And That’s a Wrap 2020: Book Adaptations I Watched

If there’s one things that’s for certain, it’s that Hollywood will always turn to books instead of trying to come up with their own original ideas for movies and TV shows. Sometimes they’re good and others…err, let’s just say we’d prefer to forget them or hope for a remake.

Due to Covid 19’s impact on cinema access, 2020 was a difficult year when it came to movie releases but for streaming services like Netflix, it was golden. Here are the book adaptations released this year that I got around to watching (the titles with a star next to them are those I’ve read the book for):

Little Women

Film | Based on Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Synopsis: Jo March reflects back and forth on her life, telling the beloved story of the March sisters – four young women, each determined to live life on her own terms.

While this movie came out in most countries in 2019, in Australia it wasn’t released until New Years Day 2020. I really enjoyed this one and have rewatched it several times since I first saw it in cinemas. The cast is fantastic and it was definitely the start of my obsession with Florence Pugh. The score is gorgeous, the costuming is great and it’s 100% pushed me to want to read the novel. We just have to overlook Emma Watson’s frequent accent breaks…


To All the Boys: PS. I Still Love You ★

To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You (2020) - IMDb

Film | Based on P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

Synopsis: Lara Jean and Peter have just taken their relationship from pretend to officially official when another recipient of one of her old love letters enters the picture.

I was super excited for this release because I love the books and really enjoyed the first movie. I have to say though, I was kind of disappointed. While Jordan Fisher as John Ambrose is perfection casting if I ever saw it, the movie feels like it’s trying too hard a lot of the time and there are some frankly bizarre direction choices at points (the THREE different aerial shots of a car driving at the beginning, Lara Jean randomly lip-syncing down a school hallway, the bizarre floating kiss at the end?). On the whole though, the movie (as well as Lana & Noah) is still charming enough to be enjoyable, it just isn’t one of my favourites.


Emma ★

Film | Based on Emma by Jane Austen

Emma (2020) - Movie Posters (2 of 2)

Synopsis: Beautiful, smart and wealthy, Emma Woodhouse navigates her way through misguided matches, romantic missteps and the challenges of growing up — all to finally realize the love that has been there all along.

I saw Emma back in March and little did I know that it’d end up being my last trip to the cinema for 2020 (thanks Covid). There are a few changes from the original novel, especially in the later parts of the film, but they’re not entirely unwelcome in that they add humour, modernise the story slightly, and give audiences more insight into some of the characters. I enjoyed this movie. It drags a little around the middle (similarly to the book) but the scenery and costumes are great, Bill Nigh is fantastic as Mr Woodhouse, and I liked both Anya Taylor Joy and Johnny Flynn’s performances as Emma & Mr Knightley. Their chemistry is also great to watch. Overall, it’s a fun take on Austen even if it isn’t a perfect adaptation.


All the Bright Places ★

Film | Based on All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Synopsis: The story of Violet and Theodore, who meet and change each other’s lives forever. As they struggle with the emotional and physical scars of their past, they discover that even the smallest places and moments can mean something.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t a huge fan of the original book on this one and I felt pretty similarly about the adaptation. My issues with the mental health and suicide representation aside, there just isn’t all that much of a plot and the relationship between the two characters is really bland. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t rectify this. My sister and I were so darn bored watching it that we found ourselves checking how much longer we had to go several times. The film also cuts out quite a few key components from the book that contribute to the depth of the characters e.g. Finch’s abusive father. Book or movie, sorry, not for me.


Normal People ★

Limited Series | Based on Normal People by Sally Rooney

Synopsis: Normal People follows the relationship between Marianne Sheridan and Connell Waldron, as they navigate adulthood from their final days in secondary school to their undergraduate years in Trinity College.

This is one of those rare cases where I enjoyed the adaptation more than the book. To give you an indication of how much I loved it, I watched it twice within the space of about three months. The book and series are fairly similar but I really appreciated the adaptation’s switch to presenting events chronologically and the small changes it made to the narrative such as the altered ending (it makes so much more sense). The acting here is also phenomenal. The chemistry between the two leads is unbelievable and I’m telling you, it’s almost impossible not to feel something when Paul Mescal is crying. As a fun bonus, the soundtrack is top notch, too.


