Why the movies rarely live up to the book, and why this isn’t necessarily bad

Adaptations are always a highlight in the world of movies. Often, there’s already a fan base to be attracted to, which means there’s a good chance that the filmmakers will be able to make back the money they spent adapting it, and if it’s a franchise, they may make more money from subsequent films. One risk, however, is failing to live up to the fanbase’s pre-existing love for the book.


Trying to rework the story to better fit the movie is a fine line to walk in order to please the majority of the audience. There will always be some people who are unhappy with something – maybe the characters aren’t the way they envisioned them, and they don’t like that change. the Good omen The TV adaptation tested this with their design of Crowley, though they simply gave him red hair instead of ‘dark’ as in the book. However, there are always changes that are necessary for a movie, and it’s not always a bad thing.

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Micro-adaptation cannot continue

Westley protects Buttercup in The Princess Bride
Twentieth Century Fox

A lot of fidelity to the source material is definitely a thing. There are a few different reasons, but perhaps one of the biggest is — if the book and movie are such a good match, why would we choose both? What’s the point of translating something into a different medium if it stays exactly the same.

A book might not make any more sales if everyone else would rather sit down and watch a movie, and vice versa. Adaptation is about changing something to better fit its environment, and the book can’t really be recreated on screen word for word. This does not mean that adaptations are bad. It’s great to see the story come to life in a new way and to watch the characters go through such hardships, even if they’re not all quite the same.

Related: 22 movies that have nothing to do with the book they’re based on

It’s also possible that directors and producers would be less inclined to make an adaptation if they weren’t given any creative freedom. All they do is take everything the book says and translate it on screen, focusing more on how the book portrays something than on how something looks better in the middle of the film, or even better in their own eyes. Because of this, it would almost make sense for a book writer to turn to writing screenplays instead of books so that he could take charge of his own films, rather than taking away creative freedom from whoever else would be in charge. Not every book is meant to be a movie, and the movie industry will suffer because of that.

Different media work in different ways

Elijah Wood as Frodo holding the ring
New Line Cinema

Have you ever read Lord of the rings? Depending on which edition you buy, and what scale it’s printed, it’s about 1,200 pages long. If you have watched the movies before, then you have experienced a lot of dangerous adventures as the journey continues through different risky scenarios. What’s in LotR The books that can’t be transferred to the mainstream film is how long that travel really is – it’s the journey at the center of the entire plot, so of course there will be a lot of travel, but the writers make sure to detail it all as it builds the world around it.

This slow pace would be appalling for most films, and even ramping it up to keep the action going still required three movies to tell the story. In the end, there’s no way to keep the adaptation completely faithful, as film is an entirely different medium with different requirements to meet, while books are allowed to be as long or as short as they need to be, and can be as internal and episodic as the author wants.

Percy Jackson Novel Hardcover
Miramax Books

A typical movie tends to be one and a half to two hours, which is about enough time to read a typical novel. This means that writers have to mention some details that may have to be cut in the movie in order to be irrelevant to the story, or even whole secondary characters whose stories could be redirected to other character arcs that better fit the time, or removed from the story entirely.

Related: Every Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movie, ranked

Look to the future Percy Jackson TV Series: After the films flopped and audience reaction was so negative that the rest was cancelled, they revived it as a TV series to get more time to get into the small details the movie had to cut. It just means that these exist better as books, or perhaps as a TV series giving more time to the details. Every adaptation has a potential for failure, so it’s really a question of which medium is best, including whether the book would be better off staying as a book.

Books are never intended to be movies

The main team in Dune
Pictures Warner Bros

In the end, it comes down to the idea that no author writes their book with an adaptation in mind; Otherwise, they would just write a screenplay. This is why it is always important to keep in mind the fact that not everything will translate perfectly. The writer can have long dialogue that helps set the scene, or tell the important parts of the plot.

Movies often don’t have the luxury of long conversations, and it’s not without something else going on to keep the audience entertained and the dialogue going. There are a lot of literary elements that will never properly translate to film or TV, which means there will never be a “perfect” adaptation of a book. There is no doubt that it can get close, but it will never be accurate. Ironically, some of the best literary adaptations (Naked lunch, adaptation) deliberately changing the structure of the book to fit the nature of the film.

The medium is the message

Nicolas Cage wrote the 2002 film adaptation
Sony Pictures

It works the other way, too: some things are better off as movies than as books. Intense action scenes are some of the hardest things to write well, but are incredibly easy to bring to life on the big screen. It can also get too repetitive in the books if action sequences dominate exposition, character, and dialogue.

You don’t have to explain how a character is feeling or what they’re thinking in a movie, as actors can show this with their expressions, reactions, and maybe even audio narration of their thoughts, as some movies do. In fact, the old movie adage is “Show, don’t tell,” which is the exact opposite of advice for novelists.

Comedies sometimes include gags that rely entirely on visuals, and sometimes the plot is too short to make an entire book; Sometimes some scripts are written with specific actors in mind to play the role, which certainly wouldn’t translate well into a book. Filmmakers have to pick and choose their battles, and they understand that in order to make a good movie, they can’t duplicate a book perfectly. Fans of these books would be happier if they respected that.

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