Note A: This was original published on my blog, Strange Birds. This is the full article below.
Note B: I apologize for the whole Movie Quality section of Beautiful Creatures being a link; it was an accident.
Nowadays, lots of movies are being based off books. In the past year alone, there have been The Giver, The Fault In Our Stars, Divergent, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I, Vampire Academy, If I Stay, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Gone Girl, Wild, and probably a few more I don't know about or can't remember. For this blog, however, I'm mostly interested in the ones based off of the young adult novels, so you can pretty much cut Gone Girl and Wild out of the list. Of course, most fans of these books will have gone to see the movies. And an unfortunate number of these fans will slam the movie with one- or two-stars reviews, ranting about how the movie was nothing like the book and who it didn't come close to doing the book justice, etc.. I mean, I get it. It's a book you loved, and Hollywood mangled it in some way or another. However, that's not always what happened. You see, there is a difference between a movie being exactly like the book, and a movie doing the book justice. A big difference. I think that every movie adaption should strive to do the book justice. If they were to do the book justice, then you would enjoy the movie about as much as you did the book versus a faithful adaption that would cram everything from the book into the movie.
Let's be honest: if a movie studio was to try and pack every single bit of dialogue and sub-plots and everything that was in the book into the movie, it would almost certainly be horrible. Of course, there is always the occasional exception (The Fault In Our Stars, anybody?), but it's pretty rare. If you were to cram all that in, you'd either have a.) an unbearably long movie, b.) a very, very rushed movie, or c.) some combination thereof. Again, there can be exceptions, such as Lord of the Rings, which was a trilogy of very long, very good movies (but you already knew that, didn't you?). But still. I think that when judging a movie that is based off of a book, you have to remember three things: a.) it's a movie; given the time frame, you can't add everything, b.) a movie can't flow the way a book can, and c.) even if the source material was your favorite book, this is still a movie, and you probably paid to go see it, so don't go in with the frame of mind that it won't stack up against the book because of changes in plot/dialogue.
I won't lie; there have been movie adaptations which were not only bad movies compared to the book, but just not that great in general. However, much as I see people say "don't judge a book by its movie," I would like to see one or two of these people go, "don't judge a movie by its book." Yes, the book will be, at the very least, on par with the movie and probably better, but the movie can still be reallyy good. With this in mind, I have three criteria with which I gauge a movie based off of a book below:
1. Plot Symmetry
Simply put, the first thing that you think about is how closely does the plot of the movie mirror the book? I'm not talking about every single sub-plot either; the main plot of the book, and maybe one sub-plot. Of course, the movie can add its own sub-plots if it feels the need to. If the movie is based off a book in the beginning/middle of a series, you should also think about how well this movie acts like a springboard into the next one, should they choose to make it.
2. Character Symmetry
This is where you should be judging the characters themselves. How much are they like their book counterparts? Do these characters respond to situations drawn from the book in a similar fashion that they did in the book (which is a little bit of plot symmetry mixed with character symmetry)? If the movie has a new situation that's very important, did they characters act the way you believed they should after reading the book? For me personally, I also think about whether or not the characters look the way they were described in the book. This is a very, very minor detail that really has no impact on the movie itself, but I like it. You should also check to see if the characters are a similar age to their book counterparts. In some movies where they aged the characters (The Giver, Seventh Son) it worked. It others, it could possible jolt you out of the movie.
3. Movie Quality
This is it. This is the biggest thing that you are judging this movie on. Remember, we aren't trying to figure out if this is a faithful movie adaption with every single word and such there. We are trying to figure out if this movie has done the book justice, if it was as good as the book. If the quality of the movie itself isn't there, than all of the character and plot symmetry in the world won't save the movie. Basically, if the acting or dialogue is forced, or the stunts are super fake and exaggerated, then it won't be as good of a movie. Also, even if the movie's plot wasn't absolutely symmetrical with the book's plot, did the plot still fit the movie?
Those are my three criteria for judging a movie adaption of a novel. Below, I have three examples that I briefly speak about using each of these three criteria. One is a movie I don't think did the book justice (Beautiful Creatures), one is a movie that came close to doing the book justice, but didn't quite make it (Vampire Academy), and the final one is a movie that I think did the book justice (The Giver).
