Book to movie x 3

These aren’t meant to be reviews, exactly, just a few of my thoughts on some recent film adaptations of books.

Jane EyreJANE EYRE

I was salivating over this movie for months. I seriously spent DAYS watching clips online, reading interviews, and googling images of Michael Fassbender. (Shh, no judging!)

It’s hard to live up to that sort of hype, so no one should be surprised that when I finally saw the movie, it didn’t blow me away.

The acting was superb and the filming was gorgeous. Where the movie fell short, in my opinion, is the editing. It was choppy and potentially confusing if you hadn’t read the book. I didn’t mind their choice to use flashbacks — it does give a modern audience more “action” right away — but I think an extra 30 min to 1 hr of runtime would have greatly improved the film.

And while they did a great job playing up the Gothic feel, they also reduced one of the main themes (of morality and staying true to one’s pure self) to just a couple of lines.

But let’s be honest: Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester makes up for pretty much any shortcomings. I still plan to re-watch this at some point.

Water for ElephantsWATER FOR ELEPHANTS

Now this is my ideal for an adaptation. The film completely brought the book’s world and characters to life. (Depression Era circus? Trains, animals, and romance? Heck yes!) Maybe it wasn’t 100% “true” to the book, but the changes were subtle. They provided simplicity/clarity for the viewers who hadn’t read the book, and they didn’t detract from the themes or alter anything important.

(Oh, wait. They did somewhat downplay the theme of the elderly being forgotten… but I think it was in there “enough.”)

Everything — the art direction, music, costumes, etc. — fit the tone of the original book. It was mesmerizing to watch.

(Warning #1: In both the book and the film, there are a couple scenes of animal abuse. I found it much harder to take in the movie — in fact, I nearly screamed and couldn’t watch — but they are brief. And avenged.)

(Warning #2: Robert Pattinson makes his pained-awkward-trying-to-smile face a lot. Has he trademarked that yet? It’s pretty distinctive.)

Something BorrowedSOMETHING BORROWED

In a word: fun. Hollywood took a nuanced chick lit story and turned it into a typical rom-com. No shock there. Was I disappointed in that? A bit. But I still laughed out loud (especially thanks to John Krasinski) and enjoyed the film.

The one thing that sort of bothered me, though, was that while they made some characters more shallow (Marcus, Claire) they added a subplot about Dexter’s parents in an attempt to give him more depth and make him more sympathic. (And to bolster the theme of going after what you want instead of putting others first all the time.) I get why they did it, but I found their particular solution/execution odd. Especially since his issues with his parents are never resolved. After Dexter makes his decision, how do they react? We’ll never know! (So what was the point in bringing them into the picture in the first place?)

In general, I’m a big fan of film adaptations. You get to relive the story in less time and greater vividity. (Is that a word? Vividness?) I love seeing book worlds come to life — Hogwarts, Middle Earth, feudal Japan, etc. My preference, of course, is for adaptations that simply translate the book to screen. But I’m also able to separate the book from the movie, and appreciate each on its own terms.

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17 Comments

  1. I haven’t seen any of those movies. Sometimes I worry (perhaps for no reason) that watching the movie version of a book I love will ruin my impressions of the book. It’s good you can separate the two :)

  2. The only chance I have of liking a film adaptation of a book is if I haven’t read the book. If I have read the book – and loved it – the film is sure to disappoint me. They MUST edit it down, and I love books for their details! If I read the book but didn’t love it, I’m unlikely to even want to see the movie.

    Sometimes it happens that I see the movie and THEN read the book afterwards. This generally goes better. For instance, I actually found the movie version of FRIED GREEN TOMATOES significantly better than the book. And I saw the LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY before reading the books. The books then filled in some gaps.

    I’m at the point now where I don’t even bother to see a movie if I loved the book. Or if I do see the movie, it’s for free on an HBO preview weekend or watched instantly on Netflix (I won’t waste a disc rental).

  3. Thanks for the insights! I’m thinking of see Water For Elephants.

  4. Les

    Heard great things about Water for Elephants – it’s on my Netflix list. The others? Mmmm not so much, mostly because Rob wouldn’t watch them with me.

  5. If I’ve liked the book, I’m usually willing to see the movie. Sometimes I like the adaptation, sometimes I don’t, but the book is still there in my head. I’m re-reading The Bostonians (Henry James) and I watched the movie again because I remembered that I didn’t like it, but didn’t remember why (I only had to watch about 10 minutes to remember). With The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, as I was reading the book I wrote on my blog that I was sure the movie would be better (and it was).

    But if a movie really affects me (Let the Right One In was a recent example) I never want to read the book. I’m happy with what was in the movie.

  6. Jon

    Love the reviews! You’re making me feel bad for not seeing more movies!

    And for the record, I would see Water for Elephants, if not for RPatz. His acting–no words, no words.

