For an avid reader, there’s nothing scarier than having your favorite books adapted into movies or TV shows. There’s so much room for failure, and so much tentative hope that maybe -– just maybe -– they’ll get it right. When Hollywood nails an adaptation it’s like the clouds are parting, angels are singing and we’re all staring at the screen trying not to weep. But that kind of achievement is rare, unfortunately. So in honor of those hits and misses, here’s one adaptation that sadly failed it and one that absolutely nailed it.
Failed It: Beautiful Creatures
Let me be clear: I’m a giant fan of the Beautiful Creatures (Little Brown & Co., September 2010) young adult series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Full of adventure and romance, it tells the story of Ethan, a Southern 16-year-old who falls in love with new student Lena. But Lena just happens to be a witch, and on her 16th birthday she’ll be claimed by either light or dark magic. Ethan fights hard to save her over the course of four novels, and their relationship blooms, making them one of the most romantic YA couples around. The series became so popular that Garcia and Stohl recently released the sequel to the series’ spin-off, Dangerous Creatures (Little Brown & Co., April 2015), focusing on characters Link and Ridley.
Everything was in place for this to be a great movie. Huge stars signed on -– including Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons –- and the story was close enough to Twilight that everyone thought they’d have a huge hit on their hands. But whoa man, were they wrong. The movie only grossed 7.5 million its opening weekend, and any further sequels have been permanently put on hold.
What went wrong? Well, first off, the movie sucked. They stripped out a lot of the elements from the books that fans loved, and a large number of fans weren’t thrilled about their initial casting of the leads either (what were those Southern accents?). Several critics basically called the movie ‘a watered-down version of Twilight,’ and that’s exactly what it was. The film was heavy-handed, relying more on teen romance tropes than on building a compelling story. When you actually have your book fans begging Hollywood not to make a sequel, I’d call it a definite fail.
Nailed It: The 100
The concept behind Kass Morgan’s YA series, The 100 (Little Brown & Co., September 2013), was so good that the rights sold to The CW before the first book even came out. The 100 is set in a dystopian future, and follows several juvenile delinquent teens as they’re ejected from their space station and sent down to earth, where no one has lived after a nuclear war tore it apart decades earlier. The book is part Lord of the Flies and part Battlestar Galactica, as the 100 teens have to learn to live together on a planet that might not be as abandoned as they thought.
It’s a solid series that jumps perspective between characters we meet on the show -– like Clarke and Bellamy (“Bellarke,” anyone?!) -– and different ones, like Glass, still living on the ship. But almost from the start, we see the differences between the book and the television show emerging. And, unlike Beautiful Creatures, The 100 nailed those distinctions.
The show is smart in several ways, but the most important one is that the writers aren’t afraid to go in their own direction, even if that means it veers off the course the books take. At this point, the series and show have little similarities. And while the books are great, it becomes a good thing both for the longevity of the show and the surprising narrative twists that branching out on its own makes possible. For example, a major character who stuck around in the book gets offed almost immediately and horrifically on television. That initial ruthlessness sets up a theme that I never stop appreciating: this show is the teen version of Game of Thrones. NO ONE IS SAFE. Our characters go through hell and back and then back again, and it is delicious. Clarke is at a badass level that she never quite achieves in the book: leading armies, making rash decisions and killing anyone she has to in order for her and her people to survive. The show uses their visual freedom to their advantage, with radioactive butterflies floating across the screen and two-headed horses breathing into the night. It’s stunning, vicious and one of the best shows on TV. Hey The 100, you 100 percent nailed it.