The Queen’s Gambit

The Queen's Gambit (TV Mini-Series 2020) - IMDb

Limited Series | Based on The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis

Synopsis: Abandoned and entrusted to a Kentucky orphanage in the late 1950s, Beth Harmon discovers an astonishing talent for chess while developing an addiction to tranquilizers provided by the state as a sedative for the children. Haunted by her personal demons and fueled by a cocktail of narcotics and obsession, Beth transforms into an impressively skilled and glamorous outcast while determined to conquer the traditional boundaries established in the male-dominated world of competitive chess.

2020 was certainly the year of The Queen’s Gambit. It may be slow at first but once it really gets started, you’re just gripped. The cinematography is wonderfully done and I adored all of the period details from the cars to the fashion. Anya Taylor Joy is absolutely amazing in the lead role and I will never stop being impressed with hers and the rest of the cast’s ability to play all of the chess games from memory (the speed chess scenes are insane!). You don’t have to be a chess fan to get lost in this one.


The Haunting of Bly Manor

The Haunting of Bly Manor movie review (2020) | Roger Ebert

TV Series | Loosely Based on The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

Synopsis: After an au pair’s tragic death, a man hires a young American nanny to care for his orphaned niece and nephew who reside at Bly Manor with their chef, groundskeeper, and housekeeper. Little does the nanny know that the manor is haunted.

THoBM is quite different from Henry James’s novel but it uses The Turn of the Screw as a foundation for the story. I wasn’t a huge fan of The Haunting of Hill House so I was hoping that I’d enjoy this more. Unfortunately, no. It started out promising but I quickly grew bored with how insanely slow it was. By the end, I realised I didn’t really like the story of the lady in the lake and was frustrated by the way certain things were explained (or not explained). Honestly, the last episode was probably my favourite because it felt like an entirely different show but also because the acting by Victoria Pedretti and Amelia Eve was so good. I’m guessing I should give up on watching any further in this anthology.

After We Collided

Film | Based on After We Collided by Anna Todd

Synopsis: Tessa finds herself struggling with her complicated relationship with Hardin; she faces a dilemma that could change their lives forever.

Don’t ask me why I keep doing this to myself. I recognise the fact that this series is an absolute trainwreck. I really, really do. The plots are terrible and the relationship is as toxic as ever. It’s essentially just Hardin and Tessa alternating between fighting and having sex. Hardin does something stupid and Tessa forgives him. And still, I continue to watch. Then again, maybe we need the occasional bit of rot your brain garbage, and perhaps in 2020 more than ever. I can say though that Hero Fiennes Tiffin was slightly less of a wooden board acting wise than he was in the first one (but I guess that’s not really saying much, is it?).


Tiny Pretty Things

TV Series | Based on Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle Clayton

Synopsis: After tragedy strikes Chicago’s most prestigious ballet school, where every dancer is both friend and foe who compete fiercely for coveted roles, it threatens to unravel close friendships and to expose a constellation of secrets that could bring down a world-renowned institution.

Admittedly, I’m only a couple of episodes into this series so try not to spoil me too much in the comments. I’ve heard that the adaptation has some big differences from the book here. It’s set in Chicago rather than New York, the characters are less cutthroat, it’s centered around a mystery which isn’t a big deal in the novel, there’s a lot more sex, and the ending is altered. For me, this feels like just another teen drama except with ballet. It has those Pretty Little Liars vibes. Nothing particularly new but will I probably still binge watch the rest of it? Um…Yes.


Rebecca

Rebecca (2020) - IMDb

Film | Based on Rebecca by Daphne De Maurier

Synopsis: A young newlywed arrives at her husband’s imposing family estate on a windswept English coast and finds herself battling the shadow of his first wife, Rebecca, whose legacy lives on in the house long after her death.

