The Missing Fantasy Book to Film Adaptations

Why do some great fantasy/sci-fi series, great children’s or young adult novels, get launched into the film world only to fall flat and disappoint fans? There was one film made of A Series of Unfortunate Events (with Jim Carrey and Meryl Streep). One film of The Golden Compass (with Daniel Craig). One film of the City of Bones, and then a reboot into a TV series. All of these films arguably had great elements, some well-known actors, and were adapting a charming, exciting story, something that should be great on film. What went wrong? Did the movies just not sell enough at the box office? Did the filmmakers not see it as worth their time and money to make a follow-up sequel? Fans will always be disappointed when this happens – even if the movie did not live up to the book in some ways, they still want to see their beloved stories onscreen. There are still so many fantasy novel series out there that readers would love to see made into movies, but that never happen. Tamora Pierce is a major one – medieval fantasy has become a massive hit with Game of Thrones, so why wouldn’t her books make great films? What about Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies or Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses series: wouldn’t these make timely adaptations to follow on from the success of the Hunger Games and Divergent? Perhaps certain writers need more support from their fans if they really want some film studio to get behind it. Arguably, young readers have had more power to catapult a book series and subsequent movie adaptations to success in recent years, so this is a relevant issue.

  • There are two possible answers to your initial question that you seem to ignore here, as many before you have. The first being that perhaps the film adaptations that have never gotten a sequel were simply badly produced or badly executed films and didn't succeed in captivating audiences the same way the book versions did. Or the second possibility, being that the books themselves simply cannot be adapted into films, because their structure simply will not allow it. A film has to be a certain way in order for the story to flow and make logical sense. Also, narrative description must be rendered into visuals in order for the existence of a narrator, in most cases, to be rendered unnecessary: as the old adage "show-don't-tell" is extremely important to keep at the forefront of any film project. Books like "Inkheart," "Ender's Game," "The Spiderwick Chronicles," "The Giver," and "The Golden Compass" make for captivating reading material, but they're often so dense in their descriptive language, strange and otherworldly in their tone and atmosphere, and sometimes very heavy-handed in their subtext and messages, that trying to adapt them into film results in much of these elements either feeling very off-putting and creepy because of how serious and gritty they are, or certain story elements and character interactions becoming laughable if not presented in the best possible way compared to how the book version does it. It's a difficult tight-rope to walk when you want a book adaptation to do justice for the fans, but you also want it to entice new audience members enough to warrant a sequel or two. The Chronicles of Narnia got two sequels, but the subject matter was such that even Disney gave up on it after two films and chucked the license over to 20th Century so they could try their hand at "Voyage of the Dawn Treader." But did that lead to films for the rest of the books? No. And that was likely in part due to the other books not revisiting the same characters from the previous stories, which is an issue that a couple of book series have: that being that later installments follow completely new characters from the last book, even if the world is the same. And doing that sort of thing in film is much more difficult, because you market films on the characters, not on the world or the writer's style. I could go on, but I'm rambling on as it is. Just a few possible avenues to go down when looking deeper into this subject. – Jonathan Leiter 8 years ago
  • I know that The Giver was in production for what? 20 years before it was made into a film? A lot of it is about money, interest, timing. – Jaye Freeland 8 years ago
  • A big factor here is that most novels - especially a series, such as The Golden Compass rely on progressive/continued reading for it to be interesting. Meaning, one film is not provocative to those who have not read the book, because it doesn't end in a logical manner the way other films do; they don't wrap up neatly at the end. Therefore, audiences would be forced to go see subsequent films for it to ultimately make sense and end in a satisfying way. Ending the first film on a cliffhanger or with unresolved questions does not hold their interest. Additionally, many series are just too long and detail-oriented for them to transfer successfully to film. Peter Jackson had to stretch the LOTR trilogy over three movies - about nine hours total - to get the full story in there, and there were still Tolkien zealots who were upset about missing elements left out, such as Tom Bombadil (with those films, I believe they were just so darn exciting that even viewers who hadn't read the books were interested in subsequent films anyway). In the case of Harry Potter, Rowling's first three books ended in a satisfactory fashion; they appeared to be stories in and of themselves, and didn't necessarily indicate there was more to come (we didn't hear "Voldemort is back" in any definitive sort of way for a while. Initially, we assume he is defeated entirely). Therefore, audiences who had not read the books saw them and enjoyed them as a complete entity in and of themselves. By the time the story progressed to the point where they knew there was a continuing story that was not complete, audiences were already hooked on the characters and unique fantasy universe, and wanted more. – Katheryn 8 years ago
  • I think it has also got to be mentioned that the intent behind a film is very important - those films that flopped (Golden Compass - which should have been the Northern Lights! - and a Series of Unfortunate Events in particular) were clearly more money driven and dulled down, and did not appreciate and respect the original sources. – Francesca Turauskis 8 years ago
  • Another question might be: does the film industry respect fantasy/sci-fi as a genre on its own, or is it simply adapting these books because they were popular? I hate to bring up the Sign Seeker film, but that in my opinion was the pinnacle of young adult fantasy butchery...(I am a huge Susan Cooper fan, so I may be biased) However, I would love to see this topic written! – sophiacatherine 8 years ago
  • I think a lack of promotion or too much promotion adds to the question you pose. The City of Bones film was so over promoted to the point that I would change the channel anytime a related commercial would air, and I'm sure many other TV viewers would as well. Sometimes shoving something down someone's throat has the opposite effect promoters hope - it just makes people annoyed rather than intrigued. A lack of promotion also plays into this as not seeing enough of a film before its release will have less people showing up because they either never heard the film was coming out, or they simply forgot. – llsebben 8 years ago

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