It’s well known that a lot of films that hit the big screen start out from humble beginnings – novels. Many of these films end up becoming cult classics, Academy recognized films, or both. This includes older movies like The Godfather, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and To Kill A Mockingbird, as well as more recent ones such as Room, Little Women and IT, all of which have won the hearts of many. However, it is not only the classics that are given this privilege. An overwhelming amount of movie adaptations seem to come from one genre in particular: Young Adult Fiction. Whether it be standalone novels, trilogies or whole series, slowly but surely, all popular YA novels are being retold on screen.
The problem with book-to-film adaptations, especially in the case of YA Fiction, is that a lot of what makes the book endearing to its’ readers disappears. Due to the restricted run time of movies, a trait that books lack, it is understood that the dialogue and worldbuilding will suffer throughout the film. Character development, subplots, and the intricate details of a novel are omitted in order to make sure the main story can be told. In addition, relationships with books are personal and more active – when one reads a book, they build a specific world in their head. It is something that is unique to them. The relationship with movies, on the other hand, is more passive. We watch it from a distance and relax as the world is built for us and a story we already know is being retold.
Some of the most notable children and teen book-to-film adaptations include The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and Twilight. All of the aforementioned films suffer from similar problems: removing book characters from the film series, changing plot points and details presented in the novel, and adding scenes that never existed in order to create theatricality. For instance, in The Hunger Games, after surviving the games, Peeta’s leg is amputated and he wears a prosthetic for the rest of the series. Likewise, by creating a riot scene with District 11 that never existed in the novel, they disregard the other District’s gradual acceptance of Katniss as a hero and instead choose to set up the sequel series. Meanwhile, in Harry Potter, they remove characters such as Peeves, Winky and Neville’s parents while simultaneously making important characters such as Ginny Weasley, Cho Chang, and Fleur Delacour one dimensional. They also add scenes like the Burrow being burned to the ground and Harry breaking the Elder Wand that do nothing to advance the plot and only add an overly dramatic component to the film. As for Twilight, if you want an opinion on what went wrong in the adaptations just ask Robert Pattinson.
Some adaptations are done so poorly that even the author of the book wants nothing to do with the film series. One such instance being the Percy Jackson film series. The author, Rick Riordan, has stated on multiple occasions that he has never seen the movies and never wants to. He also released email correspondence between him and the production team where he criticizes the alterations of his stories. Many fans of the series have criticized the films as well due to the major deviations from the novels. The grievances lie in altering the notable characteristics of the main characters, altering the prophecy on which the whole series is based, and combining the plot of the second and fifth novel for the plot of the second movie. The series remains incomplete after two films.
Books aren’t only adapted into films. Some have become television series instead, as the medium presents a greater opportunity to fully tell a story. Having multiple seasons, each filled with, at most, 22 episodes, allows for more time in developing characters, relationships, and multiple plotlines. Many have gone on to receive critical acclaim, such as Big Little Lies, Killing Eve, and The Handmaid’s Tale. And, regardless of COVID-19 halting television production, many book-to-television adaptations have been released this year. The Outsider (a novel by Steven King) aired on HBO, High Fidelity (a novel by Nick Hornby) can be watched on Hulu, and Little Fires Everywhere (a novel by Celeste Ng) was recently released on both Hulu and Amazon Prime Video.
Evidently, the trend of adapting books for both the small and big screen isn’t slowing down any time soon. Not only are multiple adaptations being released this year, as mentioned, but a number of new ones have been announced: Isaac Asimov’s novel The Foundation is expected to be released on Apple TV in 2021, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and The Olympians series will become a television series on Disney+ in the near future, along with many others.
Regardless if the adaptation is well made, there is something special about seeing the story you love come to life before your eyes. Hopefully, these new series will live up to the high expectations that their beloved fans have set.