Actor Jonathan Crombie died last week from a brain haemorrhage aged just 48 years. This was devastating news to women of a certain age for whom Crombie was and always will be Gilbert Blythe from the screen adaptation of L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series.
I love those books (all the more special because I have my mother’s copies) and I found the first adaptation very faithful and the sequel faithful in a “take the best bits from a few books” way. I prefer to ignore the later The Continuing Story movie which was something of a tarnish on the whole series.
Even after the umpteenth viewing (just the other day), the film version can still make me laugh and cry in all the same places. (Matthew’s death leaves me sobbing every time.)
I mentioned Crombie’s death at the dinner table the other night and this led to a rather extensive and intense discussion about screen adaptations of books with our three boys.
The following is a summary of the Good, the Bad and the Plain Ugly of adaptations as decreed by the MOSY Offspring.
WARNING: We are a very nerdy household and I make no apologies for the nerdy leanings of the following reviews. If you’re looking for opinions on the adaptations of The Shipping News or Wuthering Heights, I suggest you look elsewhere.
These are the views of three boys aged 18, 16 and 13 and are strictly the ones they wanted to talk about with no prompting from their parents.
THE GOOD (OR AT LEAST OKAY)
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Based on the books by J. R. R. Tolkien
Directed by Peter Jackson
Screenplays by Fran Walsh, Phillippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Stephen Sinclair (The Two Towers)
The View: Good adaptations and great movies in their own right.
The Harry Potter Series (Eight movies)
Based on the seven book series by J. K. Rowling
Directed by Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuarón, Mike Newell, David Yates
Screenplays by Steve Kloves and Michael Goldenberg (Order of the Phoenix)
The View: Very faithful to the books. The movies did cut out a lot from the books but they kept the best bits.
Based on the book by Brian Selznick
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Screenplay by John Logan
The View: Great adaptation! This was a great movie adapted from a book that is mostly illustrations but done very successfully.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
First of the Chronicles of Narnia movie series
Based on the book by C. S. Lewis
Directed by Andrew Adamson
Screenplay by Ann Peacock, Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
The View: Movie was semi-faithful to the book. It was a good adaptation. There was a drop on the symbolism and it was more of an action movie.
Scott Pilgrim vs The World
Based on the comic books by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Directed by Edgar Wright
Screenplay by Michael Bacall and Edgar Wright
The View: Amazing comic book adaptation. Cut out a lot but still great. The movie even on its own is amazing.
Based on the book by Neil Gaiman
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Screenplay by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn
The View: Loved the movie but too much from the book was changed. It lost a bit in translation.
The Hunger Games (Four movies)
Based on the books by Suzanne Collins
Directed by Gary Ross (The Hunger Games) and Francis Lawrence (Catching Fire, Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2)
Screenplays by Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray (Hunger Games), Simon Beaufoy, Michael Arndt (Catching Fire), Peter Craig, Danny Strong (Mockingjay)
The View: Each movie’s merit is quite different. The first movie was good but not much energy in it. The adaptation was very close. “They made it their own.” (Direct quote from Middle Son.) The second movie was a much better adaptation and closer to the book. No opinion offered on the third and fourth movies (possibly not seen yet).
The Adventures of Tintin (Animation)
Based on the comics by Hergé
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Screenplay by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish
The View: In terms of the original books on which the movie was based (The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rakham’s Treasure), they changed a lot but they made a beautiful movie. The method of animation was fantastic.
The Spiderwick Chronicles
Based on the books by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi
Directed by Mark Waters
Screenplay by Karey Kirkpatrick, David Berenbaum and John Sayles
The View: The Youngest Son said he watched the movie before he read the books. He thought the movie was good but the books were better.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Based on the book by Douglas Adams
Made into a TV series (Directed by Alan J. W. Bell, Screenplay by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd)
and into a movie (Directed by Garth Jennings, Screenplay by Douglas Adams and Karey Kirkpatrick)
The View: The TV series was great. The movie was okay but it took liberties.
The Hobbit (Three movies)
Based on the book by J. R. R. Tolkien
Directed by Peter Jackson
Screenplays by Fran Walsh, Phillippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro
The View: A terrible adaptation and a total over-indulgence on Jackson’s part. Could easily have been made as one movie.
Based on the book by Christopher Paolini
Directed by Stefan Fangmeier
Screenplay by Peter Buchman
The View: This caused some contention. The Eldest and Middle Sons thought it was a terrible movie. The Youngest Son liked the movie but then conceded that he hadn’t read the book when he saw it. He then admitted that having now read the book he could see that the movie was not a good adaptation. The advice from the Boys was “don’t read the book before watching the movie and you might enjoy it.”
Based on the book by Cornelia Funke
Directed by Iain Softley
Screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire
The View: The books are great. (Inkheart is the first in a trilogy.) The movie was okay as a movie but it was not a good adaptation.
Astro Boy (Animation)
Based on the Japanese manga series by Osamu Tezuka
Directed by David Bowers
Screenplay by Timothy Harris and David Bowers
The View: Once again, this adaptation did not find consensus. The Eldest Son thought the movie was average and felt they had changed everything. The Middle Son thought the movie was okay if you ignored the source material. The Youngest Son thought the movie was pretty good.
Based on the book by Neil Gaiman
Directed by Henry Selick
Screenplay by Henry Selick
The View: This is a good movie as long as you haven’t read the book. If you’ve read the book, it’s a terrible adaptation. It did not do Neil Gaiman justice.
THE PLAIN UGLY
Based on the Japanese manga series by Akira Toriyama
Directed by James Wong
Screenplay by Ben Ramsey
The View: Woeful. Absolute disgrace. Avoid at all costs.(Those are direct quotes.) Their advice, if you want an adaptation of this series, is to watch the animated television series.
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events
Based on the book series by Lemony Snicket
Directed by Brad Silberling
Screenplay by Robert Gordon
The View: TERRIBLE! BAD! SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN MADE! ABHORRENT MISHMASH! KLAUS DIDN’T EVEN HAVE GLASSES! (Yes, there was shouting.) And I would like to add my own appalled two-cents-worth. I adore this series of books and the movie was a complete travesty. Don’t bother with the movie. But do read the books.
There were a few more (it was a lengthy, enthusiastic discussion) but that’s probably filled your brain enough.
So, tell me, what’s your favourite book-to-screen adaptation? What’s your worst? Let me know in the comments. Shouting is permitted but keep the language nice.