So, is it true that bad books make good movies, and good books make bad movies?
In my head, a list of good movies (and TV series – I’m arbitrarily expanding the question) flits by and, yes, I’d have to say at least a few came from dogs of books. But it would be unkind and impolitic to identify the books I think were awful enough to make this list. I will offer one: The Frost detective series on British TV was created from the late R.D. Wingfield’s handful of books. I saw the series first and liked it more than the books, which were depressingly misogynistic in tone.
I have fewer friends in the film industry than in the author community, so for the next list, yes, some books and series I have loved just didn’t fly when translated to the screen and I’ll name names. V.I. Warshawski’s conscience-driven exploits didn’t take off even though Kathleen Turner’s a fine actor. Reacher doesn’t work for me played by a short guy who grins and grimaces for hours, even though – or perhaps because – he does many of his own stunts. The pert blonde who tried to sound like Stephanie Plum was so very wrong for the part of someone who grew up in Trenton. The only actor who could have done her right was Cher 30 years ago. Inspector Lynley on TV didn’t cut it for me and the wonderful actress who played Barbara Havers was way too attractive. I like my Havers lumpy, thank you. Some of this is casting and directing, but a lot of it is the scripts, usually “based on” rather than close to the originals and for good reason, i.e. 42 minutes or 109 minutes or whatever the convention is. The stories don’t get to unfold properly, there’s no character arc unless it’s in a TV series, and for some reason, there’s no suspense.
Exceptions to the rule: French crime drama in film. Why I don’t know but, man, do they do it well. But I’m wandering off topic since I have no idea if they were books first.
The question didn’t ask what good books made good movies – Val McDermid, Ann Cleeves, and Kate Atkinson come to mind immediately. Good storytelling, good translations to screen, and excellent casting. So all of you with optioned books, don’t lose heart. There’s hope!
Meanwhile, what about you, fellow Criminal Minds? Disagree with me completely? Have more to add to the lists?
- Susan C Shea