10:30 am EST, December 24, 2014

2014 book-to-film adaptations: The good, the bad, and the meh

During the holiday break, curl up with some great books that you can read and watch.

This year audiences were treated to many film adaptations of beloved books. Some depictions were better than others, while a few felt like a waste of two hours. Here’s a list of book-to-film adaptations spanning the enjoyable, the riveting, and the disappointing.

Exposition

book to film adaptations

Good storytelling starts with a bang, followed by necessary, albeit tedious, background information. Get the audience interested, then explain what’s going on. These first few films do just that.

In this case, the bang is Horns, based off the novel of the same name by Joe Hill. Horns stars our favourite boy-wizard Daniel Radcliffe, except this time he’s a man-demon. Horns is a mishmash of genres (part comedy, part horror, part mystery), and quite frankly very odd. But without looking too closely, somehow it works. If you want something off-the-cuff, this book and film are the way to go.

We then have the films that feel more like a slow-paced introduction rather than a fast-paced story. Divergent, the Hunger Games-esque dystopian story based on the book by Veronica Roth, and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, from the much more simply titled Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins.

Both films spend a lot of time explaining to the audience what’s going on, at the expense of more engaging plot and storytelling. They mostly seem like they’re setting up something to come, which indeed they both are. Mockingjay (the book) is much faster paced, probably because it’s one book not split in two, and Divergent (book and film) is much the same. You’re probably better off reading the books of these series, and waiting for the films’ sequels before watching the first instalments.

Rising Action

book to film adaptations

Next are a couple of book-to-films that pick up some speed. The Maze Runner is yet another dystopian novel (this time by James Dashner). Even though this film also has quite a bit of exposition, it is well balanced amidst clear plot, strong action, and engaging dialogue. It doesn’t confuse non-readers with overcomplicated plot details from the books, but it’s true enough to the source material to please the purists as well. As the book and film are somewhat different, it’s a great idea to read and watch both.

ParaNorman and Coraline creators brought audiences The Boxtrolls this year. It’s based on the children’s book Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow. Like ParaNorman and Coraline, The Boxtrolls is beautifully animated and complements the illustrations of the book. But this is much more than just a children’s film; there’s enough intelligence to satisfy older audiences as well. However, it’s quirkiness and off-beat humour might not be for everyone.

Climax

book to film adaptations

Now we get to the good stuff. The films that had you from beginning to end. Films that you could watch infinitely.

With that in mind, let’s start with The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. This adaptation was highly anticipated, but also incredibly feared. Book loyalists were terrified of the film not living up to the source material. But it delivers on all fronts. It’s funny, it’s heartwarming, it’s sad, it’s hopeful. Although this film and book is more for those with a sentimental streak, it’s the most upbeat of the three mentioned here. The next two films only get bleaker.

The Double is based off the novella of the same name by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Although originally published in the 1800s, the film version is set in modern times. It’s oddly comedic, creepy, and clever. Jesse Eisenberg works well with himself (you heard me), but it’s writer-director Richard Ayoade who steals the show with this one. The book may be difficult to get through, but the film is a must watch.

Another thriller is Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, brought to life by another great director, David Fincher. Though the commentary on media is a bit contrived and overdone, this film is so enthralling and constantly keeps you guessing, with surprises and intrigue right until the end. The film is a definite watch, as is the book, which provides more insight into the characters’ thoughts.

Falling Action

book to film adaptations

Though the source material of these next films are hugely popular, the film adaptations failed to resonate with both book and non-book readers. They’re films you might want to put at the bottom of your holiday watch list.

If I Stay is a bit of a mixed bag. The novel by Gayle Forman is very popular and fairly well received (although far too cheesy for this author). For most audiences, the film lacked substance, feeling forced and artificial. But if you like sappy, young love stories, then it’s probably an all right film and novel for a snowy afternoon.

Then you have Lois Lowry’s The Giver, a film that has been a long time coming. Perhaps it should have waited even longer. The film failed to capture the power and intelligence of the book, sucking it dry of its original substance. If you haven’t read the book, you should. It’s fantastic, and the film does not do it justice.

The same goes for Vampire Academy. Richelle Mead’s novel also has a large fanbase, but the film failed to wring in anyone else. It was campy, trite, confusing, and not particularly funny. Stick to the books.

Dénouement

book to film adaptations

As this list comes to an end, so too do the book-to-film adaptations of the year. What better way to end it than with the final installment of one of the most popular films of the year?

The last chapter of The Hobbit is upon us, and it’s time to, yet again, say goodbye to Middle Earth. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit has been stretched so thin in these three films, but finally we have the action we’ve been waiting for. The Battle of the Five Armies is still incomparable to any of the Lord of the Rings films, but it’s probably the best of the three Hobbit films. Watch it. Then read and watch the first two Hobbit films, and The Lord of the Rings. Do that until you cry with realization that there are no more Middle Earth films. At least for now…

What were your favorite and least favorite book-to-film adaptations this year?

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