We all have heard it before: “The movie was cool but the books were sooooo much better!” It’s an awful truth for bibliophiles that has been around as long as book adaptations have existed. If movies were to put every single detail from a book into the screenplay, the movies would be hours upon hours long.
One of the best examples of this would be Harry Potter. Potterheads all over the world often commiserated about not seeing their favorite scenes played out on the silver screen (“Do you need a cough drop, Dolores?!” springs immediately to mind for me.) The audiobook for Order of the Phoenix runs approx 27 hours ( fun fact: Jim Dale set a world record by using 134 DIFFERENT voices for this installment), whereas the film runs a total of 138 minutes. Looking at these numbers–and taking into account that while the films cut out quite a few scenes and details, acting those scenes out would be MUCH quicker than narrating the details of the scenes–you can feasibly deduct that putting every true-to-book detail into the movie could have put it at a running time of anywhere between 3-5 hours. Who would want to sit through that long of a movie?? (Hint: Every Potterhead in the world… that’s who.)
But I digress. As much as I would love to see every single obscure detail brought to life–film budget be damned–I also know that it’s not a possibility. Not only could it prove disastrous production-wise, but who the hell has time for that?? Not me!
No, what actually breaks my little book-loving-heart isn’t that they left out the MC eating his morning bowl of Wheaties, or the love interest’s visit to the bathroom… it’s when film completely change or lose what I would consider vital details. We are hearing the uproar as of late with regard to Jude Law’s upcoming portrayal of Albus Dumbledore in The Crimes of Grindewald and the missing detail of his orientation. But to step aside from the Harry Potter complaints… as there are many… I would like to focus on another novel I recently have come to enjoy: Ready Player One.
I can’t tell you how much I enjoy this story. It was a nostalgiafest for my little 80s-loving heart. My husband and kids saw the movie before me and they raved about it, so knowing I wouldn’t make a movie anytime soon, I decided to listen to the audiobook until it came to Netflix. There was so much going on in that novel, and I won’t get into every detail here, but there were many aspects that resonated with me in one way or another. The character-development was my absolute FAVORITE part. Each character was as real as people I’ve met in my life, rather than caricatures of stereotypes.
And then I watched the movie.
Now, I’m not gonna throw a fit and say the movie sucked, because in its own right the movie was fun to watch and I would watch it again. That being said, for anyone who hasn’t watched it yet… there’s very few things that are depicted like they were in the book. So much so… that I can’t break them all down. It would take all year. And I don’t really want to get grumpy all over again to be honest. But I do want to point out two specific instances where they changed things and I am SO. FUCKING. IRRITATED.
Warning you now….
Change number 1: Art3mis
I am a big girl and probably as noticeable as the living room lamp. I know what it’s like to just hate my entire packaging. Self-esteem issues blow. (I’m working on them. Baby steps.) Now, having dabbled in SecondLife myself, I am not unfamiliar with the ease in which one can just completely change up their packaging. I am not a buxom, Amy Lee look-alike with badass tattoos all over her body and a kick-ass wardrobe. In fact… I could probably safely say–with the exception of a few tattoos here and there–I am the polar opposite of that image. But I felt confident with that appearance and all it took was a few keystrokes, so why not?
You know what I loved about Art3mis? She made her avatar look exactly like her real life self, with the exception of the port-wine stain on her face. And she wasn’t some blue-eyed, bronzed, Hollywood goddess in real life. She had an unusual body type, meaning unlike the porn star bodies “normally found in the Oasis.” At 168 lbs and 5’7”, according to her file, I understand this to mean she wasn’t rail-thin. She was soft. She was bigger than what most girls consider “attractive.” She didn’t hide these features behind a Barbie doll avatar, she embraced them. Only her birthmark made her self-conscious, something that is understandable as it’s not like your hair or your weight or anything you can actually permanently/easily change.
I loved the empowerment behind Art3mis loving her body so much, even though it wasn’t the “socially-accepted” idea of beauty that she modeled her fantasy avatar after it. These type of books so often rely on the female character hating her weight and making her avatar thin to hide that part of herself, that it was a breath of fresh air to see that particular feature not be in the spotlight.
And, by the way, future authors…. FAT IS NOT EQUAL TO UGLY! Please, stop making this your go-to trope for “hideousness!”
Of course, in the movie, they decided that not only her birthmark had to be gone from her avatar, but she had to turn her avatar into some svelt, edgelord elf. Oh, and to make it even better? REAL LIFE ART3MIS WAS GORGEOUS! -_- Like, seriously?! Here in the book you have softer, thicker, raven-haired unconventional beauty Samantha totally loving what she’s packing (with one tiny exception) and flaunting it, and the movie you have fit, slender, red-haired, blue-eyed beauty Samantha HATING EVERYTHING ABOUT HERSELF. What the actual fuck, guys?
Change number 2: Aech
Okay… so my issues with the first big change hit a very personal note for me and I realize in the grand scheme of things that appearance is not the topmost issue for the majority of people (but to some it is a HUGE part of their life so I’m only a teeny bit sorry for being irritated about it.) But what they did to Aech/Helen??? This one actually made me angry.
In the book, Aech turns out to be a big black lesbian rather than the bro best friend Wade has grown to know. I get this so much. One of my favorite people on the internet became my best friend while I was under the impression they were a male. We wrote stories together and talked for hours together, forming what I believed to be an unshakeable bond of friendship. I later learned that “Artemis” (Yeah, not even joking there btw LOL) was a lesbian woman (hello redundancy). I wasn’t mad that she was a lesbian. I wasn’t mad that she was a woman. I was mad that she hid those parts of her from me all that time. It felt like a massive betrayal. Luckily, we were able to work through it because, as Wade points out in RPO, everything that he connected to was still there in his best friend, just in different packaging.
Aech/Helen explains to Wade that the white male persona was a survival tactic encouraged by her mother–a black female entrepreneur who made her own avatar in the Oasis to be a white male to give her an advantage otherwise denied her. More doors opened to her because the people she spoke with believed she was white and male, blowing through all those barriers that not only women often run into in the business world, but especially women of color tend to have trouble breaking through. She could thrive in that world free of sexism and prejudice.
If you don’t believe these barriers exist, look up experiments where a person with an ethnic name put a white-sounding name on their resume, or where a man accidentally sent an email to a client using his female coworker’s email and saw how much trouble she went through to be taken seriously.
This small scene in the book was so real, so 3rd dimension in Aech’s character development, it was probably my favorite among the entire cast of characters. But what does the movie go and do?
They explain her avatar name “Aech” as being a version of “H”…. because her dad called her that “and it stuck.”
They lost so much depth in that instant. Just one seemingly-tiny detail and not only did they make her character less interesting, but they lost the opportunity to put on display a very real and very common problem in the world. They did a disservice to all the men and women who have to navigate this ridiculous hurdles that have been put there by people who never had to jump them in their own pursuits. They lost a perfect opportunity to educate people who might not realize that these are things that people actually have to do to get these opportunities. And why? They could’ve trimmed down something else in the movie, like the ridiculous red-herring night club scene. Give me substance over flash any day.
As someone who would be overjoyed if any studio were interested in the movie rights to my book (one can dream right?) I hope I don’t have to ever sacrifice such great details. It really does make me respect those authors who pull the plug on projects when they start straying too far from the original material. You got my respect.
What book adaptions have driven you to the edge? What scenes should have been shown on the silver screen? Feel free to leave it in the comments below. We can commiserate together!