Fantasy Fun Month sneaked up on me.
Rebecca LuElla Miller has been hosting the conversation, mostly at our Facebook page (follow us there!). I searched the hashtag on the social-network site, which reporter 1,000 people were talking about this. Well, that’s a start and no mistake.
Rebecca’s Monday post for Day 13 reminded me that I have a long way to go before I have read more fantasy novels, which you kids have possibly read more than once by now.
The same is true of today’s Day 17 topic: “Book Better than Movie.”
Here I feel as an alien among you fantasy fans.
I feel like this because I am perhaps infamously tolerant when it comes to book-to-movie changes, at least for the films I’ve seen. Comic-book-to-movie changes don’t annoy me because I never read comics growing up and only have a few graphic novel books today:
Fans despised Green Lantern (2011) for reasons I learned later; I enjoyed the movie and found the predestined-to-be-a-space-hero themes particularly evocative at the time.
- Fans howled over The Mandarin twist in Iron Man 3 (2013); I thought the movie was a blast, better than Iron Man 2, and found the villain twist an amusing genre subversion.
- (And I don’t holler when Superman is forced into a no-win situation in which he must kill a supervillain to save a life, because that’s how morality works in our real universe.)
I co-wrote a whole series about that last. I’ve also defended The Lord of the Rings and even (gasp) The Hobbit film trilogies, despite their book-to-film departures (more so the letter).
Perhaps my inner screenwriter rises to give an apologetic. If a screenwriter says “That worked in the book, but can’t work in a movie,” I’m open to hearing that argument. After all, nostalgia can blind us to genre differences and even to our favorite books’ flaws.
Also part of me wants to become a cruel, efficient editor of things that don’t belong. When I read books I enjoy, I can’t help but think, “Yes, this would work in a movie,” and “No, that would not work, cut it.” There’s a bad assumption here: that books are only movies waiting to happen. (Which makes it a tragedy that J.K. Rowling skipped straight to her next movie.)
But what about books that are better than movies? My first answer is easy:
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis.
The 2010 movie version was a disaster. It (nearly?) doomed the Narnia film franchise. It ignored the book’s gilded, medieval-solar themes of honor, adventure, yet sacrificing both those just for a glimpse of Aslan’s Country—a world that transcends all our hopes. In place we heard “brave” themes about believing in one’s self and following dreams, as opposed to all those movies that urge us to ignore ourselves and declare the heck with our dreams.
Even worse, unlike, say, Disney princess movies, Dawn Treader movie wasn’t even a good movie about those shallow themes. This one took on water and rapidly sank into nonsense. Some would say the movie needed to find a unifying purpose for the journey that is rather episodic in the book. The results were somehow worse, more slipshod and episodic.
It’s hard to believe the same two screenwriters went on to write Captain America: The First Avenger amazing. Then they got even better with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and are now in charge of Captain America: Civil War and now even Avengers: Infinity War.
So in summary: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was terrible. The book was far better.
Yet I would say the same for the other Narnia films:
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was well-made, faithful, and original as a movie, yet with too many modern flourishes that underplayed Lewis’s themes. Book = better.
- Prince Caspian was also well-made, yet less faithful to the book. I was okay with this; here the movie could have been better than the book. But it was weighted by modern flourishes and some cheesy lines about belief that some writers think honor the pious.
- And as fun as the three older BBC films can be (especially when you’re a pre-adolescent and that’s what Santa gave this year) the books are far, far better than the BBC films.
I can’t think of other films that don’t live up to the books they are based on. But perhaps that is because I, alas, did not read a lot of fantasy growing up. Yet again, I may have the advantage, because then I’m not as automatically disappointed when movies based on books I love fail to capture the images and sensations I’ve already imagined for them.
What movies-based-on-books were not as good as the books?
What movies-based-on-books were perhaps better than the books?