Are adaptations of books good?

In honour of the release of the new Netflix show of Shadow and Bone, I thought it would be nice to look at examples of beloved books being adapted to the screen. 

            I think the first thing to note that any adaptation from a book is not going to be the exact replica of the work of the author. One criticism I often see when it comes to reviewing both films and TV series based on well-known books is that fans argue that it is not an exact adaptation of the book. The key thing to remember is that this is near on impossible to do. A book is averaging 400 pages, if not more when it has been chosen for the screen, and there is a very limited amount of minutes a script can be in order to keep the audience intrigued. That means that already the producers and creators are at a disadvantage as they have all this material, but know without a doubt they cannot do every single word onto the big or small screen. 

To me, as long as you have the characters and the main plot line being used, then adaptations are already on the road to success. It is when the plot is changed dramatically, or new characters are added that were not needed or have not driven the plot in any shape or form. 

            I’m going to compare some adaptions I think have become a high success, and others that I wished the studios had never tried to create. 

Since mentioning the show above, I might as well begin with my thoughts on the new Netflix show, Shadow and Bone. I read Leigh Bardugo books quite a number of years ago, and if I’m honest, I wasn’t much of a fan. I think it was something more to do with the character Mal, and his relationship with Alina. I felt him a bit bland and I wasn’t quite sure why she seemed so concerned about him. It wasn’t that I disliked him, or the books for that matter. But I wasn’t that bothered to give them a re-read. So when it was announced that Netflix was releasing an adaption, I knew I was intrigued to watch it, but I wasn’t jumping for joy as I had with other books. 

            But this is when I think adaptions can be done perfectly. Within the first episode I was already questioning why I hadn’t liked Mal in the books, and really felt the relationship between him and Alina was so powerful that I didn’t mind that he was having so much screen time. I also felt that the show did a brilliant job with adding in the characters form Bardugo’s duo-logy, Six of Crows, and also the extra detail in the Darkling’s character. This shows here that sometimes adaptations can have an advantage. The book is from Alina’s perspective, so the reader only knows what is going on in her world. But with the adaption, you are able to dive into more characters and get the feel of them becoming three-dimensional. 

            This is an example of an adaption done well. 

Now I’m going to flip this on its head. When I found out many years ago that Percy Jackson was going to be adapted for the big screen, I was very intrigued as it hadn’t been that long since I had first been introduced to the books. The first film came and went, and it was only by the time it had been released on TV I realised this, but it was different for the second film. This one I went to the cinema to watch, and I couldn’t help leaving feeling as if I had watched something that was only a fine line linked to the books. 

            The big downfall I felt the producers did was age-up the characters. Percy Jackson gives a Harry Potter feel, so choosing to have adults play the characters that were only 12 in the books, felt like a bad decision immediately seeing as that takes away the young children feel. The acting isn’t bad, and it does briefly follow the same plot of the books, but it’s the endings. 

            In The Lightening Thief, in the books, Percy battled the god of war, Ares, and it’s here that the reader gets a feel for how powerful Percy is the fact that he can battle a god and walk away. But the film chose to have the fight between Percy and Luke, which does make sense with the film since Ares isn’t even introduced, but that meant the studio was already at a disadvantage for the second film seeing as the battle with Luke was at the end of the second book. Choosing to bring back Kronos, to just throw him back into the sarcophagus again felt unnecessary. 

            It’s safe to say I was not surprised when the series was cancelled, but I am very intrigued now Disney has bought the rights, where the new version of the adaptations will go — fingers crossed they start off right by casting young actors to match the version of Riordan’s work. 

Now, having gone on a rant about ageing up characters, I’m going to confuse you by giving an example where the studio yet again did this, but I felt it worked perfectly. 

I remember reading Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman when I was beginning secondary school. Then when I heard a BBC drama was going to be created, I was very excited. It’s such a subtle hint to racism, whilst also exploring the love between two young people. 

            In the books, Sephy and Callum are in their younger teen years and are only just starting to explore the real world and come to understand the effect of their skin colour and their friendship has on the world. 

            However, the BBC drama chose to age up the character’s to be in their late teens, which in my opinion was a brilliant decision. It gave a more grown-up feel as you were seeing these two young adults who thought they understood the world they lived in, but once again are thrown into the deep end when what they thought they knew is thrown against them. It also gave a more grown-up feel to Sephy and Callum’s relationship seeing as they are both adults when they come face to face with one another yet again, and doesn’t risk the chance of it looking like a young love, but one out of choose from two people who desperately want one another. 

            Now, fan’s from the books are probably with me when I mention that the ending was not what was to be expected. In the books, it does not end so sweetly, but seeing as I loved the adaption of Callum, I couldn’t help but route for the decision to change it. No doubt, the ending of the first book will come to pass, but there is a chance for more of Sephy and Callum’s relationship to blossom before that. 

The last example I want to talk about is one that almost feels is the complete opposite spectrum to its original source. The Walking Dead has been at the top of the charts for over ten years now, and has widely populated the genre of zombies in modern times. 

            However, the fact that it is meant to be based on Robert Kirkman’s comic books, it’s almost hard to name it as this is a show that has hardly ever kept to the original source. 

            First you had new character’s like Merle and Daryl Dixon, plus T-Dog, and then later on people like Sasha and Beth, who were never included in the comic books. Then not to mention how many characters like Andrea, and Carol and Dale, etc.. who have such different storylines from the comic books to the tv show. But to me, the show is done in such a way that it does not matter how different from the comic books it is. The main thing the show took from the comic books was how fleshed out all the characters were, the progression they make in the zombie apocalypse and the new and old relationships formed. 

            The show did occasionally take a nod to the comic books, for example, Glenn’s demise was the same, as was the Governor’s and also the dramatic relationship between Rick and Negan. This kept it’s hints to remind the audience that they were taking their nods from the comic books and to keep at the edge of their seats to what could be brought in next. 

            However, this is an example where I would say the show is completely different to it’s source material, and that it’s almost better for the audience to look at both as individual rather than as a proper adaption. 

Overall 

Adaptations can be tricky. You are taking a beloved source of material and trying to mould it to the big or small screen, plus who already has a growing audience that will come with it. This might wonders for sales and views of the adaption when done well. But as it’s been shown with certain examples, it can do the complete opposite where it can have the project flop seeing as the audience that came with it were not pleased with what happened with their beloved characters and stories. 

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