What makes a good movie adaptation?
Book adaptation has always been a popular genre of film. Creating an adaptation that satisfies fans of the books, however, can be very challenging to achieve since everyone wants and expects different things from that movie. But there are certain elements in movie adaptations of books that anyone can appreciate. For example, to create a successful book-to-movie adaptation, taking as many of the book’s well-loved elements as possible and then combining these with captivating visuals and quality acting. Another example is that a book must be popular enough to be adapted into a movie, to ensure that many people will want to see it. Last but not least, you cannot go wrong in staying faithful to the source material as much as possible, as many of the negative reviews of movies adapted from books complain about this exact thing. Now, why don’t we look at two different examples of this:
Persuasion (2022): What NOT to do
Firstly let’s start with the topic of the book, then we’ll move on to how the book and movie differ. Persuasion, Jane Austen’s last completed novel, was published in 1817. Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth fell in love when they were young, but Anne's parents would not let her marry Mr. Wentworth because of his lack of wealth, so they left. Eight years later, timid but smart Anne receives the news that Mr. Wentworth is back in town. This time, not as a regular man but as a rich, navy captain who has made his fortune and who is still the kind gentleman he was eight years ago. Anne’s family rents their home to an Admiral and his wife. The wife’s brother is none other than Captain Wentworth, and under such circumstances, the two lovers meet again, both single and unattached. This book is all about longing, second chances, and the reawakening of love.
Some of the differences between the book and the movie:
- The tone of the novel is melancholic yet hopeful. This is one of Austen’s more serious books even though her sarcastic and quick-witted comments are evident throughout.
- The tone of the movie is optimistic and quirky. It doesn’t have the melancholic feeling that the book has.
- In the novel, Anne Elliot is an introverted, shy, timid, and loving older sister. She doesn’t speak about her feelings to others very often.
- Whereas in the movie, she is unquestionably more extroverted and outspoken. We won't mention the constant fourth wall break which could have been done successfully if the Netflix version of Anne was loyal to the book version of Anne.
- In the novel, when the doom hits, she prefers to suffer in silence and keep her emotions under the surface as she did when she and Captain Wentworth were forced to go their separate ways before their paths crossed again unexpectedly eight years later.
- In the movie, Anne, instead of bottling up her emotions, lets them all out; she drinks to forget and collapses on her bed. She has no problem expressing her emotions or actions whatsoever.
- In the novel, Anne and Captain Wentworth tend to keep most of their thoughts to themselves as they don't know whether the other still has feelings for them. This makes the climactic scene towards the end of the novel, much more impactful.
- In the movie, the characters confront each other and talk about their feelings more openly. Plus the letter is cut short.
- In the novel, unsurprisingly, the use of language was more complex and sophisticated.
- In the movie the language is anachronistic and very modernized. In the book, the departure of Anne and Mr. Wentworth was described as: "There could have never been two hearts so open, no tastes so similar, no feelings so in unison, no countenances so beloved. Now they were as strangers; nay, worse than strangers, for they could never become acquainted. It was a perpetual estrangement." The movie adapted this with Anne saying, "we are worse than strangers, we are exes." (spoilers ahead for the movie and the book)
- In the novel, Mr. Elliot mocks the Elliot family years before insinuating himself into their lives, he ruins a friend financially, and then refuses to help that friend’s widow access her late husband’s assets.
- In the movie, he’s a charming flirt who can be considered comic relief. He is more of an obstacle than an actual villain as the novel portrays him to be.
Up to this point, we have talked about how different the movie is compared to the book in almost every aspect that can affect how someone who has previously read the book views the movie. In conclusion, if you are an Austen fan this movie might not be your cup of tea. But we want to add that if you watched and enjoyed the movie we are happy for you and wish we could too! The ideas we have discussed should not get in the way of you enjoying the Netflix movie, Persuasion.
Emma (2020): Do this instead
This book was published in December 1815, with its title page listing a publication date of 1816. This was Jane Austen's last published book before her death. As the opening lines of the novel tell us: "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her." The heroine of our book is convinced that she will not marry, even though she believes she is naturally gifted in "love matches" after match-making between her governess and a village widower results in them getting married. After finding herself a new friend, Harriet Smith, she decides to find an eligible match for her dear friend as well, which she quickly does; but in doing so, she persuades Harriet to reject a proposal from another man with whom Harriet was already acquainted and interested in. Mr. Knightley, who has been a beloved friend and neighbor of Emma and her father for a long time, confronts her about this and says that what she has done may have negative consequences, especially on Harriet’s character. As usual, what he says comes true and things start to fall apart. Even though she may not be at the top of Austen’s most "likable" main characters, Emma means well and thinks she is doing the best for everyone, but she forgets that everyone knows themselves the best and has different needs - a lesson she learns later, and she tries hard to make up for her wrongdoings.