  7. T.S.-
    I don’t think it’s without reason. A lot of people can’t separate the two; in fact I think that’s more normal. I think I’m just weird. :P

    Sonja-
    I DO think it’s easier to enjoy a book after seeing the film than vice versa. For whatever reason.

    Valerie and Les-
    Well if you only watch one of the three, that’s the one to watch!

    Anthony-
    Yes, I’m usually comparing while I watch too. But that’s actually something I loved about WFE: it was so good that I barely remembered what was in the book vs. what wasn’t. (And I only read it in January, so it’s not like I just forgot everything anyway.)

    LOL about GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Yes, that book definitely could have used some editing down. I don’t know if I’d even want to see the last part on screen, though…

    Jon-
    Have you seen Remember Me with him? I quite liked it. I actually don’t think Pattinson is that bad… He’s just got limited range.

  8. Re: Dragon Tattoo – I confess I didn’t really finish the book. As I said on my blog: “I skimmed the last 100 pages or so. The villain is revealed on page 438, the villain is dispatched on page 459, and the final mystery is solved on page 487. And then the book goes on for another 103 pages. Many of which consist of emails the characters write to each other.” Anyway, I do recommend the movie. Some of it is intense to watch (you can guess which parts), but it’s all to a point, not just for shock value. And Noomi Rapace is amazingly good as Lisbeth.

    Re: adaptations – There could be a separate discussion of movies which “adapt” novels by basically keeping the title and throwing out most of the rest. To Have and Have Not, one of my all-time favorite movies, was adapted from a terrible Hemingway novel, and they “adapted” it by pretty much starting from scratch to make a good story. :-)

  9. Juliann Wetz

    Thanks for the recap, Kristan. I’m lookoing forward to seeing all three of these movies, especially Water for Elephants. I’ve heard good things, which is such a relief since it’s one of my favorite books.

  10. Love this post! You’ve got me really wanting to see Water for Elephants now! I never read the book — it just seemed like the type I’d rather watch than read? Also, Something Borrowed — definitely going to see that one! Read the book and LOVED it. Can’t wait!

  11. Jealous of all your movie-watching (okay, I was there for one of them)…I agree with your assessment of Jane Eyre, but I am so in love with the book that I don’t mind re-reading to get inside that world. I don’t need a movie to satisfy this. Some books I’m glad there’s a movie so I don’t have to re-read. THE LORD OF THE RINGS comes to mind. Okay, I’ve read it three times, but it’s easier to block out a few hours a day instead of a few weeks to revisit the story.

  12. John Krasinski was SO GOOD in SoBo!! I agree, his comedic flair was literally laugh out loud funny. I also agree about Marcus and Claire, but overall, I thought they did a great job of conveying the emotion and different layers of the characters and the book as a whole. Have you read Heart of the Matter? Emily delves a lot more into Dex’s parents in that one, so I’m wondering if that played a role in the film? Oh, and did you see the tease for Something Blue during the credits?! :)

  13. Anthony-
    I’ve heard that, about Noomi Rapace. Do you think you’ll watch the Hollywood versions when they come out? (Featuring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara.)

    I think throwing out the source material and just using the basic concept is less common, but it WOULD be a good discussion. Sometimes movies really do improve a story.

    Ashley-
    Yeah, frankly you won’t miss much — and I don’t mean that to disparage the book, but rather to compliment the movie!

    Sarah-
    Oh I agree completely! Saves time but I still get to relieve the emotional journey.

    Shari-
    OOHHH that might make some sense. I had no idea HotM was even related to this universe (but as you pointed out to me before, I guess Emily Giffin likes to make those little ties). And NO! CAN YOU BELIEVE that I missed the teaser at the end?!?!? I used to always stay for credits, but this time my friend and I were tired of being in the movie theater all day, so we left right away. Sigh…

  14. I need to do that more, appreciate a movie on its own terms. I always compare the movie to the book and the movies always fall short. They can never be as good as the book was in my imagination. I have to go see Water for Elephants while it’s still in the theater. LOVED that book!

  15. Kristan: I will see them at some point, I’m sure. If the first one gets really great reviews I may see it in a theater, but much more likely on DVD. They made the decision to film in Sweden, at least, which was a good sign. If you moved it to the U.S., it would have to be a very different story.

    Sarah: I’m the same way about LoTR. Easier to block out the time, and plus (sacrilege, I know) a few things were actually improved in the movies. I do miss The Scouring of the Shire, though (and the fact that Jackson never even intended to film it just shows that he kind of missed the point).

  16. I want to see all three!!!!
    Have read all three books and enjoyed them. But being in New Zealand means we’re a bit slow on the movie releases. So keen though!

  17. Yep, one of the main characters in HOTM is Dex’s sister! It was fun to catch up with him and Rachel again, and also to get more insight into their family :)

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