Movie adaptations are a book nerd’s favorite thing to complain about. While excitement ensues when the announcement comes (“Oh my gosh, they’re finally making XYZ into a movie!! I CAN’T WAIT.), dread quickly sets in as the release date crawls closer. But of course, it’s a book we love, so we have to go see it. Coming out of the movie, though, we’re sorely disappointed.
Unavoidably, our favorite character has been cut, or our favorite scene, or an actor didn’t play a character the way we wanted. Usually this isn’t anyone’s fault. Movies are so much shorter than books, so cuts are necessary. However, I think the solution has finally been found: TV adaptations.
John Green’s Looking for Alaska is the most recent book to screen adaptation to hit Hulu, and it was as a limited eight episode series. Now, John Green’s first movie adaptation, The Fault in Our Stars, was fantastic, but his second, Paper Towns, was a severe disappointment. As Looking for Alaska is one of my favorite books, I was really nervous. Would they ruin it?
They did not. In fact, it was better than I ever could have dreamed (some people say it’s better than the book, which, in my opinion, is complete and utter blasphemy). This adaptation was able to fulfill the book in the way Paper Towns could never dream of. And I think the key to this lies in the difference between adapting a book for TV vs. for film.
The main reason why Paper Towns fails as a movie is because so many essential elements are cut that the story doesn’t even work anymore. Take, for example, the characters. In Paper Towns, we have five highly complex main characters, all with complex relationships with each other. These relationships take a long time to develop. In the book, we see main character Q, Ben, and Radar have many long conversations, either at school or over video games. In these conversations, we really get to understand these characters and how they connect with each other. These are almost all cut from the film, however, leaving Ben and Radar as fairly insignificant, flat characters.
Huge chunks of the plot were also removed to move the story along. The book involves a long “scavenger hunt,” we’ll call it, where Q follows the clues Margo left behind to find where she disappeared to. During this process, he learns that Margo is not who he imagined her to be. In fact, people are never what we imagined them to be. In the movie, however, most of this hunt is cut. In the end, we don’t understand how Q found Margo and we also don’t learn how to imagine people complexly. Margo remains flat as well.
Looking for Alaska, however, has none of these problems. Because they have eight episodes, eight whole hours of content, and everything is fully developed. The show takes its time to develop each character individually, even expanding on the book’s content. We aren’t limited to Miles’s point of view, so we get to see each character’s backstory and their interactions with other characters. We come to fully understand them as deeply flawed people, but people we can still love and sympathize with, which is the key to John Green characters. We don’t just get to see all the scenes from the book played out on screen, but scenes are even added in that add to the tension of the story.
For example, in episode two, an entire scene is added where the Colonel’s girlfriend, Sara, has her debutante ball, which is a huge deal for her. The Colonel tells his friends not to play a prank because he doesn’t want to ruin Sara’s night, but they ignore him and play a prank anyway. This strains the Colonel’s relationship with the rest of his friends group and it also strains his relationship with Sara, which was already rocky. This scene also highlights the Colonel’s own insecurity as a poor scholarship kid dating a rich girl. It’s a beautiful addition to the story which makes it shine even more.
Now, one question you might be asking is this: if Paper Towns is so terrible as a movie, why is Fault in Our Stars so good? I believe the answer to this lies in the fact that The Fault in Our Stars is just simpler. Hazel and Gus are the sole focus of the book and film. There are some extra characters in the book, but they are less important and were cut for the film, which is sad, but not a huge loss. With a simpler theme and less characters to deal with, it’s easier to make a satisfying movie. Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska are both filled with complicated characters and themes and it’s incredibly difficult to capture it all onscreen in less than two hours.
With all that said, I think TV shows are the book adaptations of the future. They are the answer, the way to truly pay tribute to the books we love. To allow them the time to say what they need to say. Yes, some books can be made into movies successfully, but the TV shows tend to be better, and I see the trend starting to lean that way with Shadowhunters and HBO’s upcoming adaption of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. In fact, many of the book adaptation announcements lately have been for TV shows and that’s something we should celebrate! Justice for our favorite books has finally come!