I really, really wish I’d read the book before watching this adaptation. I was going to hold off but Netflix kept bringing it up and next thing you know… As someone who didn’t know much about the story going in, I can say that while I found it intriguing there did feel like there was something missing, a hollowness of sorts, which kept the movie from landing the way it should have. I quite liked Lily James in the lead role but as much as I love Armie Hammer, I can’t help feeling like he wasn’t the right choice here. On the upside, visually the movie is gorgeous – the cliffs in Monte Carlo, Gothic shots of Manderly at night, Armie’s statement mustard suit, it’s a feast for the eyes.


Bridgerton

Bridgerton (TV Series 2020– ) - IMDb

TV Series | Based on The Bridgerton Series by Julia Quinn

Synopsis: Wealth, lust, and betrayal set in the backdrop of Regency era England, seen through the eyes of the powerful Bridgerton family.

If you’ve heard that this series is basically Gossip Girl crossed with Pride & Prejudice, you’ve heard right. It’s far from a dramatic marvel but it’s a fun guilty pleasure watch for over the Christmas/New Year break. From what people have said, there are a few changes from the book series but it’s visually striking, sexy (beware if you’re planning on watching with family), and features a diverse cast. I should mention, however, that there has been some controversy over a particular sex scene in episode 6 so just be aware. Otherwise, if you enjoy a bit of romance, this would be a good pick. I’ll definitely be on the look out for season 2.


What were some of the best and worst book adaptations you watched this year? Which ones are you most looking forward to in 2021? Mine are Shadow and Bone, Conversations with Friends, A Discovery of Witches Season 2, The Witcher Season 2, and Daisy Jones & the Six!

Page to Screen: Looking for Alaska by John Green & Hulu

Confession time: Until last week I had never read Looking for Alaska. That’s right. You heard…er, read me. Even better, up until the week before that I had never even wanted to read Looking for Alaska. As you have gathered by the existence of this post, this has now changed. Why? Because there’s nothing like seeing an adaptation to get me cracking on the original source material before you can say, ‘The book was better’. And…I was not a huge fan. The word ‘overrated’ may have been mentioned. With that in mind, I have something controversial to say.

The mini-series is better.

Yep, that’s right, and I’ll tell you why.

* * Spoilers for the Looking for Alaska novel & TV series follow**

Fleshed Out Characters

The LFA series consists of eight episodes, each about 50 or so minutes in length. One of the biggest issues I had with the novel was that all the characters were majorly lacking in development. With the extra room to breathe, the series rectified this substantially. While Takumi still gets shafted in terms of screen time later on, Lara, the Colonel, the Eagle, Jake and Dr Hyde all benefit immensely. They’re given more expansive histories and SO MUCH greater emotional depth. Instead of casual blips popping in and out of Pudge’s periphery whenever the plot demands it, they feel more like actual characters which makes the dramatic moments of the story resonate far better.

Finding Alaska

While we’re talking characters, as someone who tackled the series first and book second, the treatment of Alaska in the novel is a travesty. She’s a teen-boy fantasy and pretty much there only to add to the male characters’ stories. I mean, the girl dies and even then she can’t escape Pudge having dreams about her “luminously full” breasts. He also later claims he’s sometimes glad she’s dead because it feels ‘pure’. I honestly wanted to slap someone. The show makes massive improvements here, too (thank goodness). By shifting the perspective beyond Pudge’s head, we get to see Alaska as a person rather than just an object to lust after. She has moments of reflection, meaningful conversations with other characters (there’s one between Alaska and Dr. Hyde which I love) and dreams about the future. More importantly, you really feel her loneliness and lowered sense of self-worth. It’s heartbreaking to watch but gives her death much greater impact.

