Books into Film and TV – Oh, dear

Sometimes making a book into a movie works; sometimes it doesn’t. The range of opinion on this is huge – your love is my hate. So, at the risk of sounding unpatriotic, here is my hate: The Lord of the Rings movies.

First I want to acknowledge the good parts of the movies. The visuals were stunning, and I think captured the descriptions in the book well. In accordance with my licence to niggle I would say that the Elves were a little too Arts and Crafts and showed no signs of stunning artistic ability. But the buildings, the landscapes, the clothing, the armour – all were convincing and that was the part I enjoyed most. The acting ranged from competent to excellent. The standout was Andy Serkis as Gollum.

The movies fell down with the script. Some of the changes from the book were fair enough, such as the elimination of the conspiracy of Merry, Pippin, Sam and Fredegar Bolger when Frodo leaves Bag End. It would take far too much time to properly develop this plot point, although its elimination means that Merry and Pippin in particular lose out in character development. Then there were the additions such as the teeter-totter escape from Moria, which was just silly. Those examples were from The Fellowship of the Ring, the least objectionable of the three movies.

The last two movies lost me altogether. Dwarf tossing jokes, dumbing down the Ents, the sad twisting of Faramir and his father Denethor: all combined to push me right out of the story. The moment of no return was in The Two Towers, when Aragorn is knocked unconscious and falls into a deep river while wearing a mail coat. So he drowned. But somehow he washed up downstream (wearing a mail coat?), was kissed by his horse and rode away to further adventures. Unfortunately, since people who fall into rivers while unconscious and wearing heavy clothes drown, I found it impossible to take the rest of the movies seriously. ZombieAragorn is not a good addition to the story.

Many people do not find these issues a problem. It’s only a movie, they say, and seem to be able to ignore heaps of bad things in favour of the spectacular moment. I can’t manage turning off my critical brain, and the more I need to, the less I can enjoy the movie.

So there you have it: thumbs down to The Lord of the Rings movies. I really wanted the movies to be good and I’m really sad that I can’t enjoy them as much as I would like. It was a massive achievement to film the book at all of course,

Tell us your favourite book-to-movie fails!
Need inspiration? Check out the library’s page on Books into film & television. More film stuff on our Film webpage and Read the Book — then see the film.

7 thoughts on “Books into Film and TV – Oh, dear

  1. Joanne 5 July 2010 / 9:45 am

    Can only think of book-to-movie successes. Two of them. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.

  2. Laraine 5 July 2010 / 11:18 am

    My favourite book to movie failure has to be what they did with Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising. It was unbelievably awful; didn’t have one redeeming feature at all. I hated it and was glad (for a change) not to be Susan Cooper! It must be heart-wrenching to see your creation so mangled by movie-makers. Mind you, I always saw these books as good for a TV series rather than a film.

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments on The Lord of the Rings. I would definitely class them as problems. I hadn’t read the books for at least a couple of decades when I saw the movies and made sure not to return to them so the movies wouldn’t be spoiled for me. I still haven’t returned to the books so I’ve forgotten whether Aragorn even fell into a river, never mind what he was wearing at the time.

    I had massive problems with King Kong, BTW. For instance, the humans racing in panic with huge dinosaurs running right above them. How could they possibly avoid getting crushed?

  3. Sarkimh 5 July 2010 / 3:51 pm

    I completely agree with your comments on LotR!

    The book was an epic that one could get lost in, spend days savouring and wishing there was that sort of adventure in this world. The movies…well, what can we say? They may take days to watch, but the dark, action-oriented, cheesy-lines feel just doesn’t quite do the books justice.

    Admittedly, some bits were passable – hey, in a total of almost 11 hours of film you’re bound to get a few things right! And you’re right, the visual effects are particularly stunning.

    However, as one of the best ‘fail’ scenes illustrates, there’s more to making a good movie than special effects! In the 3rd movie, the now incredibly noble and grown-up Aragorn is talking strategy: “We can give Frodo his chance if we keep Sauron’s eye fixed upon us – keep him blind to all else that moves”. Then Legolas takes on a profoundly deep elvish look, and comes out with: “A diversion!”

    Well, well, who’s been reading the dictionary again? 😉

    Anyway, enough from me about LotR! Maybe I should just read the book and be happy 🙂

  4. Valerienl 5 July 2010 / 4:01 pm

    The biggest movie miss, I ever had the misfortune of sitting through was “I can Jump Puddles”. The book was written by The Australian writer Alan Marshall, and is the story of his life before and after he contracted polio as a youg child. Alan Marshall published his autobiography in the 1950’s. I loved the book and alnost read the cover off my copy. Czechoslovakian director Karel Kachyna made I can Jump Puddles into a film in 1970. It had English subtitles and the only good thing about the film was the children at the local school for the deaf could watch it.

  5. Helen 5 July 2010 / 5:31 pm

    My best friend and I were mortified when the tv programme “Little House on the Prairie” began when we were at primary school. We watched it just so we could tear it to pieces, and also so that we could guess the exact moment when Pa (Michael Langdon) would go teary-eyed. The only similarity I could see between the tv series and the books were the names of the characters.

  6. Michael A 6 July 2010 / 9:30 am

    LOTR – love the books, love the movies: both have significant flaws and I think the modifications in general in the movie act to advance the story at a pace audiences can tolerate. The book has many rambling pieces of great beauty but they add background to the narrative rather than push it on (think Tom Bombadil for instance and the elvish poetry). Terrible book-to-movie adaptation prize has to go to Catch-22. One of my favourite books of all time and a movie that is incomprehensible….arrgh.

  7. sphinxxnz 19 July 2010 / 12:57 pm

    All these comments just go to show how individual our reactions are to books and movies. Many people find The Lord of the Rings too slow but it never seemed so to me. And lots of people who find LOTR too slow prefer Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time which I think brings slow to a whole new level of not moving at all.

    There are books into movies I do like, deserving of another blog post.

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