Thoughtful Thursday: Cinemutation

Few things have filled my heart with as much dread as watching this video:

The thought that they were going to turn my beloved Where the Wild Things Are into a feature length movie scared me. How were they possibly going to capture the sense of wonder and magic that pervades the few short pages of the story and not completely destroy it by stretching it to over ninety minutes?

This is a problem that is regularly faced by readers: What do you do when a favorite book is mutated into something unrecognizable as it arrives at the local cinema? I have been trying to think of any movie that has lived up to the book. The recent adaptations of the Narnia books have been close, though I had issues with the actor playing Prince Caspian, but there has never been a movie that got it perfect. And of course, my perfect isn’t your perfect, which leads to a whole ‘nother set of problems.

So, beloved readers, is there any fantasy movie that has lived up to the book for you or one that has spectacularly failed to do so? And, assuming the technology existed for the perfect adaptation of a book to a movie, what fantasy movie would you most like to see at a theater near you?

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RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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  1. I’ve read a good article on the background behind making “Where the Wild Things Are”–I think it could end up quite good. The studio tried to change it (“it doesn’t have a plot, oh my god!”), but the director stuck to the author’s vision (as best he could, anyway).

    “The Golden Compass” and every single Harry Potter film has been a disappointment to me. I’ve only seen the recent “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” but that also seemed like a pretty good adaptation. I also thought that the Lord of the Rings films were a pretty good adaptation of Tolkien’s vision by Jackson.

    If I could have a perfect adaptation? Rothfuss’s “The Name of the Wind.”

  2. I really hope they manage to make a good adaptation of WTWTA. And I agree with you on Harry Potter. They have succeeded to varying degrees on their own as movies, but none of them have lived up to the books. I read The Golden Compass just to see what the fuss was about, but I didn’t see the movie.

  3. I dunno about movies I’ve enjoyed aside from the LotR movies (but I didn’t like the books) and the HP movies after the first two, which were utterly horrendous. I thought the recent version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was good, but I had some major issues with how they changed Prince Caspian.
    I will say I’m utterly dreading the movie version of The Lightning Thief. I saw a trailer, which was terrible. And the cast–they’re almost entirely way, way too old for their parts. Like the woman playing Annabeth…it’s ridiculous.
    If you could assure they’d be perfect, though, then definitely The Unicorn Chronicles by Bruce Coville, and both the Song of the Lioness and The Immortals quartets by Tamora Pierce would be my choice.
    (Actually, come to think, I really loved the anime of Howl’s Moving Castle, even if it was really different from the book.)

  4. The LOTR movies have been excellent.
    The HP movies have been good (later ones are better), but they leave out a lot (books are so long). I have not seen the last one yet, but I heard one of my colleagues complaining about it yesterday.

    My fantasy fantasy movie: hmmmm…..
    I think doing Roger Zelazny’s Amber books as a series would be cool. Also, Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood books. A fun adventure would be Janny Wurts’ To Ride Hell’s Chasm — it’s fast-paced and intense and there are some horror elements that would do nicely on screen.

  5. Way back when, this used to be a family dinner table discussion topic revolving around the casting of a book called Heroes of Zara Keep by Guy Gregory. The one I’d love to see Cinemutated is the Mage World series, but I don’t know if Space Opera counts. It would have to be a mini-series at the very least.

    The worst thing ever? Dune. It should have been called Selected Scenes based on the novel. If they’d only had the time and budget to do it right.

    I think a lot or urban fantasy lends itself to filming.

  6. I’m approaching Where the Wild Things Are the same way I approach most movies based on books. I know the book will be better – it always is – but I’m hopeful that it’ll be good.
    I liked the LOTR movies okay. They did a pretty good job. The HP movies I’ve enjoyed, though of course the books are way better and the latest couple seemed to be missing a lot of things I felt were important.
    It is really disappointing when they change the book, but I’ve found that if I go into it knowing that book will always be better I find I’m not heartbroken about it.

