A film can bring a beloved book to life, making visible what's only on the page or in the imagination. But even with the best of intentions, sometimes filmmakers miss the mark, and they make movie adaptations that are more enjoyable if you read the book. This is largely because books have hundreds of pages to provide context and backstory, and authors have the advantage of devoting significant time to character and story development. Screenwriters, however, have no such luxury; most of them have around 120 minutes, give or take, to compress an entire literary universe into a film that captures viewers' attention.
No story genre is immune from the difficulties of making the transition from page to screen, whether it's a young adult drama or sci-fi adventure. Fantasy and science-fiction novels, however, create unique challenges, because carefully crafted, complex worlds are everything. Filmmakers might be limited by budget constraints, often meaning huge, essential chunks of a complex story are cut. So for some movies, you need to read the book to understand what's happening.
Even if you love a particular movie, you might understand it better - and also enjoy it more - if you read the book in tandem with seeing the film.
Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass (AKA Northern Lights) has been hailed as a modern masterpiece of YA lit. But the 2007 film version misses the mark in some big ways. So significant, in fact, that many devoted fans of the book were left scratching their heads and wondering what happened to the rest of the movie.
Case in point: the daemons. In Pullman's novel, who and what daemons are is not revealed via pages of exposition; it only becomes evident through the action of the story. The movie takes a decidedly different tack: it tries to encapsulate the complex daemons into a few lines of early-in-the-film voiceover narration. Some vague narration also attempts to explain the story's complicated class system.
Based on Philip Reeve's novel, Mortal Engines was a tall order to fill from the beginning. Not only is the book a big hit with young adult readers, but it's also set in an unusually complex future dystopia. In this world, cities essentially become sentient creatures, devouring smaller cities to survive. Reeve called the process Municipal Darwinism.
The novel also features a complicated hierarchy of social classes and rules, not to mention in-depth character backstories. As a result, the movie version, co-written by Peter Jackson, confuses a lot of people. And the ending, instead of resolving anything, leaves viewers more perplexed.
The two Percy Jackson movies are drawn from Rick Riordan's series about an adolescent demigod and his friends as they embark on quests to save the world from evil. Because of the vibrantly drawn universe in Riordan's books, the movies suffer from oversimplifications and a watering-down of heroes and villains.
The film version also cast several high-profile actors to play the adult roles, significantly expanding them from what was in the original books. It did so, however, at the expense of the younger characters. This makes it difficult and confusing to cheer for the leads audiences are supposed to know and love.
Before Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events became a Netflix series, there was a film version. Starring Jim Carrey, the 2004 movie was a hit, but even its $209 million box office wasn't enough to earn a sequel. This means viewers never learn anything about the VFD: the Volunteer Fire Department, a secret society in which the kids become increasingly more involved after their first encounter with Count Olaf.
The VFD figures prominently in the kids' adventures as the books unfold. With that element missing from the movie, we only get a sampling of the epic stories. Luckily, the Netflix series gives this crucial plot point its due.