No Thanks, Deb Eleanor’s Waiting for the Book

The Weird Sisters, by Eleanor BrownI’m so torn about the process of turning books into movies.

As a former teacher, movies of books were both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because the films sometimes held interesting interpretations of the books, or really brought the characters to life in a way that resonated with how we had seen them as we read. They were a treasure trove of conversation points as we compared the two arts.

And then there were the kids who either only watched the movies, rather than reading the books, or who were so very visual that they were unable to come up with their own ideas of what the characters looked or acted like (I’m looking at you here, Peter Jackson and The Lord of the Rings).

As a reader, I like to create my own interpretations of books. Of characters, of settings, of stories. If I really, really love a book, I will often avoid seeing a movie version altogether (especially if it’s rumored to be awful – I’m looking at you here, The House of the Spirits), because I want to hang on to the world I’ve created in my head.

And even if the movie is not bad, I am invariably disappointed by it in some way, not because it’s bad on its own, but because it just can’t hold a candle to the world I create in my mind as I read (I’m looking at you here, Harry Potter).

And as a writer, I know that there are many, many gifted screenwriters out there with their own unique, wonderful ideas for stories that they created specifically to tell them on the screen, and I think it’s a shame when they miss getting a shot because we’re re-creating a property instead.

I’ve skipped over a lot of the excellent reasons people do make movies out of books in order to focus on my reservations. But what do you think?

Do the benefits of having a book made into a movie outweigh the drawbacks?

48 Replies to “No Thanks, Deb Eleanor’s Waiting for the Book”

  1. Not many movie adaptations have really worked for me. Most destroy what the book was.

    A few exceptions:

    Man in the Iron Mask, though it had some horrific lines, all spoken by D’Artagnan (Gabriel Byrne), was SO much better than the book!
    A&E’s Pride and Prejudice was brilliant. (The most recent film version, however, was not.)
    Lord of the Rings was fantastic. Didn’t really miss Tom character, though many of my friends resented his absence.

    Fundamentally, a film can’t do what a novel does, yet it also has elements novels cannot have. I worry, though, that viewers will only see the film, that they will lose their capacity to imagine because they have grown lazy. And I fear that if a book of mine ever does make it to film, the film will be a disappointment. I sure hope I’m wrong (or at least that I get to find out some day!).

    1. I agree about the lack of imagination. If you’ve seen a movie before reading the book, you can’t have any other picture in your head than what’s been created for you, which is a shame.

      I think a really good movie can be as exciting and thought-provoking as a good book. But you’re right in that the imagination required is quite different.

  2. I’m usually disappointed if I’ve seen a film adaptation of a book after I’ve read it, but there are exceptions, like THE PRINCESS BRIDE. So when it works, it can be almost magical. Guess it’s like the princess looking for her handsome prince (to stick with a theme *grin*) — sometimes you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find him. 😉

    1. Order is definitely key – there are a few movies I’ve seen that introduced me to the book (Gone With the Wind, maybe?) and then if the book was better, it wasn’t such a crushing disappointment.

      Stephen King has a really good “apples and oranges” view of movies and books – I should probably just adopt his worldview instead of being so skittish.

  3. Very torn on this side too.

    JAWS is one of my all-time favorite movies, and the book–while certainly readable–is in no way as brilliant as the movie, and lacks so many of the components that make the movie so well done: ie, plotting, pacing, characterization. (I think we can count on one hand the times you could say that!)

    But then there are so many examples of books so dear to my heart that I couldn’t bear to see adapted. When I learned they were making a movie of the THE SHIPPING NEWS, I was genuinely shocked. How could they possibly do justice to Quoyle and his incredible story? Clearly, I was too much of a fan of the book to be very obecjtive when the movie arrived, though it certainly boasts some hugely talented folks.

    And now I hear rumblings of a movie version of LIFE OF PI? Please say it isn’t so!

    1. Yes, there are a few movies that work better than the book (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape comes to mind), but I am also one of those people who, when I hear a beloved book is being made into a movie, cringe before I celebrate. I wonder what the key is to being one of those people who withholds judgment until I see it?

      1. Oh Eleanor, I don’t know, but if you find out, please do share! (They’ve been promising a movie version of CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES for years now. We’re not out of the woods yet!)

        1. I can’t imagine how that would work! The whole point is how he sees himself compared to the way the world sees him, and if we viewed it through our lens first, we’d never….well, I’m arguing with the choir here, to coin a phrase.

          See? And there I go cringing.

