I love the books, but really don't care for the film versions. The last time I tried to watch Part V (Order of the Angst), Momz and I eventually just shut it off and referred to it as an "ordeal." I don't want to watch a movie that makes me fight to stay awake through every moment unless it stars Charlton Heston and something is made out of people.
Here's my take: the people who have made the Harry Potter movies are afraid of backlash from the audience, who will criticize any detail that is not exactly like the book. I used to be one of those people myself before I understood a basic truth: film and written fiction are two completely different art forms, therefore different techniques will be used to tell the same story in each.
(True story: When whats-his-name was making the film version of Rosemary's Baby, he called the author (Ira Levin?) and asked him about a reference that was made in the book to a shirt Rosemary said she bought for her husband that was "in The New Yorker." The director wanted to know what issue, what brand shirt it was, etc. Levin said, "I don't know, I made it up.")
Take the Twilight series. (You knew I was going there, don't judge me.) The first movie was not great, as it tried very hard to include every hokey line of dialogue that might work in print but would never sound right to the ear if spoken aloud. The second movie was a big improvement. The third movie was actually pretty good as they focused more on telling a story and less on making every fanatic in the world happy about including their favorite line. (I'll also say it: I think the film version of Eclipse had a lot of improvements over the book in terms of narrative flow and plot, but that is part of the limitation of writing a book with a first-person narrator, particularly one as self-centered and self-analytical as Bella. I told you I was high at the beginning of this.)
For me, the best book-to-film adaptations are the ones that preserve the essential feel of the story while not being afraid to make changes that make the story work better for film. Here, then, are some of my favorite book-to-film adaptations:
- Gone With the Wind: because Scarlett really only needed one child, right?
- Interview with the Vampire: Did you know Tom Cruise didn't even know he was in that movie until a year later?
- Carrie: I love a movie in which teenagers don't take themselves too seriously, except the one who slaughters the entire town with the force of her mind.
- The Princess Bride: If you've never read this book, you should. It was written by the guy who also wrote the movie, but there's some great satire there that doesn't translate to film at all and, bless him, he didn't try.
- Rebecca/Jane Eyre: Aren't these really the same movie? All I can say is, Joan Fontaine's nostrils are magnificent.
So, I hope that is a lesson to all of you aspiring screenwriters/directors out there. If you're adapting existing material, don't be afraid to change it up a bit, make it your own.
And stay off the painkillers. Makes it difficult to write a coherent weasel got in the corn.