Monday, January 16, 2012

A Question of Adaptation

The last time I read a Charles Dickens novel was in high school.

Okay, perhaps "read" is too generous; "skimmed" would be closer to the truth. You'd never know it by the grades I got on the quizzes and essays, but I've always been excellent at acing those sorts of things. My point here being, I don't remember much about any of his stories, except that I didn't particularly like them, certainly not enough to actually read them through like I was supposed to -- sorry, my high school English teachers! Sorry, Charles Dickens!

Harry Lloyd also happens to be the great-great-great-grand-son of
the actual Charles Dickens, adding to his awesome factor.
A few days ago, however, I watched the BBC's new adaptation of Dicken's classic, Great Expectations. I'll be honest: I was only watching it because I'd seen some fan-made graphics that showcased the mini-series' beautiful cinematography and also because Harry Lloyd's in it, one of my favorite actors.

I'd seen an adaptation of Great Expectations before, but recall it being rather boring. This version was not the case. I found myself really interested in the story and characters for the first time, and intrigued by the mystery of Pip's benefactor and how his relationship with Estella would turn out, having largely forgotten most of the plot (if I ever really knew it at all) ahead of time.

This made me think about television and movie adaptations and how they effect the perception of source material, most often a book. I know a lot of people espouse a vitriolic hatred for book adaptations and sometimes rightly so, usually because a lot gets lost in the translation. I've seen a few pretty awful adaptations in my time. I don't want to name names but Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief is the first that comes to mind. Great children's book; terrible movie. Without giving any major spoilers, they took out the main antagonist (for reasons I still couldn't tell you) and left out one of what I considered the best scenes of the book. Also, there wasn't enough Sean Bean as Zeus, but then again that might just be me. 

On the reverse, I've seen some great adaptations, too, such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Based on the trailer alone, the upcoming Hunger Games movie looks like it'll be good, too. One can only hope, anyway!

In some instances, I think an adaptation can actually get people interested in the book and get them reading which is always a great thing. The danger, of course, is that the adaptation could be horrible and turn off a lot of people from checking out something that might be wonderful as a book or video game. Generally, it's my nature to keep cautiously optimistic about adaptations; I'm always willing to give them a chance to impress me. And such as the case with Great Expectations, I was delightfully surprised.

What are your feelings on TV and film adaptations of books and other mediums?


  1. If a book is good enough or popular enough to make into a movie, why change it? Some of my favorite books have been made into movies or series that change so much I refuse to watch them. It is just too frustrating. Why would I waste my time when I can just read the original? Especially anything Biblical. Why would I want to watch Hollywood's version when I can read God's?

    1. Another good adaptation from novel to movie is "The Scarlet Pimpernel". I loved the movie so much that I found and read the books and they were just as excellent and I was happy to see that when they made the movie they kept true to the characters in the book.

    2. @Chris - That seems to be the biggest complaint, when the movie or show differs too much from the book and it can be understandably annoying! However, to address why one would bother with an adaptation, sometimes it's nice to be able to watch something in a few short hours rather than reread a book that might take days or longer. If it's done well. If not, if it's strayed too far from the heart of the story, then I agree. Best just to read the book!

      As for Biblical stuff, I haven't watched too many Hollywood interpretations of Bible stories, although I did watch "One Night with the King" which was about Esther a while back and found it pretty enjoyable. I think there's a benefit from seeing human faces on the story. Of course I'd recommend reading the Bible, but for non-Christians seeing one of the movies could also spark an interest and prompt further investigation into what God's love is all about. He does work in mysterious ways, after all! ;)

    3. @JoAnn - I agree! "The Scarlet Pimpernel" (1982 version, of course) is a great adaptation, not to mention one of my favorite movies, as you know. ;) They did a great job casting Percy, Marguerite, and Chauvelin; it's like they waltzed right out of the book. It was a nice blending of the original story with one of its sequel novels.

  2. I'll have to see this version... the book was rather drab, if I remember correctly.

    1. @Charlie - I'm glad I'm not the only one to have thought so. xD I tried "A Tale of Two Cities" as well and couldn't get into it. Something about his writing style puts me off, I think. But yes, definitely give the BBC version a try if you're interested! If for nothing else, watch it for Gillian Anderson's transcendent portrayal of Miss Havisham. She's just hauntingly good.