If It Ain’t Book, Don’t Fix It!

Books vs. movies: the never-ending debate. The clear answer to this is that if the movie stays true to the original story, the winner is the audience.

Pradyoth Velagapudi, Managing Editor

Book to movie adaptations. The movies where people are bound to comment that movie was not as good as the book or that the character’s hair is different. I usually look at the movie adaptation not as the same story as the book, but as a standalone portrayal of a similar, but different story; still, I can’t help but think of all the differences between the books and the movies. Sometimes they’re good changes, like leaving Tom Bombadil out of the “Lord of the Rings” movies (that was a good call). Sometimes they’re bad changes, like leaving Locke and Demosthenes out of the “Ender’s Game” movie (I know it’s a complicated parallel plotline, but it’s still really cool). But no matter how they affect the story, I think that the subtle (and not-so-subtle) differences between books and movies, and the reasons behind them, are interesting.

First, let’s look at the differences between a long-beloved Roald Dahl book and its movie counterpart, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” The original movie adaptation of this book (“Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”) was amazing, with Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka (although I think the creepy cave scene was way too long). The 2005 remake (“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”)  however, was not up to the mark. In my opinion, this is mainly because the whimsicality and slight undertones of creepiness in the book are traded out for a sterile, laboratory-like environment with a very outright mad Wonka (Johnny Depp). The result is not nearly as fun. The same thing affects Willy Wonka as a character; partly because they cast Johnny Depp in the role, which I think was a big mistake. Just because a character is slightly wonky in the head (see what I did there?) doesn’t mean Depp has to play them. Don’t get me wrong—I think Depp is a wonderful actor. I just don’t think he was the best choice for this character. Willy Wonka is, as I said before, more eccentric than mad. Honestly, I think Arnold Schwarzenegger would make a better Willy Wonka; at least his accent would distract the audience from the horrible makeover they gave the Oompa-Loompas.

Another movie adaptation that I think suffers from too much Depp (and in this case, Tim Burton, too) is the 2010 live-action “Alice in Wonderland.” Again, the book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll is a very whimsical, nonsensical story, with absurd and over-the-top characters, and also plays with philosophical and logical concepts and ideas, like whether or not you can take more of something if you haven’t taken any already. Of course Burton just had to try and creepify everything fun about this story, and turn Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Matt Lucas) into deformed CGI Humpty-dumptys. The basis for this story (I wouldn’t say plot—the book is just a bunch of random happenings) doesn’t even come from Carroll’s original book; the Jabberwocky comes from a short nonsense poem that Alice reads briefly in Carroll’s sequel, “Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There.”

The “Percy Jackson” movies, like “Alice in Wonderland,” weren’t similar at all to the books, which is fine by me—unless it ruins the movie, such as in the case of “Percy Jackson.” The entire plot of the first story is changed from trying to get to the Underworld to trying to find orbs so they can escape the Underworld once they’re there. I think that this makes their adventure seem less adventurous, and it doesn’t give off the same quest-y vibes as the book. The villain is also completely changed. In the movie, Hades is shown to have stolen Zeus’s lightning bolt—in the books, it was Luke, who gave the bolt to Ares, then pinned the blame on Hades. I think making Hades the real villain takes away from the surprise twist ending, because they suspected Hades for the entire film. That would be like making Draco Malfoy actually the one who opened the Chamber of Secrets, just because Harry thought he did. Also, if Hades took the lightning bolt, what is the point of revealing Luke to be evil? What does Luke even have to do with anything? I’m sorry, but this movie was completely hopeless (and don’t get me started on Annabeth’s hair color; it’s blonde, get it right, people!).

The “Hobbit” film series is another example of a movie destroying itself by straying too far from the books. They added an entire new parallel plotline, with Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), and Saruman (Christopher Lee) versus Benedict Cumberbatch—I mean Sauron, which I think takes away from the threat of Bilbo’s (Martin Freeman) and the Dwarves’ quest. They also invented a whole new conflict in order to have a third movie; the Battle of the Five Armies in the book was just a small skirmish that happened to happen because some orcs invaded after Bard (Luke Evans) killed Benedict Cumberbatch—I mean Smaug. In the movies, they made a huge deal about it, and turned it into a third movie; whether because they just wanted to make a trilogy, or they wanted to milk all of the money they could out of “Hobbit” fans. Either way, this is just unnecessary stretching of the story, and doesn’t need to be there.

In contrast, “The Hobbit”s counterpart stayed relatively true to the books. The “Lord of the Rings” movies were way better than the “Hobbit” films; and not just because they stayed truer to the books. Some changes they made from the books actually served to better the quality of the story. One such change was removing Tom Bombadil; that was definitely the best change they made, because he is a silly, poorly defined character that doesn’t really affect the story in any way. Another was making Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan) closer together, and turning them into troublemaker characters, akin to Fred and George Weasley. I think this adds a certain level of comic relief to the movies, and makes it more emotional when they are separated. Another change was removing the servant-master relationship from Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin), and making them just regular friends, which I think made their relationship more relevant to the audience.

Another display of good changes from books to movies is in the “Chronicles of Narnia” movies, most of the story is accurate to the book; however, there are some slight changes that I think made a big difference in the long run. For example, Father Christmas, or Santa (James Cosmo) is given a much smaller role in the “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” film than in the book, which I think is great; he seems like just a Bombadil-esque character. It does make it seem a little weirder when he’s in only one scene and not really mentioned by the White Witch, but it makes the overall story cleaner. Another change they made was blending Aslan the lion’s (Liam Neeson) death with Peter (William Moseley) being left as the only general of the Narnian army. In the book, Aslan tells Peter that he is going away, and Peter is left to make the decisions; Peter later finds out that Aslan died. In the movie, Aslan goes away without telling Peter, and when he is followed by Lucy and Susan, they witness Aslan’s death. Susan (Anna Popplewell) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) then send word to Peter that Aslan is dead, and Peter is the only leader. I think this makes for a much cleaner story, and makes Peter’s character development more apparent, as he suddenly realizes that he is to be the sole leader of the Narnian army.

Well, that got me worked up. Anyway, book to movie changes are what make movies, well, movies. They can’t keep every single detail of the books in a 1½ hour movie, so there are bound to be some changes. But in my opinion, when a book is popular enough for someone to be making a movie out of it, changing the entire feel and/or plot of the story might just take away the very thing that attracted audiences to the story in the first place. Basically, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!