In a creative writing class about three months ago, we briefly talked about what makes an adaptation good or bad. I had to put into words what I hate about bad adaptations. Where do they generally go wrong? Just as there is no one formula for a great movie, there is no one formula for making a good book-to-movie or book-to-TV-series adaptation. I thought I would list certain problems that stick out to me.
I want to see the world on screen, so I do not want to see anything that fundamentally goes against the world-building or the magic system. Changing relationships of characters can be a problem if it is not done well. Removing key events (I think they are key) bothers me. All of these aspects made me fall in love with the book(s)/story.
Stopping Character Death
I hate when characters stay alive well past their expiration date. I saw this first in True Blood when Lafayette managed to remain alive through and after Season 2 when he was dead at the start of Living Dead in Dallas (book 2) by Charlaine Harris. He was not turned into a vampire. He was dead.
This is not solely an accuracy issue. Leaving certain characters alive when they should be dead creates new character arcs which can drastically change the outcome of the story. If that character is supposed to be dead at the end of the story but is not, then a future is created that they can act on.
Changing the Ending
On the subject of changing the story, I hate it when the ending is drastically changed. This has happened in True Blood (because of other character arcs and changed circumstances) and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. Plot lines are thought out carefully by the authors, and it disrespects the story, which is represented on screen, to entirely change that.
Changing the Villain
The problem with The Wizard of Oz and The Young Messiah is that they aggrandize the villains. In The Wizard of Oz, the Wicked Witch of the West appears shortly after Dorothy drops in to Munchkinland. In the book, the Wicked Witch of the West becomes a villain only when the Wizard tasks Dorothy and her friends with killing the witch.
The Young Messiah goes further by adding Satan as a prominent villain when he is not a character in Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. This character changed the feel of the movie, and it changed some characters’ motives. Throwing in a villain who did not exist in the book changed the plot, themes and the messages the book presents.
Changing the villain changes the plot and themes of the story. It can also change the characters. It changes the magic that I fell in love with in the book.
These problems are problems because they emphasize different aspects or themes. For me, I want to see the book represented on screen. Deviating too much from that book makes it a terrible representation.
I think the problems I listed were created because the filmmakers or the producers believed that the target audience would like these elements more than what the book offered. Maybe some changes are necessary because they cannot be produced on screen well, but I try to account for that when I compare the adaptation to its source. Even knowing that may not change my opinion of movie.
What makes a book-to-movie adaptation unsuccessful to you? What makes it a terrible representation of the book?