Still Talkin’ Adaptations… and Dawn Mooney from 5 Minutes for Books Isn’t a Fan.

by | Jul 29th, 2010 | 10:13AM | Filed under: In My Humble Opinion, Interviews, Movies, Other Bits, Redbox Focus

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!

And remember that if you’re a Twitterer (is that a word?), you can follow 5 Minutes for Books at… or if you’re a Facebook-er (now I KNOW that can’t be a word), they’re there, too.

8 Responses to “Still Talkin’ Adaptations… and Dawn Mooney from 5 Minutes for Books Isn’t a Fan.”

  1. morninglight mama
    Posted on July 29, 2010 at 10:46 am

    Oh dear lord, is nothing sacred in this world?? I had to click over and read the article on The Catcher in the Rye… and I may not be a praying person, but I’ve got every ounce of my soul hoping that this never goes through!!

    Thanks Erika for the opportunity to chat about a topic on which I have a slight opinion or two. (And you can send that therapist’s info any time now.) :)

  2. Sparky
    Posted on July 29, 2010 at 10:59 am

    OK this is a little over the top saying no book should ever be made into a movie.

    There are only so many basic stories that books will always be made into movies.

    People go nuts when they re-make a movie, now were not going to make books into movies?

    A movie will never be as nuanced as a book, but it may cause some to read the book. Being busy I do not get to read that often, but movies have lead me to certain books. Hunt for Red October got me to read Tom Clancy and I read all of the Jack Ryan Series and Mjor spin-offs. Same thing for Harry Potter. The books are much more involved and better. If the movie keeps the major elements then its OK. It actually helps me appreciate the nuances of the books better.

    It’s all about expectation management. In the Half Blood Prince they took out the entire last major battle. I was disappointed but it did not ruin the entire movie, for some it did.

    Done rambling.

  3. Jennifer@5 Minutes for Books
    Posted on July 29, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    I think that Holden COULD be on screen! He could! Although honestly, I don’t know that it would make for a very interesting movie.

    And I remember when we read Les Miserables together and I said I liked the movie, and you almost had a conniption fit. . . . When I watched it again, I did see your point, although I still like it :)

  4. Christine
    Posted on July 29, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    Great interview, Dawn!

    I think adaptations are okay (when well done), but people should have to prove they’ve already read the book before they’re allowed see the movie.

  5. Lauren@BaseballsandBows
    Posted on July 29, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    Great interview! I actually like the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, but it’s a good example of why most movies aren’t as good as the books. It takes at least 6 hours of film to create a decent adaptation; otherwise, too much is changed or left out!

  6. dianalrosa
    Posted on July 29, 2010 at 6:22 pm

    Ok,Dawn, if it makes you feel better, now I have to go and pick a copy of The Time Traveler’s Wife. I found the movie so-so, I’m hoping the book to do pleeeenty better.

  7. Locke Peterseim
    Locke Peterseim
    Posted on August 2, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    I think where people get hung up is they try to compare the EXPERIENCE of reading a book to the EXPERIENCE of watching a movie. The two are clearly very different, they fire up different parts of the brain, create different mental states, convey different amounts of information and tell stories and create characters differently. I’ve been both a book and movie lover all my life, so my allegiances fall right in the middle.

    Obviously I feel really great movies can be made from books, whether those movies are faithful a little or a lot to their source material. I get that people, esp die-hard readers or hard-core fans of a particular novel, are frustrated when what’s on the screen doesn’t match what was in their heads when they read. I get that Hollywood makes a lot of bad movies based on books, but news flash: Hollywood makes a lot of bad movies period. Doesn’t matter if they’re original or based on books, plays, comic books, TV shows, or Saturday morning cartoons.

    Sorry, I love books, I have an apartment completely and totally overrun by them. But they aren’t delicate, sacred flowers–in fact some of them are kinda bad, too. I’m all for any sort of cinematic expression based on, stealing from, altering or distorting whatever sources make for the best FILM. Remember, Shakespeare stole nearly ALL his plots from existing sources.

    Take a look at the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest Films lists. If you say no movies from books, then you would not have any of the following films (and these are just American films):

    The Godfather, Gone with the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, The Wizard of Oz, The Graduate, Schindler’s List, The Bridge on the River Kwai, All About Eve, The African Queen, Psycho, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Grapes of Wrath, The Maltese Falcon, Apocalypse Now, High Noon, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Best Years of Our Lives, Double Indemnity, Doctor Zhivago, A Clockwork Orange, Jaws, From Here to Eternity, All Quiet on the Western Front, MASH, Vertigo, Stagecoach, The Silence of the Lambs, The Manchurian Candidate, Shane, The French Connection, Forrest Gump, Ben-Hur, Wuthering Heights, Giant, Frankenstein, Patton, A Place in the Sun, The Lord of the Rings, Cabaret, The Shawshank Redemption, In the Heat of the Night, All the President’s Men, Spartacus, Sophie’s Choice, The Last Picture Show, Blade Runner.