When books become movies

10 Feb

I dragged my teenage son to the theater last night to see One for the Money, which is based on the first in series of Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich. I had seen the trailer and thought that it didn’t look very well done, and read a review on Big Hollywood that agreed… But a friend of mine who has read the books saw it and liked it so I thought, “what the heck?” Sadly, it was a waste of $20. My first thought was that Janet Evanovich should be pretty displeased with the way her characters were portrayed. Then I heard that she was “pleased.” So… I find that weird.

In the books, Stephanie Plum is incompetent but lucky, klutzy but sexy. The secondary characters, of which there are many, are hilarious. I mean, laugh out loud funny. HILAROUS. The first book probably wasn’t the best to make into a movie for the secondary characters anyway, but there is exactly one funny moment in the entire movie, and I don’t even think that character is in the book. Stephanie is just not very appealing somehow, although I can’t put my finger on why exactly.

I realize that changes have to be made to make books into movies. My general rule of thumb is that, if it doesn’t fundamentally change point of the story or a person’s character (meaning the qualities of their character), I’m ok with that. A good example of when it does and doesn’t work for me is in the movies Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

In Prince Caspian, we have a whole scene not in the book – the storming of Miraz’s castle – which is just terrible. We have a fundamental shift in the nature of both Prince Caspian and Peter, both towards each other and towards leadership. I think the movie is mediocre at best, and so did movie-going audiences. That director was out for Dawn Treader. Now, in Dawn Treader, they changed the story some – the order with which they visited the islands, the thing with the mist and the sacrifices. They really had to do it, or the movie would have been way too long, and have boring parts. But they did not change anyone’s character. Eustice was still a total pain – and plaid to perfection by the young actor, I might add. All the principle characters were who CS Lewis created them to be.

In the The Lord of the Rings movies, looking at all three of them, there are only two things that bothered me. (Which is amazing in about 12 hours of film!) One is that Faramir’s character is fundamentally changed by the writers making him desire the Ring. What makes Faramir remarkable in the books is that he truly does not desire to possess it, come what may. The other is that Frodo doubts Sam, and finally sends him away. One of the most enduring, endearing friendships in all of literature is Frodo and Sam… That still, after seeing the movies a dozen times, really bothers me.

In general, books don’t seem to translate well to film. I’m not sure if it’s because screenwriters, directors and producers feel the need to put their own stamp on it, and misunderstand the basic things that made the book popular to begin with, or if it’s just the difference between the written and the visual media. I’m not sure fan fiction ever produces great writing, either, so it’s probably a combination of the two. It’s disappointing, because there are so many great books, and many fewer great movies (especially these days).

At any rate, skip One For the Money. Or wait for it to be in a RedBox or on Netflix. It wasn’t worth $20, anyway, and we didn’t even buy popcorn… sigh.

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