The Inevitable Disappointment of Book-to-Movie Adaptations


Jackie McLaughlin '18, Copy Editor

Remember the good old days of new Harry Potter movies being released every year? Remember how exciting it was to watch characters come to life in the exact way they were suppose to? Remember how J.K. Rowling would approve the scripts before filming began? All was well, and then along came Twilight. Twilight killed all hope of good Young Adult books being turned into movies worthy of those titles.

I look back at 2008 fondly. I was the girl with the Cullen family calendar, Team Edward T-shirt and first edition books. The trailer was released for the first Twilight movie and I could not have been happier. Bella looked like Bella, Edward was Cedric Diggory from Harry Potter, and all the special effects looked epic. The night of the premier I brought my middle school friends to the Northgate Mall (the middle schoolers paradise) to watch two hours of weird piano music playing while Kristen Stewart walked through the woods and stared out windows. It was the world’s dumbest teen romance flick. Four movies later and people are still making fun of Twilight. The Young Adult community is forever band from using vampires as characters because books with vampires get associated with Twilight. Being the Twihard fan that I was, this was heartbreaking. Bella was supposed to be a funny cynical kid, not some incompetent supermodel who moped around and annoyed everyone. Edward was a romantic–not a monotone stalker who looked like he was drowning in his own face whenever he spoke. The movies were instantly a parody of themselves whereas the Twilight books were fun, thoughtful and interesting. After some self reflection I realized that there was no perfect Twilight adaptation. Yes, the movies could have been better, but perhaps my expectations were unrealistically high to start out. It would have been impossible for any director to capture the experience of reading Twilight in the exact way I imagined it. I began to question whether or not book to movie adaptations were even worth making.

2010 rolled around and immediately there was hope; Percy Jackson. If there was ever a book that could redeem the Young Adult genre from the stupidity of Twilight, it was The Lightning Thief. Rick Riordan, the acclaimed novelist, filled his books with humor, action, romance and mythology. Everyone was rooting for that movie, but Hollywood decided that it would be more fun to take anything epic and make it into a Scooby-Doo style, CGI filled, joke. Every fight scene looked as though it were filmed in front of a green screen, and what was more infuriating was that none of the characters matched their descriptions. Fans were livid. I was livid. The worst part wasn’t even sitting through the horrible movie; it was knowing that other people were deciding not to read the books because the movie was so terrible. Knowing that one movie would leave a permanent stain on the whole industry of Young Adult books was what convinced me that people should just stop making popular books into movies.

Then, a miracle happened. The Hunger Games film was released in 2013. I was almost too bitter to see it, but I did. For the first time since Harry Potter, a director made all the right creative choices. Despite missing a few treasured moments of the book, watching the Hunger Games made me remember what it felt like to live inside that story. Jennifer Lawrence gave a stunning performance as Katniss Everdeen and Gary Ross managed to convey The Districts, The Capital, and The Arena in a way that satisfied fans. There was hope.

The hope was shattered into pieces when The City of Bones movie was released only a couple months later. You probably don’t remember the film because it face planted so badly the entire world decided it was best forgotten.

Of course the trend is that most of these movies flopped. Stupid movies get great reviews all the time because they don’t have built in fan bases with impossible expectations. These adaptation movies are “bad” because the readers gave their souls to those stories. It is extremely difficult to capture the soul of a book in physical form. The human imagination is too complex to be stamped onto a screen and watched. It’s special when a movie can imitate a book in all the right ways because each person is special and each thought that they have is unique. So maybe Vampire Academy made a great book into a cliche high school movie or The Fifth Wave slaughtered everything I ever loved, but I’m still going to go see these movies. Even if they get the stories all wrong and are total atrocities there is always hope for the next Harry Potter. Maybe there will never be an adaptation as wonderful as Harry Potter, but even watching the cruddy, poorly made, Hollywood versions, I get to remember a novel I had the honor of living. I get to rant about how great the books were and I have a reason to keep hoping for that next Harry Potter. Though this wait is treacherous, it will all pay off when I walk out of the movie theater feeling as though I’ve just relived the magic contained in Young Adult books.