Yesterday I had a great time talking about children’s book and young adult novel adaptations with Jennifer Donovan, the managing editor of 5 Minutes for Books. Today I gabbed with another member of the 5 Minutes for Books team, staff reviewer Dawn Mooney. One thing that Dawn and I have in common is that The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger ranks among our favorite books of all time. Dawn had her husband take a picture of her as she went into the theater to see the big-screen version of the tale — that’s the shot to the right. As you might remember, I had such low expectations for the film (which is still in redbox kiosks) that I ended up being pleasantly surprised. As for Dawn… well, let’s just say that Dawn wasn’t quite as forgiving. She wrote a no-holds-barred take on director Robert Schwentke’s adaptation, which is why I knew we’d have a blast discussing the pros and cons of Hollywood’s ongoing attempts to bring books to life on the silver screen.
Welcome, Dawn! So tell me: In general, do you think it’s a good thing when books are made into movies? What are the positives… and what are the negatives?
I like that you’ve started off with an easy one. Simple answer: no, I don’t think it’s a good idea at all. Don’t get me wrong, I love both movies and books, but they’re just two very, very different media, and I’m of the opinion that it’s better in the long run if they just stay separate and entertain us, each in their own respective manner. I guess, if you twisted my arm, I could admit that a little positive could potentially come out of a movie adaptation of a book, if it leads more people to pick up the book and read! And since so many significant changes or omissions usually make their way into the movie, picking up the book is typically the best move anyway.
Well, I can’t say I’m surprised by your answer. Redblog readers, allow me to magnify the shirt Dawn’s wearing in the picture above and you’ll understand what I mean.
First off, that is one of the best message tees I’ve ever had the pleasure of laying eyes on. (If any readers want one for themselves, you can try to nab one at Threadless.) But Dawn, you must realize that adaptations are clearly here to stay whether we like it or not. So what are some of the best adaptations? And the worst?
Oooh oooh, this one is even easier, at least when it comes to the worst. Hands down, the release of Les Miserables in 1998 marked the most awful movie adaptation of a piece of literature, and I’m pretty sure that Victor Hugo screamed in horror from somewhere in the afterlife. Ask my husband about the moment he was most annoyed with me in our 16-year relationship, and I’ll bet our date to see this movie in the theater will rank in the top three because of my constant angry sighing and irate grumblings for practically the entire 134 minutes. Changing the core characteristics of some main players and a halfhearted portrayal of one of the deepest, most meaningful characters in all of literature ever made this the absolute worst movie I’ve ever seen.
Best adaptation is a tough question, because if you haven’t picked up on it yet, I’m a pretty tough critic. I do have to give props, though, to 1962’s To Kill a Mockingbird. ImPECKcable acting (get it??) and a commitment to staying true to the original story led this to be an overwhelmingly adored adaptation of an equally well-esteemed novel.
Oddly enough, there was a recent movie adaptation of a book that marked a first for me– loved the movie but pulled my hair out while forcing myself to finish the book. No offense Walter Kirn, but Jason Reitman’s screenplay took some of your basic ideas and created a much different and incredibly more enjoyable story and likable characters in Up in the Air.
Are there any novels that haven’t been made into films yet that you would actually like to see acted out on the big screen?
Nope, and let me say this, please. Hey Hollywood, leave my favorite books alone, especially!! (I can’t respond to these questions without mentioning my frustrations with last year’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, my absolute favorite novel, which left me less irate than Les Miserables, but still upset that there would be people who only experienced the story first imagined by Audrey Niffenegger through the movie adaptation, and who would subsequently miss the depth of such a unique and heart-wrenching love story. And don’t even get me started with that ridiculous ending. Ugh.)
Ah, I see you are still smarting from the memory of Henry and Clare’s love affair playing out a tad differently on the big screen. Did I mention that I know a good therapist? Anywhoo…. now, even though it’s been established that you are NOT a fan of adaptations overall, the fact remains that you can’t stop them from being made. So what’s most important to you when a book is transformed into a movie? The casting? Sticking to the story? Something else?
Well, call me a purist if you must, but when the moviemakers switch up the story elements, I get frustrated. Ideally, I’d want the core of the story to stay the same, but most importantly, I look for characters who, at their hearts, jump from the page to the screen with consistency. As a big consumer of children’s books as well, I understand the necessity to create content to turn a book, especially a picture book, into 90 minutes of film, but that problem is just not usually present for adult novels, so stick to the original content!
I’m with you there. OK, I’ve got one last question for you, and I forbid you from answering “All of them.” Here we go: Are there certain books that you consider sacred when it comes to adaptations? Something you would just cringe if you heard was going to be given the Hollywood treatment?
Having recently read it for the third time in my life for my book club, I can honestly say that I would be tempted to give up movies all together if Hollywood ever got their hands on The Catcher in the Rye. No one, and I mean no one, should ever portray Holden, in all his self-absorbed angst, on screen. Ever.
I definitely say, “Amen to that, sista!” Let’s keep our fingers crossed that it never happens. (Psst… redblog readers, help me make sure that Dawn never sees this article, OK?)
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk books and movies with me, Dawn!
If you like what Dawn had to say, be sure to check out her posts at 5 Minutes for Books, as well as her personal blog, My Thoughts Exactly. Last month she launched a product review site, MTE Reviews, and on top of all that, she also writes for DC Metro Moms. Just like Jennifer before her, Dawn is making me feel lazy, dammit!