Since the popularity of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games, and Twilight in recent years, it seems like all the movie studios are rushing to turn every semi-popular book into a movie. Which can be exciting for fans of those book series. They’ll get to see their favorite characters in the flesh! They’ll get to argue with their friends over who should be cast in what role and then celebrate whichever actor or actress actually lands the part. Or the reverse might happen and they’ll get to see their favorite actors or actresses cast in roles of books they’ve never read, so they’ll get to discover great new literature. (This recently happened to me with Dylan O’Brien being cast in the movie for James Dashner’s The Maze Runner.)
Unfortunately however, there have been those movies that don’t quite live up to expectations. Whether they don’t quite capture their printed counterparts or they completely stray from the original text, some movie adaptations just aren’t good. A few of the films on my list may have redeemable qualities; they may even be decent standalone movies. But in one way or another each of these flicks failed to be as good or better than the books on which they were based. I might even go so far as to say they shouldn’t have been made (just kidding! Maybe.) Regardless, here are the movie adaptations that I hate to hate, but still do.
I have a slight confession to make: I actually, on occasion, enjoy the 2004 Ella Enchanted movie (I mean, c’mon, Hugh Dancy is in it.) However, the film does absolutely no justice to the book written by Gail Carson Levine, who was one of my favorite authors growing up. To be honest, the movie always loses me with the entirely unnecessary musical numbers: “Somebody to Love” and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.” Then of course, there is a lack of the same depth found in the book. While the novel is about a girl struggling between staying loyal to her family and finding happiness, the movie is another early-2000s teen romcom, in the same vein as the more popular Princess Diaries. Sure, maybe Ella Enchanted is a good family movie, but I’d rather re-read the book than re-watch the movie, unless it’s the only thing on television.
For some reason, my freshman year high school English curriculum was comprised of almost entirely science-fiction literature. We read stories from Phillip K. Dick (cue the childish giggles,) Kurt Vonnegut, and Isaac Asimov. This included “Robot Dreams,” a short story that is part of Asimov’s collection of the same name. I, Robot was loosely based on this collection of short stories. Of course, rather than the intelligent discussion about the limits–or lack thereof–to technology, I, Robot was an action movie starring Will Smith as he battled free-thinking robots trying to eradicate the human race. I suppose we shouldn’t expect too much from a movie that claims it is merely “suggested by” its source material. The only similarities between the movie are Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics and a couple character names: Dr. Susan Calvin from “Robot Dreams” makes it into the movie and is played by Bridget Moynahan. Still, this film leans more toward the generic action genre than the hard science fiction that Asimov wrote, which is disappointing.
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
As part of that long sci-fi section of my English class, we were told to pick a book, any book, within the genre to read; I chose Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I loved it and I will never forget that 42 is the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. However the 2005 movie version of Hitchhiker’s did not do the book justice. Despite a great cast that included Martin Freeman, Sam Rockwell, Bill Nighy, Stephen Fry, and Alan Rickmam (just to name a few,) the film didn’t do very well in theaters. Roger Ebert’s review of the movie touches on the most important reason the flick didn’t work: it’s only enjoyable to people who were great fans of Douglas Adams’s work, and could pick up on all the little in-jokes that appeared in the film. I had only read the book once, so I many of the jokes went oever my head. Unfortunately, while I sped through the book, the Hitchhiker’s movie just couldn’t sustain my attention for a whole two hours.
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist
I had a huge internal struggle on these last two films, but out of my top two, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist disappointed me only a teeny tiny bit less. Which is not actually a compliment. To be fair, I had ridiculously high expectations for this movie—Rachel Cohn and David Levithan’s original book is one of my favorite books ever written. What I love about the story is going into both Nick and Norah’s heads and seeing their crazy first night through both perspectives. Even before the movie premiered, I was hesitant about whether the film could portray my favorite parts of the book. Unfortunately, it didn’t. Sure, the story is still there: boy meets girl in a club, boy and girl spend a wild night together all over NYC, boy and girl sort of fall in love, whatever. But it wasn’t the story I had fallen in love with; Michael Cera and Kat Dennings were not the Nick and Norah I fell in love with. The movie’s only saving grace is that the soundtrack is pretty good—not as good as the soundtrack listed in the book, but still pretty good. However, this does not make up for the fact that the movie was a total disappointment.
The Confessions of Georgia Nicolson
If there is one book that was fundamental to my teenaged years, it is the Georgia Nicolson Confessions series by Louise Rennison beginning with Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging. The first book was made into the film, Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, produced by Nickelodeon Movies. The change in title and choice of production studio were the first warning signs that the Angus movie would not be able to live up to the books, although there were others. For starters, the books are written in a diary-style led by Georgia’s very unique—and hilarious—voice. So, like Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, I knew it would be hard to translate onto film. While Georgia Groome, who portrays Georgia Nicolson, does her best, the script she had to work with was not great. But the biggest disappointment about the movie is the Ace Gang, Georgia’s group of friends. While they’re a huge part of Georgia’s life in the books, in the movie they’re overshadowed by Georgia’s love interests. This turns a genuine coming-of-age tale into a shallow story about teen awkwardness and romance. If you couldn’t tell, it’s entirely possible that I’m still bitter–and disappointed–about the Angus, Thongs and Perfect Songging movie.
Now that I’ve made my arguments for what book-to-film adaptations disappointed me the most, let me know what you think. Was I too harsh? Do you think I forgot a particularly bad adaptation?
Since I’ve ranted and raved enough, look for the next post in my three-part From Print to Screen Series where I list the best movies and television shows inspired by books.