  4. First let me say I did not know you were a teacher! Their loss, our gain 🙂

    As for books into movies, for the most part I’m not a fan. For children, I see the draw as I worked in an elementary school library. Movies and television shows with matching books did get their attention. For me personally, I prefer the book. Movies very seldom live up to what I imagined or loved about the book. One that comes to mind is My Sister’s Keeper – horrible movie and there are many more. One I did find true to the book was The Secret Life of Bees. That said, give me a book any day!

    1. Awww…you’re sweet. Thank you.

      That is a really interesting point about the elementary school kids! I was just saying above that I need to learn to be one of those people who is excited when I hear about a film adaptation, rather than nervous.

      I never saw Secret Life of Bees – perfect example of having enjoyed the book so much I didn’t want another person’s vision in my head. Maybe I should reconsider.

  5. For me, it often depends on who will be in the movie, who’s writing the script, etc. – it’s a whole magic thing that has to happen. I was excited to see Jennifer Lawrence in THE HUNGER GAMES but I’m still torn about seeing the movie. I think the cast and the trailer for THE HELP were great but still…

    I was just remembering how much I loved the book PAY IT FORWARD…and then there was the movie. I think Kevin Spacey is a great actor but he was NOTHING like what I pictured the character to look like, to be like, etc. The movie itself just ruined the book for me.

    So torn! 🙂

    1. It’s totally hard! One of the things that’s crystallizing for me as I read people’s comments is that it’s about matching someone else’s vision to yours. If the actors match your vision, or the screenwriter sees in the book what you saw in it, you’re much more likely to enjoy it, or at least take a chance.

      It’s interesting how visual we are – I know even though I read the 1st Harry Potter book long before the movie came out, in subsequent books I couldn’t picture anyone other than Daniel Radcliffe. Seeing the movie can definitely influence the book!

  6. Books are their own experience. Movies are their own experience. I think we can enjoy both experiences if we don’t try to tie them too closely together. Books are all about your your own imagination whereas movies are more about seeing the imagination of someone else. If you go into it that way, you’ll have more fun with it.

    My daughter read the Harry Potter books after she had seen the early movies. She also got all bent out of shape over the differences in plot and the omitted characters, etc, but she still loved reading the books and wanted to keep reading.

    1. That is the attitude I need to work on cultivating. They are different experiences and bring different things to the table. And I certainly love movies – it’s such an interesting medium, and I love great acting.

      I think the conflict is exactly what you pointed out – the clash between our own vision and someone else’s vision. I’ve decided through these comments today that I really do need to work on just respecting the other vision and not getting annoyed that it doesn’t match mine!

      1. Eleanor, so are you thinking in terms of your own book? If they want to make your book into a movie, will you be able to let go of your own vision of your own story??? Are you saying “no” to that idea?

        1. No, not at all. I think I’d be similarly torn, but oddly, I also think it would be interesting to see someone else’s vision of the people who live in my head!

          As I said, I skipped over a lot of the reasons that having movies made out of books is wonderful, or interesting, or thought-provoking, just to focus on the challenges. I don’t think it’s a bad idea at its core at all.

  7. I don’t love book to movie necessarily. One that I’m particularly annoyed about is the casting for the 1st Janet Evanovich Stephanie Plum book. Katherine Heigel (sp?) as Steph? Not on your life. I’ll wait for it to hit cable or NetFlicks.

    1. That’s always a tricky thing – my guess is they want star power to pull in people who don’t know the books, but then they risk alienating the fans of the books (like you!). It’s funny how protective we get of books we love – I’m the same way!

      1. Debra Messing is Steph Plum. Or Holly Hunter in her 30s. Dark curly hair for crying out loud! Italian/Hungarian lineage – and goofy. Steph is goofy. Good Lord I could have played her! LOL! (I’m ready for my closeup….)

        1. That’s like when the cover of the book doesn’t match the description of the characters – hate that!

          I’m going to start an internet petition to cast YOU instead!

  8. Ok, honestly it’s such a difficult thing to do well, that I am nearly always so disappointed when I see a movie from a book. If I LOVED a book I know it will not be the same in film. I too have my own vision and like what my imagination has drawn based on the creativity of the author of the book. I’d hate to imagine The Weird Sisters in film, I know my images of Rose, Bean and Cordy would be distorted.
    Ok, so as a writer does one strive to sell the screen writes? I just don’t know.
    I will see that as a child I first saw the movie To Kill a Mockingbird, and then read the book, I’ve read the book many times, and seen the movie too, I believe it is one film that is done very well, but still misses details from the book.

