Guest blog: Why movies-from-books so often disappoint

There must be a historic unified theory as to how great books can become great movies. Something must have happened in 1939, after all, when "The Wizard of Oz" and "Gone With The Wind" hit the screen. They made it seem possible that creative works could morph from one form to another as easily as water to ice.

At this point, though, I wasn’t surprised to leave a screening of “The Time Traveler’s Wife” in a bad-temper, irritably cataloging all the ways it fell short of Audrey Niffeneger’s dreamily complex novel. After years of watching my hopes rise and crash, even my husband expected nothing else from me: “You hate all movies made from books.”

He is never surprised when movies made from books disappoint. Books, to his mind, are just too lengthy and nuanced, too internalized, to streamline onto the screen. Every fault I found with "The Time Traveler’s Wife", it’s true, could be explained by the assertion that it would have been too complicated to film it any other way.

Then, this week, I caught a showing of the children’s movie, “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs.” It’s the opposite of most adult adaptations; here, the slim 32-page classic blew up into a 90-minute animated film. Barely anything remains of the book except the idea – food miraculously falling from the sky – and then the miracle going wrong. All characters were invented. Most plot complications and resolutions came out of thin air. And, who knows why, but instead of being aggrieved or appalled, I enjoyed it. The film was funny. Creative. Sweet, and not too simple. The book may have been better – certainly it was more original – but I felt they were two separate things, so completely different they were able to coexist comfortably. Perhaps expanding a thin book works better than flattening out a long one.

I don’t know if it makes for a theory, but it does mean one thing to me in practical terms: I’m taking a deep breath and thinking I might give “Where The Wild Things Are” a chance when the movie opens next month.

Rebekah Denn writes at


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