In the latest take on Jane Austen’s well-loved novel, Emma, the movie mostly stays loyal to the original and even explores some of the themes a bit more. Like every other movie, this one also sometimes differs from the original, but most of the changes are included in order to modernize the adaptation for the 21st-century audience - something that the Netflix adaptation of Persuasion tried to do as well! The changes that were made for the purposes of modernization are barely noticeable and the movie still captures the tone of the novel.
(once again, spoilers ahead for the movie and the book)
So let’s talk about some of these differences:
Emma and Harriet’s friendship and class dynamics: The two are considerably closer and more open with each other compared to in the book. In the movie, Emma and Mr. Knightley decide that they must persuade Robert Martin - the farmer Emma thought that Harriet was too good for - to propose to Harriet a second time. She even decides to go to Mr. Martin’s house to admit her wrongdoings. She is humbled, once again, after Harriet comes to Emma’s house to announce that she has finally found her birth father through a letter that was sent to her by him. Harriet explains that her father is apparently not a wealthy gentleman like Emma thought, but a galoshes-maker. Emma tells Harriet that she and her father are welcome anytime in her home, Hartfield, and with that, the two become close friends once again. In the book, she does not go to Mr. Martin’s house to apologize to him and she hears about Harriet’s engagement to Robert Martin secondhand. Even though Emma and Harriet make up in the book, they slowly drift apart, with one of the main reasons for this being that they are now officially in different classes.
Mr. Knightley: "The book Mr. Knightley" is a very mature, compassionate man who serves as a moral mentor for Emma. Even though this isn’t a bad thing, it might come across as a bit bossy and stale for modern audiences. "Movie Mr. Knightley" also isn’t afraid to give Emma a "reality check" every chance he gets, but his demeanor feels more like a worrying, caring lover than an older brother or father-figure. In the book, we don’t really get to see Mr. Knightley’s vulnerable internal conflicts, feelings, and thoughts until his declaration of love to Emma towards the end of the book. This brings us to:
Mr. Knightley’s proposal and Emma’s reaction to it: The scene where Mr. Knightley opens up to Emma about his feelings for her is nearly exactly as it is in the novel, right down to the line, "If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more." The book has a humorous take on how Emma responds to his feelings, but there is no coyness about her answer onscreen. In the movie, after Mr. Knightley opens his heart to her, "movie Emma" does something that "book Emma" does not: her nose starts bleeding. She gets a nosebleed because of the news she has just received from Mr. Knightley and an overdose of emotions; this humanizes Emma and shows us a little of the messy side of love. It also adds a bit of humor which is often seen in Austen's works. Side note: the nosebleed was not in the script; Anya Taylor-Joy’s nose started bleeding in the middle of filming, so they decided to film the scene like that.
Change in power and gender dynamics: In the book, Mr. Knightley is 16 years older than her. Large age-gap marriages were considered normal back in Jane Austen’s time, in the 19th century, but this is perhaps not as common in the 21st century. So, in the movie, as Mr. Knightley is 20-something years old and his sincere, slow-burning desire for Emma does not seem out of blue, which it was in the book, makes it more palatable for modern viewers.
The movie extracts all the good elements from the book and modernizes some of these for the audience without disrespecting the original. Plus, this is one of the most beautifully shot movies - you could pause any second of the movie and use it as a desktop wallpaper. We’ll leave the movie’s trailer down below to let you decide for yourself. The tone of these two books (Persuasion and Emma) are very different from each other, with Persuasion being one of the most serious and emotional novels by Austen so it feels unnatural that the movie adaptation is almost completely the opposite of the original. On the other hand, Emma is one of her more cheerful and satirical books which leaves plenty of room for comedy.
Why do people care so much about whether movies or TV series stay true to their original sources?