    1. Reading the comments, the key seems to be a willingness to allow for someone else’s vision. I am sure that my picture of the characters in TWS is different than yours.

      And I have read books when I heard a movie was coming out, so maybe they’re a gateway drug?

      You know the storyline I’d totally forgotten about in the book of Mockingbird that’s not in the movie? The old woman who’s a morphine addict. It’s such a great lesson, too.

  9. As I’ve become an even more avid reader (impossible to imagine) I have lost interest in both television and movies. I think the reason is that I enjoy creating the scene in my mind. Hearing the characters voices in my head. This is not to say that I wouldn’t see the film eventually, but I’m unlikely to run right out and see it on opening day.

    1. They are very, very different media, it’s true. There’s some great storytelling going on in TV and movies, but I think if I read it in book form first, I like to snuggle with my own created scenes before I let someone else’s ideas in!

  10. I disagree about screenwriters missing out on bringing their visions to the screen because of adaptations. If a screenwriter is inspired by a book, bringing it to the screen is a thrill and a joy, AND a personal expression of how he or she sees the book. I’m thinking of a friend of mine who wrote the Watchmen screenplay. He had loved the graphic novel for ages, and it was a huge thrill for him to add his vision to the original work.

    This is why if one of my books ever became a movie, I’d be okay with someone else doing he screenwriting… As ling as they loved the book. They’d bring their own vision in their own favorite medium to my story… It would be thrilling to see.

    1. That’s an interesting point. I don’t think it’s entirely at odds with what I was getting at, which is that there is a limited amount of time/money/attention to tell stories in any format, and I would like to see EVERYONE get a shot at telling the story they want to, in the medium they prefer.

      I’d never want to adapt my own stuff. You’re in a different boat, because you understand both forms of storytelling, but I’d much rather have someone who knows how to tell a story in a more visual form take it on!

  11. I don’t know why I don’t watch a lot of movies or TV, so I’m a lousy person to comment on this. That said, I can think of a few movies I’ve seen after reading the book. ALL THE PRETTY HORSES is one that I think did a great job with the movie version. WHITE OLEANDER is one of my favorite books and though the movie left out a lot of the story, I think it did a pretty decent job capturing the essence of that book.


    1. But you bring up exactly the right point – do they capture the essence? Yes, someone else’s vision of the way the characters look or behave is different, and the house won’t look exactly as you pictured it, and they’re going to have to cut a lot of material but if they get the core right, I think there’s less to object to.

      I think that’s why I adore both the books and movies of Gone With the Wind and To Kill a Mockingbird. There’s tons missing, but they really get the spirit of both.

    1. I do love it when a book is that vivid and I can create a whole world in my head around it! I think that’s one of the reasons Harry Potter was so successful – she did such a great job of worldbuilding.

  12. I actually like when books (especially those I loved!) are made into movies. I like to compare the world I created in my head against what they put on the screen. It is a must, however, for me to read the book first before going and seeing the movie. There is nothing worse, to me, then knowing how a book is going to turn out before even cracking it open. I don’t seem to have that problem with the movie, and 99% of the time I prefer the book to the movie anyways. I can see how it would be extremely hard to see your baby in the arms of another person, though (author releasing their books to a screenwriter to do with it what they will). Since I am a reader, not a writer, I don’t have this problem :).

    1. That’s a better attitude to have – somehow I think I’m weirdly protective of my own vision instead of embracing the idea that it looks different to other people.

      But I am totally with you – I always read the book first! Don’t mind knowing the ending of a movie but don’t like knowing the ending of a book (probably why I don’t do much re-reading)!

      1. If it comes down to it, I actually prefer to see the movie before reading the book, because the book ALWAYS goes deeper and expounds more on the storyline, has more detail, etc. The book is an amazing expansion of what I saw in the movie, but the movie puts the book in a box, especially if I read the book recently.

  13. I take them each independantly – for the most part. I have had books lead me to movies I love, and movies lead me to books I love. ( I saw Harry Potter before I started reading them – and I fell in LOVE with the books. I am also inlove with the movies – but for totally (Rupert Grint)different reasons) There have also been times when the movie rendition really need to be separated – Interview With a Vampire – for example. It shouldn’t say based on the novel – it should say, Based on characters created by Anne Rice. 😉
    I always love to see someone else’s take on a novel – it’s like having a REALLY good book club discussion where you see a completely different point of view. A character you love is unimportant – one you thought was useless becomes pivotal! As usual – I need to caveat that I am not a writer. At. All. I am an avid diver into other people’s worlds – please – show me YOUR vision – print or film – and I will TRY to appreciate it for the uniqueness it brings. 🙂

    1. That book club discussion analogy is a good one – one of the things I’m realizing in reading everyone’s comments is that I need to be less protective of my own vision and just relax and realize I’m seeing someone else’s vision.

