In Defence of Book to Film Adaptations

With the release of Daisy Jones and the Six, and the second season of Shadow and Bone finally available on Netflix, book to live-action adaptations are again at the forefront of our watching habits. However, it remains a widely debated subject among fans, each format often pitted against the other for issues such as lack of likeness, quality, and whether such adaptions are even necessary in the first place.

Hearing that my favourite series was going to face a live-action remake used to fill me with excitement and dread in equal measure. Would it be absolutely butchered, all of its best qualities scrapped for a snappy plot and supposed ‘entertainment’ value? Or would it be the chance to experience the book as if for the first time again. It was an unmatched level of stress. I was left emotionally scarred after watching Netflix’s adaptation of The School for Good and Evil. I spent the entire time vehemently protesting the lack of care and emotion shown between the two protagonists. ‘In the book there’s actual character development!’ should not be something we have to scream at the TV. However, there are examples of when remakes got it right. With The Hunger Games’s resurgence on TikTok, there are plenty moments that were perfectly translated to the screen.

So, is the book always better than the movie? Are filmmakers taking advantage of a sure-fire audience of devoted readers, without the understanding of source material required? Some declare that condensing hundreds of pages of plot down to 90 minutes of screen time is an impossible feat. It forces characters, plot points, and world-building to be simplified, which runs the danger of losing the essence of the story. However, is this why there has been recent movement away from the traditional film format into TV adaptations? The TV adaptation allows more time for plot and character development, because the format itself has more time to do so. Episodes have the ability to mirror chapters, making the jump between formats less considerable.

However, with all this extra time to develop the story the next question becomes, should TV adaptations be entirely faithful to the source material, or are changes still necessary for the medium? There are some examples of a complete disregard to the original plot, which ended up in widespread critique. For example, the TV adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series kept the incest and little else, and in the end was nothing like its original source. Yet on the whole, I would have to argue that yes, changes are not only necessary, but inevitable. In books it is far easier to keep track of background characters that do not always engage directly with its plot, but in TV adaptations sometimes it is necessary to remove characters like this so that the plot doesn’t become convoluted. Certain changes to dialogue stay true to the original format, but translate to the screen in a way that is better digested. Long monologues, or a disembodied narration of a character’s inner thoughts would likely separate the audience from the plot. It is important therefore, to engage with the format’s unique devices. Often movement is much more impactful in a live action format. Some very minimal spoilers for Daisy Jones and the Six to follow: the slap given by Camila, a calm, kind character, is much more shocking on screen than her line of dialogue from the book. The TV format can provide something new in this way, that does not take away from the essence of that scene in the novel. Furthermore, adaptations allow characters to be diversified. Characters that were written from western-centric and patriarchal perspectives can be rewritten to be more inclusive.

It is care that is the most important thing. Care for the source material and for its characters. This care is something I think we are seeing more of now, and as long as this remains true then what is the harm of making a text, already loved by so many, more accessible?

Georgia McHaffie

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