To film or not to film?

April 2, 2010 at 15:19 (1)

I read an interesting letter from a 70 year old film and book fan in the San Francisco Chronicle today (isn’t the internet incredible?!?). He wrote:

Author Pat Conroy (“Prince of Tides”) once told thriller author Tom Clancy, when the latter complained how one of his books had been “adapted” to the screen, “It’s their movie and your book”; frustrating to say the least for authors everywhere. Hollywood has improved greatly since then in adapting books, one of the most well known is the “Harry Potter” series; films, which for the most part are faithfully adapted, albeit in simplified versions of J.K. Rowling’s baroque plots. I use her as an example because I am a 70-year-old fantasy/sci-fi reader who devoured her books.

Recently, I went to and enjoyed a well-crafted fantasy film, “Cirque Du Freak, The Vampire’s Assistant.” The screen writing and production were excellent as were the performers. However, I had never read any of author Darren Shan’s (yes, that is a real British writer person) series of books detailing the adventures of half-vampire Darren Shan. As I read the books after seeing the film based on the first three books, I was mortified that Paul Weitz (the film’s director) and company had truly NOT “adapted those books.” They added characters, made some characters more important in the film than they were in the books, and basically emasculated the plot. I understand that Hollywood has business concerns with film, and film is a different medium, but other than the main characters, should they not give the author’s plot some due? The recent “Twilight” movies are good examples of well-adapted movies from books … (yes, I have read all those also). So I guess Pat Conroy’s famous reply to Clancy still stands – “It’s their movie.” Will Hollywood ever learn?

John Chase, Alameda

I found it interesting that John only retrospectively was critical of the movie — for me, it’s a crucial dividing point, and depending on which side you stand, I think it’s instrumental in whether you are able to enjoy movie adaptations or not. John saw the film and liked it — indeed, he liked it so much that he then went and read the books on which it was based, even though he had never heard of them before. (For me, by the way, that was the whole reason why I agreed to sell the movie rights, to draw in new readers.) When he read the books, he found that they were much richer than the film, with more characters, plot lines, themes, etc. That then shaded his view of the film — in retrospect, he wished the makers had been more faithful.

I don’t.

I know, as a writer, that I’m supposed to treat books as if they’re sacrosanct, and films as if they’re some lesser method of storytelling. But I don’t. I love them both, for different reasons. When I want a long, meandering, multi-layered story that will suck me into its world for days, maybe even weeks, I read a book. When I want a quick fix, a couple of hours of intrigue or action or fun, I watch a movie. They’re different mediums and they work in veyr different ways. I’d much rather rather a good, unfaithful adaptation of a book than a bad, faithfull adaptation. Sometimes it’s possible to have both, but that’s rare, beause of the different demands of the different mediums. It might sound like heresy, but I don’t think makers of a film should feel honour-bound to be faithful to the source material. I think their main aim should always be to make a good film, good on its own terms, in its own way. The Cirque Du Freak film was by no means flawless, but I liked it on its own terms — a quirky, nicely paced, interesting little mishmash of a movie. I don’t think it’s fair to compare it with the books. Natural, by all means — I think it’s something that most people do whenever they’ve read a book that a film is based on — but not fair.

By the way, I’m trial twittering at the moment. If you’re intersted in such things, you can check out my tweets by CLICKING HERE.

Happy Easter, everybody!!!


  1. Robbie said,

    Happy Easter Darren Shan!

  2. Alex said,

    ‘Nicely paced’? I didn’t dare blink for fear of missing something when i watched it back in October.

    I think you should stcick to only the blog. I enjoy reading it, and am not a fan of little Twitters every now and then.

  3. Stephanie said,

    Wow finally a critic that knows good movies 😀 and Mr.Shan about the movie i totally agree with you it was well paced and the actors were magnificent as there parts yeah but from all the reviews i have read and from the people that went to see it last year when it came out a quite of few of them didnt think so like my friend who inroduced me to the series though it was just going too fast one scene led to a differnt one well i just got myself to say that we all have opinions :/

  4. Mojtaba said,

    Hi Mr. Shan.
    I didn’t suppose that you like the movie. I’ve read a lot of books but I always say to every body that the saga of darren shan is the best. when i understand the movie is adapting, i got very happy and said to my friend this news, all of them become happy too. but when we watched the movie, all of us was wandering that how darren shan let them to adapting it.
    in the point view of me, best series must have best movies… you can see that the harry potter and twilight fans are very happy from they film, but you can’t find your fans happy from your movie.
    i always have dream to adapt your books very faithful, but i got disappointed….

    by the way, i heard from a lot of your fans in my country “our movie was fucked!”

    please…please don’t let them to adapt your books like this any more… or, don’t let do like this to the demonata, if you will agree to adapt.

    have nice April king Shan
    and Happy Easter!!!;)

  5. Nikkos said,

    I agree with the 70 year old. I felt that movie didn’t do the books justice. I also hadn’t hears of the books beforehand and when I read them I was amazed at how they butchered the books. They did a half-assed job. Darren Shan’s book are GENIUS! I swear they are like no other. I never liked vampires beofre I read his his books. IM just starting to get into the Demonata. And they are Genius too. But not as good as Cirque Du Freak. They movie was great- definitely. But i think they should stay more true next time. That’s what people went to see Cirque Du Freak not they directors butchered version of it.

  6. Peter said,

    Darren Shan is IRISH not british

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