      I once saw an interview with Stephen King in which he said movies and books are like apples and oranges, both are delicious, but they’re different and you can’t expect the same thing. Also, he pronounced it “deeeeeee-licious”, which was the cutest thing ever.

      1. He’s adorable always. 😉
        On the other hand – there have been “visions” of books that I have HATED. With a passion. Plus. Because I am so not opinionated, right? Like – the Wrinkle in Time movie. Just not even worth it, because their vision was SO far off from mine.

        In response to other people’s comments about what actors are cast – that really makes a bigger difference to me than the fact that it’s a movie of a book I like. Using Harry Potter again as an example – I adored Michael Gambon as Dumbledore – I felt he was a MUCH better fit for the role than Richard Harris. Or – Toni Collete in In Her Shoes. Really? THAT’S a plus size actress? But then – that’s a whole ‘nother issue for me, as you know. ;)(by the way – I LOVED her in that movie, as I do in everything – I just never would have pictured her for the role in my head)

        1. See, and I so preferred Richard Harris. Totally underscoring what you were saying before about movies letting you see someone else’s vision.

          There are movies I just refuse to see – Wrinkle in Time would be one of them. I love my vision far too much and I would just get cranky if they didn’t do it justice!

    2. First let me just say, Ann, I have the same Rupert Grint adoration. I. LOVE. Him. I hear Scorsese has his eye on him and has compared him to DiCaprio. Love that. 🙂

      Moving on…Eleanor, I am in complete agreement with you here. With the exception of Harry Potter. Of all the book to film adaptations I’ve seen, (IMO) the HP films did the best job of really sticking to the book. Of course things were left out, but overall, I think they did a stellar job. The worst adaptation I’ve ever seen was John Grisham’s THE FIRM. What an amazing thrill-ride that book was. The movie. Ugh…I was disgusted. Having said that, I have noticed that I’m much more forgiving if the book isn’t fresh in my mind. As was TWILIGHT when I saw the film, as well as THE DIVINE SECRETS OF THE YA-YA SISTERHOOD. Disappointment abounded after watching those.

      Guess we can’t have it all. 🙁

      1. Oh, good point. It is dangerous to go in with too much knowledge of the book, so a recent reading can be a bad thing. Though I will say I loved reading and watching Revolutionary Road in close proximity to one another, because I think they actually complemented each other well. But otherwise? Danger, Will Robinson!

    1. I stopped seeing them ages ago, though I also didn’t love some of the later books. The first one was great fun, though!

  14. Such fascinating comments. I definitely have trouble with a lot of movie adaptations (though Lord of the Rings really worked for me). But as others have said, it’s hard to let go of your own vision and accept someone else’s! And, of course, movie adaptations usually have to leave stuff out. So I come down on the side of the book nearly every time.

    1. Aren’t the comments great? They’re really helping me think through this issue and why I’m so protective of my vision of a book.

      I do really enjoy movies as their own art form, but I’d always rather go see a movie that was created to be a movie, not one that was intended to be a book.

  15. What a great topic! I just read Water for Elephants and wished that I had read it sooner because I feel like my interpretation of Robert Pattinson & Reese Witherspoon as the lead characters entirely changed my experience of the book. I wouldn’t say that books shouldn’t be made into movies (try to imagine the film world without Gone with the Wind, Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland!), but generally speaking the books are better probably because we have that exclusive access to the interior world of the characters that one can’t really get in a film. I am from Pittsburgh and the book The Mysteries of Pittsburgh is one of my favorites but the movie was absolutely terrible. Right now, another favorite book of mine, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, is filming a few blocks from my house and since the writer is actually directing the film I am hoping that this one will not disappoint. I saw Rick Moody speak several years ago and he said that the film version of The Ice Storm was what finally enabled him to pursue the full-time writing life, so you certainly can’t blame an author for letting their book get the Hollywood treatment.

    1. It is really interesting to think about! I think I mentioned GWTW to someone else as a good example of a film that captured the spirit of the book while still cutting so much of the story.

      You’ve brought up something great – the access to a character’s interior life. That’s really the job of an actor more than a screenwriter or a director, I think, and is almost impossible to reproduce. I’m interested that no one in the thread mentioned that until you!

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