Example 1: Beautiful Creatures
For the most part, I thought the plot of the Beautiful Creatures movie followed along with the book well; many of the things that happened in the book happened in the movie, and in the same order. They upped the roles of some characters, such as Ethan's best friend, Link, and downplayed the roles of some characters, like Amma and Marion. The romance aspect of the movie moved along at a pace similar to that of the book. But the plot really changed at the end, partially due to Link's increased role. Honestly, I liked the way the book ended better. I also think that the way they ended Beautiful Creatures possibly messed up their chances of creating a sequel movie, at least one that followed the sequel to the book well.
The main characters like Ethan and Lena, as well as Macon and Amma, are pretty much the same, which is a good thing. Like I said above, some of the characters had their roles down and up played, which affected their portrayal, but for the most part, they were the same. There were a few characters who were cut out like Ryan, a member of Lena's family, and they completely changed the character of Larkin, Lean's cousin, so that he suited their ending. I didn't like this particularly, mostly because Larkin was a good character the way he was and I liked the ending to the book.
All in all, Beautiful Creatures was a fairly decent movie. The actors were good (except for those accents...), and they all resembled their characters from the book, especially Ethan and Lena. The special effects were really good. They didn't have too many stunts, which is a good thing because I think that the more stunts are in a movie, the higher the risk of those stunts looking obviously fake is. I get that the stunts are fake, but you want them to look believable. My biggest issue with the movie (besides the ending) is that I felt it amplified some of the clichés in the book, Beautiful Creatures (The book, not the movie).
Example 2: Vampire Academy
The plot of the movie followed along with the book really well. There were some changes, of course; for instance, the speech Lissa made at the end in front of the assembly, not to mention to Moroi queen, never appeared in the book, but I thought that it was especially useful in the movie because it helped deepen the themes of family and loyalty and such. This was really good for the movie because the book touched on many deep subjects such as depression and self harm that the movie skipped out on.
The characters in the movie were very close to those in the book, luckily. Christian, Lissa's love interest, was a bit more comical in the movie, but was largely the same. I think that the actors picked to cast the characters were excellent choices, and the portrayal of Mia was really good. I don't really have much to say here.
Vampire Academy was a good movie, no doubt about it. I thought Rose seemed a bit bratty, but she was that way in the book. The fight scenes, especially with the hand-to-hand combat were really good. I thought the quality of the hand-to-hand combat was very close to that off the combat in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The actors were good, as was the action. THe plot flowed smoothly and the characters fit in well. In the end, I don't think that the movie Vampire Academy did the book justice, mostly because of the way they skipped out on some of the deeper themes from the book and instead played up the romance and the action a bit.
Example 3: The Giver
The Giver is one of those rare movies where the plot of the movie is almost completely symmetrical with the plot of the book; very surprising considering the fact that they added a character and gave him a major role, but I'll get to him in a second. For the most part, however, the movie's plot was almost identical to the plot of the book. Many elements of the original themes of the book were in the movie as well.
The movie's characters were very much the characters from the book. Way back in the post, when I was explaining my criteria for judging this movies, I said that there are occasions where the characters of a movie are older than those in the book, and I listed The Giver as one of these movies; the characters in the movie are three or four years older than they were in the book, but I didn't mind it. Like I said in the section above, they added a character to the movie (Asher) and gave him an important role; I was surprised at how well Asher fit into the movie and kept the plot so similar. Fiona's role was also inflated for the movie.
Let me say that The Giver is one of my favorite movies ever. I'm not going to pretend that it was some amazing, awe-inspiring cinematic masterpiece, but it was close. The plot and characters were incredible. The actors who were picked were really good; this is the first movie I saw Jeff Bridges in, and he's the whole reason I went to see the movie Seventh Son. Each scene blended together smoothly, and the way that time advanced was shown well. In the end, I think that The Giver did justice to the book.
So, there you have it. My three criteria for judging a book based off a movie. If you want to see how I would put all of this together, then you can read my review of Seventh Son on Moviepilot. Something worth remembering when you watch a movie based off a book is that a movie adaptation does not have to be completely and utterly faithful to do the book justice; yes, it helps and some of the better movie adaptations are those that stayed true to the source material, but it's still entirely possible that a movie adaption can stray from the book and still be do said book justice.