Plot & Tone

For lovers of the book, you’ll be glad to know that the early segments are almost perfectly translated to screen with very few changes. Some exchanges of dialogue are even lifted word for word. Yet, as the series goes on, things do start to deviate but for the better:

  • There’s more time in early episodes devoted to the prank war with the Weekday Warriors adding humour and levity to balance out the sadder tone of the later episodes
  • We see more of Alaska and Jake’s relationship including one of her trips to visit him which further shows off Alaska’s state of mind
  • The ‘Alaska is a rat’ storyline has more weight, especially on Alaska and the Colonel’s friendship
  • Pudge’s relationship with Lara is better fleshed out (poor girl, she deserved better)
  • Pudge’s attraction to Alaska is more two-sided – Alaska displays clearer feelings for Pudge than in the novel and regret in pushing him away. This makes their eventual coming together feel less impulsive and more romantic

Yet, despite these changes, the show always returns to common and important plot points from the book such as Thanksgiving, ‘best-day-worst-day’ and ‘to-be-continued’. Fans will be equally happy to know that the ending of the book also remains intact in all its ambiguous and frustrating glory, complete with an overly long closing monologue from Miles worthy of a John Green novel.

Hitting Those Hard Themes

While the LFA novel touches on things like privilege and depression, the series dives deeper into these ideas as well as themes of isolation and loneliness. In my opinion, it’s when the series is at its strongest. For example, the fleshing out of Chip’s story gives us a great look at both socioeconomic and racial privilege which greatly boosts our understanding of why he’s constantly angry. The book and series also deal heavily with grief and the associated guilt. Their approach to it is very similar but again, the show has the wiggle room to take it just that bit further and expand it to more characters such as Alaska’s father, Dr Hyde and the Eagle.

Other Thoughts

  • The music in the series is fantastic. For those looking for some early 2000s nostalgia, you’ll have a blast. The playlist includes a few old-school tracks and some different sounding (but good) covers of older tracks.
  • The casting is great. While the actors may not all physically resemble their characters, they fit the spirit of them fabulously. Kristine Froseth as Alaska is fantastic and although I’ve previously seen her in The Society and Sierra Burgess, she really shines here. I also have to mention Denny Love as the Colonel who I officially adore with all my heart for his ability to make me laugh and break my heart.
  • The characters, unfortunately, still often talk in that sometimes wanky way not typical of normal people. But this is John Green after all.
  • Watching the Colonel get kicked out of consecutive basketball matches is my favourite part of the series
  • As a massive The O.C. fan, I loved all the little extras Josh Schwartz threw into the series e.g. Pudge’s first sight of Alaska replicating Ryan seeing Marissa

As I mentioned above, I find the Looking for Alaska Hulu series far stronger and enjoyable than John Green’s original novel. Still, I feel as though this is an adaptation that both lovers of the book, despite its changes, and non-book readers/lovers (like me) will connect with and like as well.


AS AN ADAPTATION: Solid. Same opening, same ending, some additions & jumbled around plot points in the middle.

AS A SERIES:  7/10 – good, would probably re-watch.

Page to Screen: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

to-all-the-boys-ive-loved-before-netflix

I’m back with another edition of ‘Page to Screen’ and today we’re looking at the new Netflix adaptation of Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Having just recently finished the series for the first time, I was very eagerly awaiting this release. There are definitely some changes but was I disappointed? That would be a no.

TATBILB centres around sixteen-year-old Lara Jean Covey. For every intense crush she experiences, LJ writes a highly personal love letter which she keeps locked away inside a hat box in her closet. One day, all five letters are mysteriously sent out, leaving LJ in an awkward position as one of the boys happens to be her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh. In order to convince Josh she’s moved on, LJ makes a deal with Peter, another of her letter receivers.  By them pretending to be in a relationship, LJ can throw Josh off the scent and Peter can make his controlling ex, Genevieve, jealous.

What’s Different? (Beware – Book Spoilers!)

