The other day, Netflix revealed some of the cast for their series adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s comic book series, The Sandman. I am a fan of that series, and was really excited to hear that not only would there be an adaptation, but that Neil Gaiman would be heavily involved. I knew the author himself would be able to do the very best to bring the comics to the big screen.
There’s been a lot of book adaptations over the years, and I have watched a lot of them. The quality of these vary. Sometimes a great movie or series isn’t always a great adaptation. Sometimes it’s both a great adaptation and a great movie/series. Sometimes it’s neither. There will always have to be changes made when going between mediums, but sometimes these changes are for the better and sometimes they are not.
ADAPTATIONS THAT MAKE ME GENUINELY MAD
Howl’s Moving Castle: Now this is going to be a controversial opinion, because this movie is generally very well loved. But here’s a confession: I’ve never actually watched the full thing. How could it be on this list then, you ask? Because even the parts I have seen, even the trailer, are so far away from the book I love that it makes me angry. The book “Howl’s Moving Castle” is written by Diana Wynne Jones, an author I have sung the praises of before, and is one of my favourite books. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s touching, it’s strange, it’s set in an interesting world with interesting and imperfect characters and cool and new ways of looking at magic and doing magic. And yet that’s all thrown away because the movie wants to be…whimsical. It’s not true to the humour of the book, or to the spirit of the book. The characters are softened around the edges. Not even THE MOVING CASTLE ITSELF is done right. The world in the book “Howl’s Moving Castle” feels like a real world, even with its use of magic and spells and demons. The movie doesn’t show me that world. Maybe it’s a great movie in itself, but I know I will never be able to enjoy it.
Ella Enchanted: I will forever list this as one of the worst movie adaptations of a book I have ever seen. If I hadn’t read the book, I wouldn’t think the movie was a masterpiece, but it’s harmless and fluffy enough. But having read and loved “Ella Enchanted” by Gail Carson Levine?? I am genuinely offended by its existence. The movie takes the rough concept of the book and some character names and basically creates its own early 2000s family friendly fantasy movie with it. That’s annoying enough, but doing that to ELLA ENCHANTED? A beautiful novel with a bleaker take on the story of Cinderella with fleshed out characters who change and grow and an interesting love story and a detailed universe?? YOU HAVE ALL THAT AND YOU GIVE ME SINGING CHRISTMAS ELVES? The insult! I await the day when Neflix or Amazon prime or the BBC or someone does a proper mini-series adaptation of this book.
Artemis Fowl: I read all of the Artemis Fowl books growing up, and there were always rumours of a movie but it did not come to fruition until 2019, released in 2020 on Disney Plus. I could not believe that after all those years…this is the movie fans of Artemis Fowl got. They really took some rough plot points and the character names and descriptions and said “good enough” and proceeded to make a generic kid hero movie. The worst part about it is that the Artemis Fowl books should be SUPER EASY to adapt. You can easily picture the action, scenes, and dialogue while reading the books. But the movie didn’t even maintain THE MAIN CONCEIT of the series–that Artemis is a 12 year criminal mastermind who captures a fairy for his own gain. THEY COULDN’T EVEN KEEP THAT. That’s the whole point?? It’s not like it wouldn’t be “appropriate” for kids, because KIDS READ THE BOOKS. It’s just laziness and a lack of respect for both the source material and the intelligence of their audience. Maybe I will have to wait another two decades for a proper adaptation.
ADAPTATIONS THAT ARE GREAT IN ALL WAYS
Good Omens: We started this post with Neil Gaiman, and we are coming back to Neil Gaiman. “Good Omens” by Neil Gaiman and Sir Terry Pratchett is one of my favourite books. It’s funny and weird and irreverent and it’s about the apocalypse. I was really excited when I heard that it wasn’t getting a movie, it was getting a whole mini series to be released on Amazon Prime. Gaiman was heavily involved, writing the series and acting as showrunner because he wanted to make sure the adaptation was done right not only for the fans, but in honour of the late Terry Pratchett. He absolutely did that. The series was amazing, managing to capture the comedy of the book, the emotion, the tone, the weirdness. Everyone was flawlessly cast and put in fantastic performances, from the child actors to Frances McDormand as the voice of God. I absolutely recommend it even if you haven’t read the book, and I recommend reading the book too.
His Dark Materials (the HBO series): I may be jumping the gun a bit since the third and final season of this series will not be released until next year, but for now I feel safe putting this here from what I have seen. His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman were books I read over and over growing up, and can always return to. They’re pretty intense and serious in a lot of ways, but I was always so drawn in by the world and the characters and how it tied in magic and religion. I was so glad when it got a series, because although it’s a trilogy, there’s no way to capture the full scope of even one book in a single movie. They were able to include scenes and characters that would not fit in otherwise. I’m also glad they did it when there was enough of a budget that it LOOKS beautiful. I’m really interested to see the visuals for the next season and hope they do just as well adapting the final book as they have the first two.
Emma (2020): I’ve watched pretty much every Jane Austen adaptation out there, but I have to give a shoutout to this 2020 adaptation. The costuming was flawless, it was so well acted, and it was engaging and clever and funny, just like Jane Austen’s writing is. I think it also let its leads be less than perfect while the audience still roots for them. I even mentioned it as one of my favourite films of 2020.
I DON’T FEEL AS PASSIONATELY ATTACHED TO THESE BOOKS BUT DAMN THESE ARE GOOD MOVIES
Stardust: And Neil Gaiman makes his third appearance on this list! I don’t remember this book very well for some reason (maybe I will make a point to read it this year), but I adore this movie. I think it’s massively underrated and should be a fantasy movie classic. It’s just full of joy. Please watch it if you haven’t.
The Princess Bride: Yes, this is actually a book adaptation! I would say this is one of those movie adaptations that has overtaken the book in the public consciousness. It’s an absolute classic and I’m fairly certain I can recite every word of it. I can’t even remember the first time I saw this movie, that is how much it is a part of my brain. If for some reason you have lived under a rock and not watched it, do so.
Scott Pilgrim vs the World: I’ve only read the first few graphic novels in the series that this movie is based on, so I honestly don’t know how the hardcore fans view it as an adaptation. I know it does make several changes, although to me the movie still feels true to the spirit of the graphic novels. It’s a really fun movie with a hilarious cast. It’s also very stylized, and I know that isn’t for everyone but I am one of those people who LOVES a visually stylized movie. Give me all the aesthetic. It’s also set in Toronto, so special points for that. Again if you haven’t seen it, do it.
SOME QUICK MODERN ADAPTATION SHOUT OUTS
Clueless: Another Emma adaptation, but set in Beverley Hills in the 90s. It’s somehow still a better adaptation than Ella Enchanted. Fun and cute and funny and a fave always.
10 Things I Hate About You: This classic teen movie manages to adapt one of the most sexist Shakespeare plays, “The Taming of the Shrew” into a hilarious non sexist teen comedy where Heath Ledger sings a Frankie Valli song. We love to see it.
West Side Story: Another Shakespeare adaptation, this time turning “Romeo and Juliet” into the a battle between two gangs in 1950s New York City. It’s also a musical with iconic songs and beautifully choregraphed dance numbers.
I could keep talking about adaptations for hours, I really could. I love books and I love movies and I love television and it’s inevitable that I have opinions when the worlds come together. Including some very passionate opinions!