Saturday, 9 April 2011

TWTWB and The Perils of Book Adaptations

Won a competition this week to go and see a preview screening of 'Tomorrow When The War Began', an Australian film directed by Stuart Beattie and based on the book by John Marsden. I first read this book around 1995 when I was 14. There are now seven books in the 'Tomorrow' series and these were then followed by a new trilogy; 'The Ellie Linton Chronicles'. Thanks to Paramount Pictures for offering the free tickets and for the free coke and popcorn. Rachel Hurd-Wood introduced the film ('I don't know what to say... it was fun to make') and then quickly disappeared. Despite having already seen the film as a good friend had sent me a dvd copy from Australia, I really enjoyed it on the big screen and on a second viewing.

It got me thinking about book adaptations in general. This is too big a subject for one post and I'm sure there are whole blogs dedicated to book to film adaptations but I thought I'd mention personal bests and worsts for me.

So starting with 'Tomorrow When The War Began', probably my second favourite book of all time. I have read it many times and know it back to front. I have been waiting for a film version for 16 years; even tried adapting one part of it myself for some A level film studies coursework. The first time I watched the film with friends... I was satisfisfied BUT... my expectations were SO high, I was also disappointed. The screenplay is not brilliant but the production design is amazing and as with most book to film adaptations, there is much missing from the film. However the performances are generally good with a couple of exceptions and even though they drastically changed one character, they made him funny and likeable.

Anyway I decided I would not watch the film again until it was released in UK cinemas (got to support the film and make sure they produce and release the rest of the series!). The second time I watched it (at the free screening this Wednesday), my expectations were readjusted. I knew the film had faults but it was time to watch it with sensible perspective.

I loved it so much more this time. I appreciated the effort and the dedication of all involved in attempting to get it right. Many of the scenes were very faithful to the book and some of the perfomances are really very good. I realise that some subplots (the hermit and his house) were unnecessary to the narrative and therefore were understandably left out.

But I also wonder what people who have not read the book will think of the film. Without the constant thoughts of the protagonist (the book is written in the first person), will the actions of the film's characters seem believable? Films have to simplify... they have to cut down a 200+ page book into an under 120 page screenplay. The film version has to skim over some ideas and themes. It has to show a character arc beleivably but quickly. It has to convey the thoughts and feelings of the characters through visuals and not an over-reliance on voiceover. Very tricky and I have nothing but respect for the writer and director who tackles such a task.

The I thought about my favourite book and one of the film adaptations that I really cannot stand. Danny Boyle's 'The Beach' based on Alex Garland's novel. SUCH a good book... SUCH a bad film. I love Danny Boyle, Leo Dicaprio and the book. But this film- despite many great scenes from the book, really does not work. And for so many reasons. Leo's character getting the girl when the book is all about unrequited love. BIG mistake. Video game graphics of Leo running in the forest. BIG mistake. Completely dropping one of the novel's most interesting characters (Jed). BIG mistake. I could go on but who likes a miserable critic?

So next I consider my all time favourite film. An adaptation that for me is actually BETTER than the book: David Fincher's 'Fight Club'. Now I'm not sure if this is because I read the book after I had seen the film. I generally try to read the book before I see a film version but when Fight Club came out, I did not even know of the book's existence.

I'm sure this has happened before. Watch the film first and I love it. The book is then enjoyable but no better than the film. 'Silence of the Lambs' for example. Great film... great book. But if I'd read the book first, would I be sitting here bitching about the bits they left out and the simplifying of the themes and characters?

Fight Club, however does seem like an exception. This film takes the rapid-fire narration of the book and turns it into a brilliant voiceover and perfect dialogue from the main characters. The performances are perfect and the ending is an IMPROVEMENT on the book's. The visual style and soundtrack are also great additions that make the film an even more satisfying experience than reading the book.

So that's my initial thoughts on book to film adaptations but I feel I may return to this subject one day. Anyone want to share their thoughts? Other films that are better than the books they were based on? Worst adaptations? Is this the same for comic/graphic novel/video game adaptations? Anyone like the film version of 'The Beach'?


  1. First another great topic, first thought I would tend to go along with your idea that in general that adaptation are in general of a poorer quality than the source book. For me the first area that books have over the film adaptation is that of your own imagination. When I was younger I read the ‘devil rides out’ by Dennis Wheatly , then saw the Hammer film (trailer: , while still one of the better Hammer adaptation the end of the film lack the terror of the book. The description of the Angel of Death in the book is all done through implication.
    Also I second you comment on the ‘Beach’ that things are removed (Completely dropping one of the novel's most interesting characters (Jed)). For me the example is the book/film ‘Sideway’ written by Rex Pickett. I read the book first and was so looking forward to the film especially one chapter at the start of the book about a wine tasting. When I watch the film this was completely removed, which ruined the film for me.
    One film that I think is better than the book is the 1997 ‘L.A. confidential’ (Trailer: The novel by James Ellory is good but the way in which Brian Helgeland took the eight plotlines and reduces it to three, still retaining the dramatic force of three men moving towards their destinies (bag himself an Oscar too) . What to see about the cast, if every there was a cast to be call ensemble cast it is this: Kevin Spacey as Det. Sgt. Jack Vincennes, Russell Crowe as Officer Wendell "Bud" White, Guy Pearce as Det. Lt. Edmund Jennings "Ed" Exley, James Cromwell as Capt. Dudley Liam Smith, Kim Basinger as Lynn Bracken, Danny DeVito as Sid Hudgens. A classic soundtrack from the great Jerry Goldsmith, act as beautifully back drop to the 20’s costumes and sets.
    I’ve never read the book but by all accounts the Bonfire of the Vanities is supposed to be a dire adaption of a classic novel. In general I think that adaption from comic/graphic novel are normal as good, I think that it give the production team of the film a pre-written story broad (Good examples: Watchmen, 300, Sin City, Bad examples: Catwomen, Batman forever etc.). Video games I would say no, due to the large amount of time spent immersed with this format. I like the first half of the ‘Beach’ but it seems to loss it way in the second half.

  2. Good call... not read LA Confidential but a quality film!!! Simplifying the narrative with less characters could be an interesting way to tackle the World War Z adaptation too!


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