If a movie or a series adapted from a book changes major details or plot points, this makes people disassociate from it or feel disappointed by these adaptations Nevertheless, it is inevitable that some things will be changed but this should not mean the movie or series should lose its soul, and they should remember the book’s ambiance, characters, places, plot points, ideas, etc. If the changes are minor and appeal to the people who have read the book first then complaints will be less than for a series that only wants to profit from the book’s name or a movie that wants to do the same and hit the box office. This is a world in which money talks, yes, but like everything else, these actions have consequences as well. It's only natural to want to watch a movie or series that has stayed true to the original - the book that we grew up with or simply enjoyed a lot. If the additions or changes in the movie or series do not add any depth, many people will not want them included. The same applies to a movie or a series that is a sequel to the original. However, it's not always major changes that bother some people. There has been some controversy surrounding both Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, which are both sequels to their original: the first one being a movie, the second one being a TV show. (We won’t be discussing why people might dislike these sequels, story-wise, we're going to talk about minor details that don't change the storyline). What bothers some people about the upcoming The Lord of the Rings TV series is that, as seen in the trailer, there will be black elves. The reason some people are upset by this is that they may see it as "forced diversity" and "woke nonsense" or the fact that, in the original movies, all of the actors and actresses were white and they don’t see why this has to change, even though J.R.R Tolkien never explicitly mentioned that the human-like creatures were white. Last time we checked, one of the movie series we’re talking about is about a faraway galaxy with lightyear traveling, space pirates, aliens, and lightsabers, and the other is about Hobbits, elves, orcs and a cursed ring that can turn you into someone like Gollum if you wear it for far too long. So, it's interesting to see some people thinking that a female Stormtrooper and a black person are the most unrealistic and shocking elements in these settings.
Some movies that are well-loved even though they didn’t stay true to their sources:
1. Originally a book published in 1986, and written by Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle was adapted into a movie in 2004 by Hayao Miyazaki. The story is about a hatmaker called Sophie, who, one day, gets cursed by a spiteful witch. This curse turns Sophie into an old woman. She leaves the town only to come across a walking castle and the wizard that lives in it. He also seems to be the only one that can change her back. This movie changed many of the themes but did it so pleasingly. Here are some of the differences:
- Howl’s Castle: Howl’s Castle is described more simply in the book as a "large, intimidating fortress that glides over the earth," compared to the movie’s steampunk-inspired castle. Nevertheless, it doesn't differ much, compared to:
- Howl’s character: The movie Howl is more complex, romantic, and caring and he fights in a war; whereas the book Howl is portrayed as more selfish, annoying, and childish. Even though the movie may differ substantially from the book in some ways, Howl is still a dramatic man who thinks life isn’t worth living if he has the wrong hair dye.
- (spoiler) Sophie’s character: she’s more mature, calm, and insecure in the movie; whereas, in the book, she’s more angry and outspoken, and, later in the book, she learns that she, herself, is a witch but in the movie, she is an ordinary human like the rest of us.
2. Amy Heckerling’s 1995 high school comedy-drama Clueless, is a very loose adaptation of the original. For example, the book takes place during the Regency Era whereas the movie is set in the 1990s. It almost feels like it just took some inspiration from the novel, rather than being an adaptation of it. Instead of just giving away the answer, we’re going to give you some time to guess the source. So, let’s talk about the topic of the movie a little bit (bear in mind that the characters have different names in the movie and the book): Cher is a beautiful, confident young girl who lives a luxurious life in her mansion and is a popular, respected student at her high school. She has an older friend named Josh who her father likes and approves of. One day, a new student comes to school. Cher decides to take her under her wings as the girl looks confused about a lot of things. The new student doesn’t come from a wealthy family and wasn't a popular or confident girl at her previous school, but after spending some time with the school’s princess, Cher, she starts to think she rules the school. Another student named Christian piques Cher’s interest, and she decides to spend more time with him, even though Josh doesn’t seem to like him. Did we mention that Cher likes match-making and thinks that she knows what's best for everyone? We don't want to give away any spoilers, so we'll stop here and give you the answer to this question: The adaptation’s original source is none other than Jane Austen’s Emma! If you watched this movie adaptation and liked it, we think you'll also enjoy Bridget Jones’ Diary, if you haven’t already seen it!
Why do movies or series change so much from the book/original source?
"Why are most movies different from the books/original source," has long been a question for many of us. Here are some of the reasons:
- Production values can get in the way.
- Movies naturally have a limited amount of time. So some plot points may have to be skipped or shortened.
- Screen writers are usually different from the authors, so some details may get lost in translation. Therefore, production can get in the way.