Armchair Book Club: film adaptations

Heather Allen takes on the often contentious topic of film adaptations of books in the latest Armchair Book Club.

The Light Between Oceans is one of those books that you can easily imagine as a movie. In fact, with its mysterious shipwrecked orphan, stormy oceans, and rocky romance, the movie adaption opened this week. If the movie tugs at the heart strings half as much as the book, bring a big supply of tissues.

The magical children’s book Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is also being adapted for the screen. My daughter thinks the book, about a house inhabited by children with special powers, has the potential to be a fantastic movie, but worries that because of its complexity, it also has a big chance of failing. That’s a perennial worry about movie adaptations.

Maybe it’s unfair to assume that a movie can be as good as a book; after all, how can an epic be condensed into two hours? Can it ever be done justice? What if it destroys a beloved book? Can you imagine wanting to read The Hobbit after having seen the abomination of a movie?

It was always my opinion that a book should be read before seeing a movie adaptation. I only recently realized that I might be wrong when we gave a young girl the latest Harry Potter book for her birthday.

Her mom commented that her daughter was only part-way through reading the series, but had watched all the movies several times. Sometimes confused by the language and plot twists, the movies were helping her visualize what she was reading. In short, the movies were improving her reading experience.

I like to imagine the characters and scenes myself before seeing someone else’s interpretation. In fact, only twice has a viewing experience surpassed my enjoyment of reading a book.  Even though both are respected authors, I admit to preferring the films Life of Pi (adapted from Yann Martel’s book), and The English Patient (adapted from Michael Ondaatje’s book).

The preference may stem from some deficit of my own imagination, but I found that fragmented and dreamlike passages in both books were firmed up and came clear on screen.

Whether you like to see the movie or read the book first, sometimes we all have to opt for the movie shortcut if we want to experience the story at all.

But, if you’re in the must-read-before-you-see camp, the following books will soon make it to the big screen: Brain on Fire, the true story of young woman’s month long decent into madness, will be released mid-September; The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, Inferno by Dan Brown, and The Circle by Dave Eggers are set for release in October. J.K.

Rowling’s companion book to the Harry Potter series, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, is set to be released in November.

Happy reading and viewing!


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