Obviously, there are a lot of amazing adaptations out there. Some faithfully manage to take the source material and transpose it into a new medium; some even manage to improve upon the source material. BUT there is a reason why whenever I hear a beloved book is being adapted to Film/TV, I have to gulp back my fears. Because for every good adaptation there seems to be another atrocious one (for the sake of my credibility, I have to add that I have no actual clue what the ratio is for good/bad adaptations 😉). Of course there are so many aspects that go into an adaptation that I cannot possibly cover them all- so here are just a few recurring issues that really, really bug me:
#1 The first (and possibly biggest) issue is that the writers have no real interest in adapting the original story. Now, I’m not just talking about fanficy nonsense (*coughs* “Rings of Power” *cough cough*)- I’m talking about versions of the story that entirely fail to capture the spirit of the original. For me, the most common mistake is taking light and frothy stories and turning them dark and gritty and intense. Yes, programmes like Anne with an E may get praise for being a bold take… I found it lacked the charm of Anne of Green Gables and thoroughly put me off. While it may not seem like such a big problem to greyscale your colour palette and throw in a few grim visuals, what you actually end up is a jarring adaptation that muddies the waters, loses touch with the original themes and has me yelling at the screen “tell your own damn story!”
#2 And while we’re on the topic of poaching, I’m also not a fan of Hollywood’s obsession with “modernisation”. History is often messy and uncomfortable and something we can’t relate to- and yet rewriting the past seems like an awful solution. Culprits like the 2019 Little Women seem to care that turning most of your heroines into modern women seem entirely out of step with the time period, thereby making it detached from the original. They only seem to care about their own performative activism.
#3 Which leads me onto my next criticism of Hollywood’s latest spate of adaptations: political overtones. Because Hollywood writers seem to think that breaking the fourth wall to have your characters give a “right on” speech is good writing. Besides being preachy and ridiculous, it’s not a substitute for decent characterisation. When the main character in Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society gave a “feminist” speech, it did not make up for stripping this strong heroine of her moral compass and personality (incidentally, this was an example of a middle-aged bloke interpreting a character created by women… and it shows). This is a heroine that went from being spunky, decisive and independent to a demure creature who finds it impossible to choose between two potential husbands, only getting her “you go girl!” moment because she points out female writers exist. *Slow clap* for that.
#4 What makes it worse is the imposition of a faulty morality on the story. Because if I had a penny for every story with *bonus cheating/marriage-falling-apart/general relationship dysfunction* thrown in, I’d be a wealthy monkey. The fact that Hollywood seems so opposed to portraying healthy relationships onscreen is alarming. Even if one couple in a story are vaguely functioning, the adaptation has to throw in some bigamy to “spice things up”. Like the only healthy relationship in Big Little Lies now having an affair at the heart of it. Hollywood’s interpretation: marriage sucks. Message received.
#5 Oddly, the flipside is also true. As much as Hollywood cannot give a married couple a break, they also LOVE to turn the “glitzy” dial up to eleven. Is the book about getting into college like Always and Forever, Lara Jean? Well, better make it an Ivy League. Does the book have a plus-sized protagonist like Ready Player One? Then they have to be skinnier than average. Is your character talented in any way? Time to shoehorn in a CHOSEN ONE TROPE (still cannot believe they applied this logic to Peter Pan of all things). It gives me emotional whiplash how quickly Hollywood can turn from cynical to HYPERACTIVELY UNREALISTICALLY OPTIMISTIC!
#6 Annnd I’ve managed to get to the end of this post without mentioning the decisions that were just plain weird. Sometimes, writers are just ill-equipped to deal with the source material (and that’s why we end up with Game of Thrones season 8). And sometimes, they don’t even appear to like what they were working on and decide to do something that truly bizarre (the leather-clad-lunatic Valentine from City of Bones springs to mind). Sometimes, I get the impression they didn’t want to adapt the original story at all (okay, I swear I’m going to have to do a whole post on Rings of Power at some point).
Really, when I think about this list, I’m even happier that so many good adaptations exist- because it’s remarkably easy to eff it up! Or maybe I just shouldn’t be so fussy!
What do you think? Do you feel the same way as me? Do you have any gripes of your own with Hollywood adaptations? Don’t leave me hanging!