New is Not Always Better- Hollywood’s Butchery of Good Stories

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:

anne with an e#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!”

little women 2019#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.

guernsey literary#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.

big little lies tv#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.

always and forever movie#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!

valentine city of bones#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!

31 thoughts on “New is Not Always Better- Hollywood’s Butchery of Good Stories

  1. While I agree with all your points wholeheartedly to be fair Hollywood has the exact same problems with original stories. Script and story are often unfortunately the least of their worries and I sometimes feel like a lot of show runners/ film makers view having a book as simply little more than a cheat sheet to faster project turn around.

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  2. I think I watched the first episode of Anne with an E and gave up. Anne of Green Gables is my very favorite book besides LotR, and I just could not get into it. I read an interview before its release where the writer said she wanted to portray life as it was on PEI at the time, which was darker and more depressing than the books suggest (Anne spends a lot more time dreaming in the book than doing burdensome chores!), and it sounded like an interesting take at the time, but the show didn’t really seem to balance that interpretation with the charm and whimsy and hopefulness of the original. Plus trying to play it off like it was some sort of suspenseful mystery whether Anne would be adopted or not was just stupid. Even if you haven’t read the book, the entire premise of the show is clearly that she got adopted so just . . . don’t bother acting like she might not be.

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    1. Yeah it sounds like an interesting take…. But not really what I want from an adaptation of Anne of green gables! I want the charm and the whimsy from Anne, not Dickensian gritty realism! Haha yes I completely agree!! It’s weird to shoehorn in a mystery there

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    2. Sorry to butt in here, but …

      Isn’t it interesting how books in settings that were physically a lot harder to survive in, often have characters that are cheerful and gritty and buoyant?

      Example: the Little House books. The Ingalls family barely survives each book. They work their tails off to avoid starvation. But, Laura makes so much of it sound … fun! Almanzo, her husband, also seems to remember actually enjoying most of the farm chores that he slaved away at during his childhood.

      I know that when people say the past was “dark,” often they don’t just mean it was hard work to physically survive. They could be talking about war and other types of oppression. But, I’ve got a half-formed thought here that maybe in healthy families, people in past ages actually were more cheerful and hopeful than we are now, even though they worked a lot harder …

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  3. Can I complain about the somewhat recent adaptation of “High Fidelity?” They gender flipped the lead role, which isn’t inherently a bad idea, but the whole joy of the book was that Nick Hornby is so great at creating spoiled misogynistic male characters that you pity, but whose actions you cannot condone. It just felt like a way to get viewers by using the rights to an existing property.

    There are worse examples of this practice, but I felt so annoyed that this was a thing that someone made happen. It was like when advertisers steal iconic moments from other media and tack on a product name – lazy, boring and infuriating all at once?

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    1. Oh yeah sure! I’m not familiar with the story or the adaptation, but I totally get that frustration! I certainly do not like when producers use a recognisable title to make something completely different! Totally get what you mean and I agree!

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  4. Yes! Of course, so agree!

    I think there are a couple of problems …

    -Weird Hollywood culture. Directors and writers haven’t been around normal people in years and don’t know how they think or behave. (Sorry, my Hollywood friends! I love you, but you’re not normal!) So, things like stable, boring-but-happy marriages, or people who are moderately talented but not The Chosen One, seem unrealistic to them.
    I read Big Little Lies but didn’t see the movie. Are you talking about Madeline’s marriage? I loved that portrayal! I am so mad they messed it up!

    -Writers and directors getting bored. They have to throw in something that calls for special effects, or at the very least a chase scene through a room packed with priceless artifacts. Example: in The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf and Saruman have a very interesting conversation about good and evil right before Saruman takes Gandalf prisoner. In the movie, this is a wizard battle where they are levitating each other. Later, when Gandalf goes to do an intervention with Theoden, again instead of being a fairly intense verbal confrontation (which was interesting enough by itself), we get a magical exorcism.
    I understand that you want creative freedom, guys, but that’s not what an adaption is supposed to do. People liked the book for a reason. Find out what the reason was, and see if you can’t like it too.

    -They don’t realize that we know all their tropes. Example: some guy who did a TV series about King David and OF COURSE he interpreted the friendship with Jonathan as they were gay lovers. And his comment was, “I thought I would do something a little different.” It’s like, NO, we all knew that was EXACTLY what you were going to do!

    Now, I LOVE allusions, tributes, and references, just not when they take the same ol’ Hollywood trope and throw it into a story where it doesn’t belong, and expect this to be exciting to us.

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    1. Yes! Of course, so agree!
      I think there are a couple of problems …
      I *completely* agree that they don’t seem to know what it’s like around normal people (and I often feel like when they have a “normal person” in the movie, they’re really weird and caricatured). Haha yes! Yes sadly I’m talking about Madeline’s marriage! Which I loved in the book!!! But they ruined it by making her have an affair!! (which was somehow justified because she was bored- gah?!!!!) I’m glad someone else liked the book version, because I have waited years to be vindicated about how badly they messed up that part of the adaptation haha!!
      Oh yes definitely agree with you about how they get bored too easily. It’s like they read the book and think “but wouldn’t it be cool if I stuck some explosions in that scene… and that one… and that one!”
      Oh wow I didn’t know about that series- that’s surprisingly unsurprising. I’d ask why they would do that, but it’s pretty obvious why (aside from Hollywood’s general obsession with sexualising everything).

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  5. Really great points. The moralizing in shows /adaptations lately drive me crazy. We get it, you’re woke. 🙂 It always amazes me when adaptations go so far astray — why bother purchasing the rights to the original if you’re going to change the feeling or the characters so drastically?

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  6. When it comes to genderswapping a loved character I grew up with and bastardizing things so that it ticks all the boxes I already get pissed off. Being a man though I have to count my words when it comes to the woman taking centre stage the way some things have been going of late, so i’ll just say I dont like it. I am happy that I share your views on this post though, makes me feel I am not alone… Thank you

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  7. I’m at a point where I can see movies and books as their own art form. There are bad adaptations but, there are good ones too. It just becoming harder for these mainstream movies to be any good. It why I’m trying to watch and promote
    more indie, foreign, and old film. That where the good movie are at right now.

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  8. Best Adaptations: Emma Thompson’s take on “Sense and Sensibiity”. The movie “Wizard of Oz”. Despite its outmoded racist memes, “Gone With the Wind.” The entire “Pallisers” series on PBS. The first “Forsyte Saga” on PBS. That’s just off the top of my head.

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  9. That version of Valentine freaks me out so much that I honestly thought that was a picture of Klaus from Umbrella Academy, and I was like wait what?? I thought they did UA well! And please do write a post on Rings of Power because I have so much fury already wrapped up into that show, and I need to share it.

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    1. Haha yeah I really like umbrella academy!! Definitely not throwing shade at it!! Oh yes, I’m just brimming with anger- I don’t know if I’ll ever be sufficiently calm to write a coherent post 😉 I’d like to read your thoughts about it!!

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