  7. Rebekah Moench /

    The worst movie based off a book that I have read Twilight. The acting was horrible and they botched so much stuff. Second worst, Eragon.
    The Lord of the Rings movies were actually really well done. Of course I am talking about the Extended 3+hour Editions. That Pete Jackson was able to get so many amazing actors, new and old, and that they worked together so well made the movies incredible; sure there was stuff left out and not everything was explained but it would have taken two movies for each book. Also the movies V for Vendetta and Watchmen, while based on comic books written by Alan Moore, were very well cast and stuck closely to the books.
    I would love to see a good production of the Alana of Trebond series or even the Beka Cooper books (also by Pierce). The Mageworld Series would be another series that would be amazing if done correctly as well as Blue Moon Rising by Simon Green. There are so many books that I would love to see on the big screen but there are so many that would never live up to the books no matter what.
    And Beth, I loved the Howl’s Moving Castle animation movie even though it didn’t follow the book very closely.

  8. Totally agree on The Golden Compass. The movie stopped right before what should have been the final scene; I can only guess it was because they thought audiences would want a nice happy ending. And what I found funny was that, in the Kate Bush song during the closing credits, the lyrics were something like “two worlds collide around her,” except the two worlds never got the chance to collide because of the point where they chose to stop.

    I also hated the 2-part miniseries adaptation of Mists of Avalon. I felt like the miniseries’ ending completely changed the meaning of the story.

    I’ve enjoyed the Harry Potter movies, to varying degrees. I thought the third one had the worst cuts. It was beautifully shot, but I have no idea how anyone could follow it without having read the book.

    I’ve heard a Good Omens movie is in the works. On the one hand, I know I’ll go see it, but on the other hand, I don’t know how they’ll capture all of the awesomeness of the book, given how much of the humor comes from the way Gaiman and Pratchett describe things.

  9. Good Omens as a movie? I have absolutely no idea how that would work. You’re right that most of the humor is not the action, it’s the writing style. It did make me think of the recent movie adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which was decent. I thought using Stephen Fry as the voice of the Guide was inspired casting. Who better than Jeeves to tell you to not panic?

    And Sarah, now I’m going to have to go hunt down a copy of Heroes of Zara Keep somewhere. I haven’t read that in forever, but you’re right in that it could be a really good movie. Or it could just be another Krull.

  10. Well you did say it would be done perfectly, so I think Heroes would be ok under those conditions. Dealing with Dragons might be a fun one to see filmed if they could get it perfect.

  11. Since I go into adaptations of books with very low expectations (any books–not just fantasy), meeting my expectations is a relatively low bar (though it’s amazing how few do). The first two LOTR movies were pretty damn good, though and may be the pinnacle of fantasy in my mind (his handling of Denathor and Faramir in 3 though, don’t get me started). And as has been mentioned–we’re talking the extended versions here–one of the few cases where deleted scenes shouldn’t have been deleted. Watchmen was also a pleasant surprise, also the long version (hmm, perhaps there’s the requirement? Length?) Harry Potter? The 3rd book was the best, as was the movie.
    Some non-epic ones: Edward Scissorhands-delectable. Time Bandits–so quotable. Groundhog Day (somehow I can watch it again and again) Princess Bride (tell me you’ve never said “Hello, my name is . . . ) Oh no–this is turning into a morass–it’s the same damn “what is fantasy” question all over again. Wings of Desire. Great movie. . . .
    Ok my head will explode. Movies I’d like to see? Erikson would be amazing. Mistborn would be fun. Donaldson. Belgariad. Friedman Crown of Shadows. Weirdstone of Brisingamen just for the scene at the column/pillar. Prydain for oh so many scenes. McCaffery (I know, I know–sci-fi). Riddlemaster of Hed. Head now exploding . . .

  12. rebecca /

    “Earthsea” was possibly the most horried mini-series adaptation ever seen, and even Ursula le Guin flat-out said she hated it. The most awful part was the fact that they cast white actors for characters that were specifically and obviously described in the book as having copper coloured skin. It goes beyond racism and into “just plain embarrassing for all involved” to think that producers still think that their target audiences are only interested in watching white people on the screen (the same thing is happening in the casting for the adaptation of “Avatar: the Last Airbender.” You’d think a character called “Aang” would be…oh, I don’t know…ASIAN?! But according to Hollywood, he’s white, despite his name, beliefs, food, appearance, writing, culture and clothing.

    If I could have the perfect film adaptation of Meredith Anne Pierce’s “The Darkangel,” I’d die happy. Perhaps directed by Alfonso Cuaron or Guillermo del Toro…

  13. I think I would watch the phone book if Guillermo del Toro adapted it into a movie.

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