Why Does it Always Surprise us When Book Adaptions are Different?

Ever notice how book adaptions, either movies or television, differ greatly from their source?  This happens so often that if a television series or film does stick close to the book they are based on it is incredibly rare.  Most people know this, however there is almost always universal outrage when a film dares to take liberties with the story.  Why is that?  Why are people surprised by this?

When we read a book, we set up certain expectations for the story.  Things look and feel slightly different in the story for each reader.  This individual experience creates an emotional bond with the characters and world created within the book.  That’s perfectly fine and to be expected if the author did his or her job correctly.

When the story is adapted into another medium there are changes and inevitably some people become disappointed.  Disappointment isn’t bad, and some adaptions of stories are indeed subpar.  I feel the constant backlash and surprise when an adaption differs is silly.  Film is a different medium than books.  A movie or television series due to the very means in which they tell a story must differ from a book or comic.

A book’s job is to show, not tell, to be descriptive while allowing room for the imagination to fill in the blank as much as possible.  A film still needs to show, but relies much less on imagination than a book.  Subtle details are impossible to avoid in a movie and on top of that it must hold the viewers’ attentions and leave them with wanting more.  Sometimes, the source material doesn’t go very deep due to its target audience and film makers want to flesh out one-dimensional characters.  The movies may not succeed at their goal, but I can acknowledge their intent.

The Hobbit films are often criticized as terrible adaptions.  It is a trilogy of movies based off a short novel written for children.  There are quite a few deviations from the book, the same can be said of the Lord of the Rings movies as well though, which are not criticized nearly as much.  This isn’t about defending The Hobbit films, I respect why people don’t like them.

They are a perfect illustration for my point.  They are films that are very different from the book they were based on.  The book was written before The Lord of the Rings and had a very different feel to it.  The elves were silly, the goblins were less-than threatening, and you have talking animals.  The entire tone changed so much with its sequel that it leaves quite a bit of continuity errors.  I adore Tolkien, but the explanation that Bilbo wrote the first book and Frodo wrote the sequels is something I’m familiar with and feel it’s a bit weak.  The Hobbit films tried to rectify that in some areas, some of which I feel they did a good job, while others not so much.

Whether someone agrees or disagrees with me is fine, but anyone would have to admit there are more factors going into the disappointment The Hobbit films wrought than merely not being true to their source.  These films made a bold decision to draw out the story longer than it was, and show other sides to characters, and because it didn’t meet many people’s standards they are maligned.

Perhaps we need to stop being so surprised when film makers take liberties?  Movies and Television are different means of telling stories, and we should expect as much.  The option is always to stick with books because they are generally better than any adaption anyway due to their ability to go deeper and not be constrained to a certain time frame.

4 thoughts on “Why Does it Always Surprise us When Book Adaptions are Different?

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  1. I’m not ever surprised when the adaptations differ from the books. Sometimes they must, because the media are so very different, as you explained in your post. We can discern, however, when an adaptation is good, that is, it remains true to the original work, and when the adaptation is a bad one, when the film or series merely uses the concept of the book as a springboard for one’s own less-than-creative work. When we see the byline “based on . . .”, that’s usually a pretty big clue. An example of the good would be the musical play and movie of Les Miserables, much better than all the previous attempts. A bad example is Hallmark’s adaptation of Jan Karon’s “At Home in Mitford.” I’d call it a Hallmark-ized bastardization. There, I said it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think it is when the liberties taken by film makers go far beyond the original book or alter significantly the plot or characters, that upsets people. As you say everyone knows that it has to be different in the very different medium of film, but if it is changed too much it may as well be a different story altogether. I have not seen The Hobbit films but I cannot imagine it being three films long, they were obviously just trying to replicate The Lord of The Rings films, which I thought were very good, by the way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I get that. In my opinion not all significant liberties are bad. Context is everything of course. If something is added for shock value or any other reason than to drive the plot then it is doing a disservice to the story. Thanks for reading and stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

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