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Tolkien & Beyond: The Pitfalls of Fantasy Movie Adaptations

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Have you ever gotten excited to see the movie adaptation of your favorite novel, and then gotten disappointed when it didn’t live up to your expectations?  Well, this happens to a fantasy reader almost every time a fantasy novel is brought to Hollywood.  Unfortunately for Hollywood, fantasy and sci-fi fanatics are very hard to please.

Take, for instance, I, Robot by Isaac Asimov. The movie does keep the three fundamental Rules of Robotics, but the story in the movie doesn’t exist in the book.  The entire movie revolves around Will Smith and his suspicion of the robots.  The book, however, is a collection of short stories about robots and the people interacting with them.  Each story is an exploration of how the Rules of Robotics can backfire.  Hollywood took a collection of short stories and used only the fundamentals of it to make a thrilling tale of a man after revenge and robots turning against humans.

A series of movies that creates quite a bit of tension among hardcore fans is Harry Potter.  The filmmakers do try their hardest to stick to the essence of the stories, but they make a lot of mistakes.  Everyone was sure, with the first movie, that the movies would be faithful to the books.  But when Christopher Columbus stepped down from his post as director after the first film, the following directors just couldn’t seem to live up to the same standards.

Lord of the Rings and Narnia have also been Hollywood-ized, with certain scenes cut out, battle scenes elongated, and situations generally mixed up. For example, in Prince Caspian, the screenplay adaptation includes a romance between Susan and Caspian that never existed! And in Lord of the Rings, characters are switched around, and scenes are mixed up in the wrong order.

Most fantasy movie adaptations are made to try to attract all audiences, which means making longer battle scenes for the general male audience, and adding extra doses of romance for the general female audience.  And of course things are simplified or cut out completely for the sake of time.

But perhaps we fantasy fanatics are being too hard on Hollywood.  After all, fantasy and science fiction books are so dense with information and important plot developments that it’s hard to include it all in a 2 or 3-hour movie.  We may complain about all of the changes made to our favorite stories, but we just have to trust movie-makers to try to do their best to stick to the essence of each story – unless some of us want to get into the business and have a go at it ourselves!

What are your favorite movie adaptations?  Which books would you like to see made into movies?

Don’t forget to comment on this post for a chance to win a copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls!

-Alyssa Krueger

Photos: qualityapeman, mediaatmidnight, and amarkr.

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Written by whitney teal

April 14, 2010 at 8:00 am

Posted in Tolkein and Beyond

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2 Responses

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  1. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that movie renditions of books will never be good. They’re shorter and it’s a price that must be paid. However, I am a big fan of the feeling or tone of a book, and a movie has no excuse for capturing that feeling. For example, the fourth Harry Potter movie felt NOTHING like the book. It was an awkward teen soap opera with cheap jokes instead of the daring drama and tension (and house elves) there were in the book. None of it felt right. On the other hand, I think the first, third, and fifth movies really captured the essence of Hogwarts and relationships and personalities really well and realistically. I must sound obsessed, but that’s okay. This website seems to be a haven for unapologetic fans for the written word.

    And I would love to see an Artemis Fowl movie series. The characters are so fiery and fun, but for some reason I don’t think it would translate well to film. Alas. Nevertheless I may continue to cast it within the confines of my own mind. :]

    Oh! And on the subject of Pride and Prejudice movie adaptations, I’m sorry but I’m a purist. Keira Knightly just doesn’t quite cut it and Jennifer Ehle has epitomized Elizabeth’s image in my head forever. No one can do better than a young Colin Firth either. So partly from fantastic casting, and partly from having six hours to maximize storyline, A&E wins. And I think a lot of that is owing that they had so much time. Perhaps more movie adaptations should look into A&E, Masterpiece Theatre (for classics), and HBO to do extended series instead of brief two hours snippets in order to ensure quality and satisfaction.

    Caitlin Funaro

    April 14, 2010 at 10:39 am

  2. Alyssa, I’m shocked you didn’t talk about Twilight! In my opinion, it was easily one of the worst fantasy movie adaptations. Kristin Stewart is too whiny and mopey as Bella and Robert Pattinson just doesn’t do the trick as Edward. Although in the books they are relatable and empathetic characters, in the movies they are stubborn and irritating to watch. The chemistry doesn’t really translate on-screen either. Of course, I’m speaking as a film student while the reception of the movie has been very mixed; the tweens are obsessed with Stewart and Pattinson. I assume it’s because they enjoy seeing their favorite characters on-screen; they couldn’t care less who’d play them, they just like seeing them personified.

    In response to Caitlin’s post, I would really like to see an Artemis Fowl movie! I had such a crush on him when the books first came out, and I’d always wondered who would play him. I always pictured Devon Murray in my mind. 🙂

    Nicole Grabert

    April 14, 2010 at 9:47 pm


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