a broader audience by aging the characters, but this became a massive disappointment to the fans of the books.
When converting a book into a movie, it is necessary to make changes because a story originally told through a novel format is different than one told through the medium of film. Therefore, changes must be made accordingly to adapt one into the other.
While its reasonable for directors and filmmakers to want to make the material their own, it might be best to stick to the story that exists within the pages. This would cater to the already existing fan base and increase the film’s chance of success.
There are cases where the film follows the basic plot points of the book but fails to thrive with audiences. One such example is “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.”
In looking at this adaptation, I can discern another reason why book-to-movie adaptations fail, particularly those set in a fantastical or utopian society — they dilute the complexities of the fantastical world, which leaves the film with a generic plot and flat characters. It also feels condescending that a director would feel the need to simplify a book for teenagers.
As stated by Holly Bourne in The Guardian, “Teenagers are continually undermined and underestimated: every successful YA book and film is so because the creators refuse to patronize them, telling them the truth about what it is to be young.”
It seems that the book-to-movie phase has turned its attention away from fantasy and narrowed its focus onto contemporary. This change in focus allows for movies to show protagonists dealing with more relatable issues.
For instance, two very popular adaptations in 2018 were “Love, Simon,” a story of a teenage boy coming out as gay, and “The Hate U Give,” a story of an African American girl who watches her friend get shot by a police officer. Other successful contemporary adaptations include love stories such as “The Fault in Our Stars” and “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.”
Adaptations can create a lot of excitement for people who have read the book — they unite fans of the novel regardless of whether they loved or hated the movie.
In spite of their flaws, book-to-movie adaptations also have tremendous value because they promote reading. While promoting reading may not be the main intention, creating an adaptation makes people aware of a book that they may not have heard of.
Many people decide to read the book before or after watching the movie. Therefore, adaptations should be encouraged and held to a higher standard than they currently are.