This week we’ll all be talking about speculative books that have been made into movies—what worked, what didn’t, what actually got better in movie form.
The inspiration for this topic came a few weeks ago when I watched The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005). I’ve loved the book for decades, and have read it and its sequels many times (except for book 5, Mostly Harmless — avoid that one). The movie isn’t terrible… but it’s not great, either.
This is all personal opinion, of course, but I haven’t heard of anyone who is gung ho about the movie. I don’t blame the writers or directors. They just had an extremely challenging, perhaps impossible, task. When you think about it, The Hitchhiker’s Guide doesn’t really have a hero. Arthur may be called the main character, but he’s largely passive throughout and just wants to go home. He’s not really someone you can admire and root for.
The books work because of the narrator’s voice — the distant, omniscient voice of The Guide, the hitchhiker’s handbook. The quirky humor pulls together the bizarre, fairly random plot and a cast of characters who are fun, but largely lack depth. Many editors say that voice is key, and this book is a prime example! Here, voice overcomes what might normally be considered flaws.
So how do you translate that into a movie? The directors chose to rewrite the story and make Arthur a hero. He fights to save the girl, and wins her in the end. The hero is more heroic, the plot a little more straightforward, and the ending happy. You still get some of the guide’s wit and wisdom through voiceover, but it’s not as dominant.
This was probably a wise decision, given the circumstances. However, the result disappointed many Hitchhiker fans, because so much changed. The movie wasn’t true to the book they loved. Favorite lines were missing, because they didn’t fit. The movie wasn’t successful for non-fans, either. If you hadn’t read the book first, the movie probably came across as confusing and just plain weird. A good effort on the moviemakers part, but a disappointment.
Compare this to the The Lord of the Rings trilogy, a blockbuster success. Some diehard fans were no doubt disappointed at missing material — but there’s no way you can fit every scene from a fat book into a movie. Most fans were pleased and felt that the movies were true enough to their beloved books.
The movies also drew in new fans. You needn’t have read the books in order to enjoy the movies. (I read the first book shortly before the movies came out, and skipped the next two, because I felt the movies were more enjoyable.)
The credit for the success goes partly to the original books — they had a more straightforward story, with strong, heroic characters — and partly to the writers and directors who were willing to make tough choices. They didn’t try to re-create the books exactly (which can result in a jam-packed synopsis rather than a fully fleshed story, an accusation often thrown at the Harry Potter movies). Rather, they created strong movies that captured the heart of the books.
It all goes to show that a great book may or may not make a great movie. Jump in with your opinions, and check back all this week for more posts on the topic.
PS – I just read that Eoin Colfer wrote the sixth Hitchhiker installment, titled And Another Thing… with Jane Belson, Adams’ widow. It was published in 2009. More fun facts at Wikipedia.
Chris Eboch suddenly has the urge to go make some popcorn.