  • The End: One of the biggest changes from the book here is that the last third of the movie meshes in a few elements from book two in the series, PS. I Still Love You. This includes the drama resulting from a dodgy hot tub video taken at ski camp but also the ending of the film. If you’ve read the first book, you’d know that its ending is quite abrupt and really forces you to read on to find a happy ending. The movie, thank god, doesn’t do this and in true rom-com fashion ends with the reunion that kicks of LJ and Peter’s relationship in book two. I was very much on board with this change. The only thing I wish had been included was Lara Jean’s reconciliation letter to Peter which is pretty dang sweet. Why you gotta deprive me of my aww moment Netflix people?
  • Less Filler: Due to time constraints a lot of the activities that Peter and LJ do together during the novel, like baking and antiquing, which help cement their bond have been cut, but this is easily forgiven. I mean, it’s only a 1 ½ hr or so movie. However, we do get to see them watching movies together and going to parties. There’s also a lovely conversation regarding the death of LJ’s mum and Peter’s father walking out on him which lays some huge groundwork for their changed feelings.
  • Kitty’s Motivations: In the novel, Kitty spitefully sends out LJ’s letters after a heated argument. Here, she mails them with more positive intentions, in the hopes it’ll help her sister connect with someone. This was another change I really loved and it was nice to see Kitty acting with more pure intentions which seemed much more in tune with her ‘I know what’s best’ kind of personality.
  • LJ’s reaction: Unlike in the book, LJ has a much stronger reaction than a mere shrug to finding out Kitty sent her letters. It’s more realistic but still manages to remain sisterly and amusing.
  • Josh x LJ: In the novel, there’s a love triangle between LJ, Peter and Josh in that LJ’s letter pushes Josh to tell her that he’s previously had feelings for her as well. This creates a lot of confusion for LJ as she’s unsure if she still likes Josh but at the same time, she has to consider the fact that he’s her sister’s ex. The focus in the movie is much more on Peter and LJ’s relationship, and in a healthier approach, Josh simply accepts it when LJ tells him that she’s over him. No awkwardness and no messy kiss that causes major problems between LJ and Margo.

Other Thoughts

  • The Cast: Whoever did the casting for this movie was spot on and in my opinion, each of the actors fit their roles perfectly. Lana simply is Lara Jean; she plays her with the perfect combination of sweetness, romanticism, strength, and vulnerability – exactly how I imagined the character to be. Likewise, Noah does a great job in capturing Peter’s cockiness and charm while still doing justice to his softer side. The two have good chemistry and watching them interact with one another on screen is very enjoyable, especially when they’re taking photos of each other with silly faces. I also have to give points to Anna Cathcart as Kitty (straight off the page with all the necessary sass) and Madeline Arthur as Chris.
  • Hallucinations: One of the things I wasn’t such a fan of was the film’s approach of occasionally having Josh, and at one point Peter, talking to LJ as almost hallucinations to help her sort through her feelings. Yes, LJ is a bit dramatic at times, but I felt like this inclusion was perhaps a bit odd and silly. It also just randomly stops out of nowhere making me wonder why they bothered with it at all.
  • Slow Start: The movie takes a few minutes to get into the swing of things and find its groove. For those of us who know the story and characters, this is fine, but for others who don’t, it may be a bit slower to get into the feel of things.
  • Comedy?: TATBILB is marketed as a rom-com and while I do agree with this, it’s more of a high school coming of age, romance film than a comedy. Think John Hughes (Sixteen Candles is actually referenced in the film). Sure, there are a few amusing moments but it’s not something you’ll burst out laughing at, as infectious as Lara Condor is as LJ.
  • Representation: YAAAAS an Asian female lead in an American Romantic Comedy. WOOO!

Divider

AS AN ADAPTATION: Pretty good! Changes are for valid reasons and mostly good deviations.

AS A FILM: The adaptation of ATBILB has the charm and adorableness of the novel. If you’re looking for something short, fun, breezy and sweet, this is a great choice. 7/10

You can find my review of the book here.

Love Ashley

 

Page to Screen: Ready Player One

Image result for Ready Player One

Today I’m adding a new segment to my blog (woo hoo!), ‘Page to Screen’, where I’ll look at book adaptations, compare them to their source material, evaluate what worked and what didn’t, determine which medium reigned supreme, and so on. First up to the plate is Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s, Ready Player One.

