Few and far between is the phrase I use to describe a screen adaptation (whether TV series or movie) that is better than the book it is based upon. But it happens. I think usually this has more to do with the failings of the book than the quality of the screen version (though not always, I suppose), resulting in the screen version becoming what you had *hoped* to find in the book version.
I have two examples right off the top of my head – and could probably find a few others if I did enough digging. But first, to clarify.
I’m not talking about movies that are “good in their own right, existing in an equally good universe of their own, separate but just as awesome as the book series.” I’m talking about a book series (which may or may not have a relatively large following on it’s own) which is transformed by the TV show and/or movie. For example, I would say that the new Divergent series was decently done as a movie, but I wouldn’t call it better than the book. As the movies continue, however, I find that I like the sequels to Divergent better in screen format. But on the whole, I wouldn’t say that the series is better as movies rather than books. (It’s a subtle difference, but I promise it’s there!) The same could be said of The Hunger Games, which has been done really well as movies – but I wouldn’t say they’re better than the books.
The examples I have in mind of book series that failed as books, but flourished as on screen adaptations are Bitten by Kelley Armstrong and The Vampire Diaries by L.J. Smith.
Both have been turned into TV series which have done (in my opinion) remarkably well. In the case of Bitten, I watched the show first and liked it so much that I got several of the books (the first six as a package deal, I think). I was so excited to start them, because I’d gone through the TV series on a Netflix binge the other night and was going through withdrawals.
When I finally got the chance to read the book I was so disappointed. Everything I’d loved in the TV show was suddenly mutilated by this poorly written piece of literary garbage. I was devastated. (I’m told that the series gets *much* better as it progresses, but I’m not sure I have the energy to waste on a book series that has started off so awfully.)
The TV show showed us the intricacies of the relationships between the characters, built a complex world, and made us understand the choices that characters inevitably made (for better or worse) and how those choices were ultimately made out of a place of necessity (and often resulted in regret much later). The characters had a density that you just didn’t get in the book.
Worse still, I’m pretty sure that the book confuses the line between choice and coercion (and rape), while the TV show explains to us how interpersonal relationships are complicated and maybe we don’t always have the whole story – and I never really felt like Elena was doing something that she just flat out didn’t want. In the book, I wasn’t so sure. In fact, I think it was more like she was trying to convince herself that she did want things so that she would be okay with what was happening.
Which, not okay. Ever. It was a big reason for why I hated the first book and why I’m not really all that interested in reading the next book.
So, the second series was The Vampire Diaries and I actually read the first two books of that series before ever seeing the show. (Which makes the fact that I gave the show a chance at all really sad.) I read the books thinking that it was just awful! I hated the characters, the style, found the plot to be implausible (even for a vampire series!) and ultimately was so annoyed with everything that I’m a little shocked I made it through even one book, much less both.
When I tried the TV show, I think it may have been out of morbid curiosity – I’m not sure. And while I’ve grown tired of it now (I don’t know how many seasons it’s made it, but I’m burned out on it, because after a certain point it just felt like it was the same stuff happening over and over again), initially I found it incredibly well done, especially since it was based off of a generally terrible book series. The TV show had characters with a lot more depth and history, a main character that you didn’t automatically hate by her mere presence, and vampires who were both scarier and more likable. There was real danger going on, but at the same time, you understood why Elena
(ironically, both main female characters from Bitten and The Vampire Diaries are named Elena) would risk those dangers to be a part of a world that she maybe didn’t belong in. All in all, the show was oodles more entertaining and you didn’t have to sift through terrible writing.
I’m sure there are other examples of this strange phenomena (though there are a heck of a lot more examples of movies and TV shows bombing after turning a perfectly good book series into an awful screen adaptation), but those are the only two that I’ve experienced both mediums and come to this conclusion.
I do have my suspicions though. I think Secret Circle, despite only having one season as a TV show, was probably better than the book series (I say this because it was written by the same author, L.J. Smith, as The Vampire Diaries) and possibly Witches of East End, though that one is really hard to say, because I haven’t read the books and haven’t encountered the author elsewhere. (I am starting Blue Bloods which is by the same author, so maybe I’ll have a more informed opinion there and I can update afterwards.)
The point is, amidst horrid adaptations like Vampire Academy, Blood and Chocolate, Twilight (though there was no saving that particular disaster), Cirque du Freak, and about a thousand others that should have been awesome and simply weren’t, there are examples of putting a good idea that was poorly written and making it into the awesomeness it was always meant to be.
I’ll also make a quick note. I didn’t mention The Mortal Instruments here, because I didn’t want to pick a fight, but I think I need to. First, I will say I have only read the first in the series – then I had to stop. The reason for this is because I learned a lot about author Cassandra Clare after reading the book. (I have also seen the movie and go back and forth about whether or not I’m okay to watch the TV show, which looks loads better than the movie.) She has been accused of plagiarism (and not just for the current similarities to Sherrilyn Kenyon, which is incredibly convincing based on the evidence that’s been made available to the public). It’s been there since her fan fiction days, and if you’d like to take a look, I’d recommend this post and this site. (I can’t find the original one that I stumbled across which was so compelling, but these are equally good and should give a decent perspective of why I can’t support Clare anymore.)
Anyway, the reason that I’m mentioning Clare and her series here is that I think the book was okay. It wasn’t amazingly good, but it wasn’t wretched either. The movie was horrible, but the TV show looks decent. All of these points seem interesting to me, because they speak of something else that’s going on: Selling out.
Authors don’t make a lot of money. It’s a small business and if you’re writing for a living, you’re likely losing your ass on it. You fall into the “starving artist” category as easily as musicians and painters. It’s inevitable unless you are one of the few like Rowling and Collins and Roth who have hit the proverbial jackpot of writing. They’ve lucked out (and while it is talent, much of it is also luck), but most authors, good or bad, do not.
Which means that Clare, who has stolen the work of other authors (good authors), has become famous by walking on other people’s backs and she is still winning at a game where most will fail. It’s rather despicable and nourishes the idea that I simply can’t support her in any way. (So, I suppose I won’t be watching the series, despite it looking good and my utter love of redheads.) It also says that she’s sold out – to publishers where she’s churning out cookie cutter books for the masses; to producers who are creating yet more filler trash based on her books, because people will watch them regardless of whether or not they’re good; to TV stations that could care less that they are supporting someone who is, for all intents and purposes, a thief.
Welcome to the world of writing, where it doesn’t matter how good you are or the kind of quality you are capable of, but whether or not you sell.
I encourage you to perk up your ears and listen when someone starts insinuating that an author has plagiarized, because she’s taking money from the hands of people who have put their hearts and souls into their work and don’t have much to show for it. (And do your research, because you never know who is right and who is wrong and who is just trying to sue for a little bit of money and attention. Both happen. And if anyone can give me strong counter evidence to say that Clare *hasn’t* plagiarized, then I’d love to look at that, too.) Be a wary reader and not just one of the masses.
And now, I’ll step down off my soapbox, because I’m a little disgusted with myself for making so much of this post about Clare when it wasn’t supposed to be at all.
Feel free to tell me what you think below, but let’s keep it classy, folks!