For some reason, it is incredibly hard for movie studios to take a book and translate it to screen without royally screwing it up. To my mind, the best book-to-film adaptations in recent memory are the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hunger Games movies (so far). To make a truly good book adaptation, I feel that the movie needs to be able to tell the story clearly to people who have never seen the book. There are terrible books that have been adapted pretty well to create terrible movies, but what’s always a tragedy is when a fantastic book is completely butchered with an awful adaptation.
This list is about those books.
The Hobbit makes this list mostly because of Peter Jackson’s obviously money-based bloating of a relatively simple story into a three-year monster trilogy. The first LotR movies made sense as a trilogy, after all–the books themselves were a trilogy, and the story was long enough to merit the treatment. That, and you could feel in every minute of those movies that everyone working on them truly loved and cherished the source material, and was working hard to translate them to film in a way that made sense and truly represented the heart of the story. But the Hobbit trilogy just feels like Peter Jackson is shoving as much as he can from the appendices to LOTR, the Silmarillion, the Lost Tales, and other Tolkien writings into the Hobbit, stuffing it so full of extra lore that it’s about to explode at the seams like Mr. Creosote after a dinner mint (it’s wafer thin!). Honestly, it feels like an enormous money-grab more than anything else. As a huge Tolkien fan I am loath to turn away more opportunities to spend time in Middle Earth, but Peter Jackson is testing my limits here.
Harry Potter makes this list because of the sheer amount of questions you get from people who have never read the books when you sit down to watch these movies. It is taken for granted by society as a whole that everyone has read these books, and to a book reader, the poorly adapted quality of these films is completely missed because you can fill in the gaps with your own knowledge. But imagine, if you can, seeing Prisoner of Azkaban without ever once having touched the book. Who are these old men? Why do they care so much about Harry Potter? What is the significance of “Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs?” Why does Harry think of his dad when he sees a stag? Why is it bad when Remus turns into an animal but OK when Sirius does? The entire Marauder backstory and why Remus cares so much for Harry is almost entirely omitted from these films, making non-readers completely lost on a major chunk of HP lore. And if that’s not bad enough, just take a look at Goblet of Fire. That film is so disjointed that even book-readers had to watch it more than once to really take everything in; never mind how ridiculous it must seem to someone who has never read the stories. I love these movies, POA in particular–but technically speaking, they’re terrible adaptations.
Blood and Chocolate is a trainwreck. This book is amazing. I have recommended it enthusiastically to anyone and everyone I know that has wanted a book recommendation in its genre, and they have all loved it and gushed accordingly (because it’s just that good). But every single time I recommend it to anyone, it comes with a caveat: NEVER WATCH THE MOVIE. The movie is terrible. The movie is so bad that the only redeeming factor to it at all is the casting of one character: Hugh Dancy as Aiden. It’s perfect casting, but it’s unfortunately in the absolute worst adaptation that could possibly have been made of the source material. The title of this book is a metaphor, but of course the moviemakers felt the need to take it literally and make Vivian a chocolatier. The CGI is laughable. And worst of all, the plot is entirely changed! It honestly shouldn’t even be considered an adaptation, because the entire plot is altered, and the leading woman ends up with a completely different character in the film than she does in the book (which completely ruins what is so compelling about the book in the first place). The people that made this movie should have just called it something else.
The Time Traveler’s Wife was, in my opinion, a case of “they never should have made this into a movie.” There was just something about the plot itself that works in print but does not translate well to screen at all, and so you had this problem of the source material being great but the movie itself just falling woefully short of expectations. The special effects were really weird, and I thought the movie was regretfully miscast–Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams seemed like terrible choices, regardless of their acting talent. The end result was a trainwreck. The book took you on an emotional journey; the movie just bored you and made you regret you spent money on the ticket.
The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials) is last on this list because it is by far the biggest travesty ever committed in book-to-film adaptation history. This movie could have been phenomenal, but the people in charge of adapting it chickened out. The books are critical of religion, and it’s not a plotline the trilogy can live without… but the studio caved to pressure from religious groups and forced changes to the film before it was released. The changes made to the story at this juncture made the possibility of successfully adapting the second and third books seem impossible, and despite a great cast, fantastic special effects, and absolutely gorgeous source material, the final film was a crappy, half-hearted shadow of what it could have been. Armored polar bears or not, the movie was an enormous disappointment, and one I wish I could wipe out of the history books entirely. If ever someone takes up the mantle and tries again with this series, it needs to be done with a studio that won’t cave to outside pressure and meddle. This series is one of the best I’ve ever read; it deserves a quality adaptation.