Let me say, first and foremost, there are some huge changes from the book in this one. So, if you’re a purist or massive fan of the novel, you’re likely going to be uncomfortable or mad for at least the first half hour or so before you adjust. Prepare yourself.

THE CHALLENGES

The biggest change from the book was the clues and challenges to find Halliday’s egg. In the book there are three keys and three gates, each with its own test. In the movie there’s one gate and the tests are limited to the keys ONLY. This cuts down a lot of the book but for time constraints, it’s perfectly reasonable. Additionally, almost none of the challenges in the movie are taken directly from the book and it’s for one obvious reason: to make the movie more understandable and marketable to the masses.

The movie begins with the test for the first key which is, believe it or not, a freaking car race. I almost spat the dummy right then and there. But once Wade actually had to do some thinking and research to beat the challenge, I calmed down a bit. By the time we’d reached challenge two, which involved a fantastic sequence set inside the film, The Shining, I began to realise that these changes were probably a good thing. While they aren’t a direct adaptation of the book, they remain largely in the spirit and tone of it.

THE WORLD

As this is a movie, there’s a lot less time to spend describing the conditions in the real world or the nature of The Oasis in lengthy detail. The film does its best through the use of Wade’s voice over and a short, flashy sequence at the beginning but the book has the one up on this one purely due to available time for exposition.

Also, in case you weren’t aware, ¾ of the movie is CGI Oasis. The real world is showcased a bit more in the second half but you’re going to be looking at the characters’ avatars A LOT, so get used to it fast.

CHARACTERS

Wade

I’ll be blunt: Wade’s character is lacking here. The degree of  credit he’s given in the film is increased but at the same time, the amount of stuff his character actually does is less. There’s no period in which he re-evaluates his priorities and shapes himself into a mentally and physically stronger person, and no infiltration of IOI (the bit from the book that really does show him off as the hero Cline wants him to be). And still, we get a scene in which Art3mis tells Wade he’s the best of them all and that he’ll win because of it. I mean, really?

Art3mis

On the flip side, Art3mis is given a lot more screen time and things to do, taking over some of Wade’s roles. Compared to the book, we see her in the real world far earlier and it’s Arty that ends up stuck in IOI. At first this seems like it’ll just be a rescue situation but then she starts kicking ass, and I’ve come to see it as another solid deviation choice. Extra depth is also added to Art3mis’s back story regarding IOI and her father. She’s given motives aside from simple altruism and a role in the film’s so called resistance (an unnecessary new element that isn’t really developed or explained).

The Other Top 5

Diversity was maintained here and one character survived where their book counterpart did not. However, notably, Shoto and Daito do get short changed in the development department as the section of the book in which they go questing with Wade has been cut. It’s a sad but understandable loss but then again, even with more screen time, some of the other major characters are still somewhat difficult to connect with at times.

IOI & Sorrento

IOI and Sorrento remain very much the same – they’re still complete dicks and very much the greedy corporation, desperate for power and money. Sorrento comes off as a bit of a lame villain at times and is perhaps given maybe a touch too much screen time whilst his side kick of sorts, Zandor, is a tad wooden for my liking.

OTHER MINOR POINTS

  • Time constraints also restrict the development of Art3mis and Wade’s relationship, with him dropping the L bomb ridiculously and creepily early in the time line.
  • The climax of the movie drags on too long. Sure, giant robots fighting and watching IOI goons get wiped out is fun, but there is a limit.
  • I liked how the film dealt with James Halliday’s character – he’s a sad figure with good motivations behind his actions but I wish we’d been able to see more of his history

Overall, the film manages to improve on some of the weaknesses of the novel but it comes with new flaws of its own. Yet, despite its problems, Ready Player One was an entertaining way to spend a few hours and I’m glad I went to see it.

Divider

AS AN ADAPTATION : Not good, a lot of changes from the book.

AS A FILM : Entertaining, but not amazing. 6.8/10

You can find my review of the book here.