The Problems with Letting Hollywood Adapt Books

Problem 1 – The producers and executives don’t really WANT to adapt anything. Rather, they adapt things because they already have a proven track record, making production simpler and less of a gamble. Twilight was a huge hit, so of course, a movie adaptation will also be a huge hit. The studio is most interested in making a movie that people will watch, not making a faithful adaptation of a book (or anything else).

Problem 2 – The creatives who work on the films don’t really WANT to adapt anything, either. They want to make their own vision, with their own ideas, in their own way. If you are wondering why many deep-layer details seem to be changed, it’s because the filmmakers serve their own vision, not the author’s.

Problem 3 – External demands. Hollywood is one of the most rigid places creatively; demands for certain racial representation, sexual representation, and (more importantly) a specific approach to storytelling come before creative ideas and especially faithful adaptations.

Problem 4 – When adapting a book series, such as Wheel of Time, you are adapting a story that is mostly internally consistent with itself and the author’s vision. As you change details, you start a cascade of other things that must be changed in order to maintain that internal consistency for the new format. Frankly, most writers’ rooms aren’t up to the task, as Game of Thrones ought to prove.

Problem 5 – Who is the movie/series being made for? Is it being made for the fans? If so, why is the adaptation so inaccurate? Is it being made for people who aren’t fans? If so, why adapt anything at all? Why not make a new intellectual property that is targeted to them directly? The answer must be some combination of knowing the fans will watch anyway and a hope some critical aspects of the original story which made it successful will translate over into the new medium. The first is certainly true; fans will watch regardless. The second, perhaps not so much.

So, once again, nobody should expect from Hollywood an “accurate” adaptation of any work from any other medium. It’s possible but unlikely, as nobody involved has any specific reason to care about the accuracy of the adaptation and, in fact, the producers have many reasons to change story details. All this goes double if the author is already dead and his estate doesn’t actively curate other adaptations (like the Tolkien estate did for so long).

A better use of your time than watching the new Wheel of Time series or Lord of the Rings series from Amazon is to re-read the books if you loved them; if you haven’t read them, you can try out the first book in a series without much risk. If you don’t like that book, chances are the adaptation isn’t going to fix anything and will probably make things worse.

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