The idea for this post came to me after the season four finale of the HBO series Game of Thrones. I’m surprised I hadn’t thought of it before, as my friends have endured several of my soap-box tirades on this very topic. I’ve been an avid GoT fan for the last year (a little late on the band wagon, I know), and Sunday night’s (that’s June 15th) episode absolutely rocked. It caught up with all the characters we know and love, had a few pretty gnarly fight scenes, and shocked us to the very core as our favorite dwarf’s death sentence…er…played out.
However, as someone who has read the third installment of the series (A Storm of Swords), the novel most closely paired with season four, the finale was not everything it could be. There were SEVERAL cliff-hanging, jaw-dropping, heart-poundingly brilliant and genuinely pivotal scenes from the novel that I was expecting to see, and didn’t. I wouldn’t dare spoil it for the watchers - there is a special circle of hell reserved for people who spoil impactful episodes immediately via social media - but let’s just say that George R.R. Martin is the king of fantasy fiction for a reason.
Leaving out these moments that were, as I said before, genuinely pivotal to plot advancement, really got me thinking. The writers and producers, while extremely talented for turning Martin’s words and characters into living, breathing (sometime fire-breathing) entities, certainly bit off more than they could chew with A Song of Ice and Fire. There’s simply too much that will inevitably be lost in translation, and first to go is the timeline. The omission of these two (or more) major plot points will drastically affect the subsequent seasons—which is only frustrating for the people who read and watch the series.
There are a few things I’d like to comment on as far as movie/TV series versions of our favorite novels are concerned. Clearly, certain things are done very well, as evidenced by the large following of shows like GoT. Just as clearly, certain things are done extremely poorly, although ideally these are overshadowed by the grandeur of the things done right. I’ve done a short case study of a three rather well known book-to-movie or book-to-TV show instances. I’ve chosen to dissect the relationship between book and screen of the following popular series: the Game of Thrones television series (based off George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire), the Harry Potter film series (based off J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels), and the Hobbit series (based off J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel).
Things Done Right: Character Embodiment and Casting: Perhaps my favorite element of being both a reader and a watcher of movies and TV shows is that I get to see my favorite characters brought to life. When a film or TV series does this well, chances are the minor discrepancies between text and screen fade away, and we simply focus on how well a certain actor portrays a character.
Game of Thrones: My favorite character in the books is Tyrion Lannister, followed closely by Daenerys Targaryen, and because the casting was so well done, the same is true of these characters in the HBO series. Peter Dinklage and Emilia Clarke (among others, of course) are magnificent portrayals of the extremely dynamic and complex characters in the novel. Dinklage won an Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, and a Golden Globe for a similar category - he was the only GoT character nominated for the big-time acting awards (although Emilia Clarke won the Scream Award for Best Breakout Performance).
Harry Potter: I don’t really have a favorite character in the books - although I suppose if I had to pick, it might be Hagrid. I do, however, have several favorite characters from the film series - less because of the character portrayed and more because the casting was superb. My top three actors are Robbie Coltrane (whose portrayal of Hagrid was absolutely perfect and my favorite performance in the movies), Helena Bonham Carter (her Bellatrix Lestrange was breathtakingly villainous) and Maggie Smith (whose dedication to the role of Professor McGonagall was simply outstanding). Honestly, I could list several more actors here—the casting director did an excellen job with these movies.
The Hobbit: I am a huge fan of Martin Freeman (I almost chose to use the BBC Sherlock series as my third study, but decided I was too unfamiliar with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original works). I loved him in Love Actually, I loved him in Sherlock, and I adored him in the Hobbit. His was an excellent portrayal of the stuffy Bilbo we know and love - and his transformation to hesitant adventurer was near perfect.
Things Done Wrong: Adaptations as a general rule are pretty fun. I’ve come to the realization that I can’t ask too much of them, or I will always be disappointed. Each of these screen versions of some of my favorite novels succeed in many ways, but there is one gaping problem in each of them.
Game of Thrones: The timeline. While they’ve certainly adapted other things to fit the screen, like leaving out or combining characters, small plot points, etc, the writers have never been able to adhere to the time frame of the novels. Around season three, they start changing things - certain characters or plot points happen sooner or later than in the books, and let me tell you, it was incredibly confusing for a first-time reader to try and follow along. By choosing to create their own timeline, the writers are causing confusion and being forced to start changing major plot points as well. All in all, this hasn’t begun to affect the plot in a detrimental way, and the brilliance of the casting with Martin’s originality still make for an awesome adaptation.
Harry Potter: Ugh, plot points. Plot points, plot points, plot points. The actors are awesome, and there’s a certain light-heartedness to the books that the movies do a great job of capturing. The effects are decent, and the dialogue is good - but don’t even watch the sixth movie if you’re looking for attention to detail. I understand that Rowling’s universe is astoundingly fleshed out, and that so much of the detail in the novels is really difficult to put on the big screen. But for me, there are gaping holes in the plot of the movies that I’ve never been able to overlook. Stellar casting or no, I have a love/hate relationship with these adaptations.
The Hobbit: Total Misinterpretation. I’ve enjoyed the Hobbit movies as displays of visual greatness and landscape charisma. They’re beautiful. Stunning, at times. But they aren’t J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel, not one bit. As adaptations go, the liberties taken with the text are almost so huge that the movie no longer resembles the original story. Tolkien’s novel (novella, maybe) is essentially a children’s tale of light-hearted adventure. The language, fitting to the time period, is quaint and easy to follow—it’s a story. Not exactly a fairy tale, but certainly not a large-scale epic like Tolkien’s other, more well-known series. It’s nowhere near as violent or battle-infused as the movie adaptations would have you believe. As I said before, I enjoyed the movies on a visual level. But honestly, that’s about it—it’s ridiculous that this novel, one of my favorites and a literary classic, has been butchered into a money-making scheme that irreparably changes the story itself. Cool movie, terrible adaptation.