Thursday Thoughts – Is it time novel adaptations moved solely to television?

At the beginning of the last week, quite possibly the greatest TV show to grace our screens this year came to a knockout ending. Sharp Objects could very well seize the title of THE show of 2018 following HBO’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s debut novel. The scintillating performances from the show’s three female leads especially, plus Flynn’s usual spot-on writing makes for a whole eight hours where the viewer is barely allowed chance to breathe.

The show was directed by Jean Marc Vallée too, who we know has previous form with these TV novel adaptations following the Emmy success experienced by the last project he worked on before this, which was Big Little Lies.

That’s two major television series lining up consecutively in his filmography. One won pretty much all the Emmys. The other one will surely do the same?

Now, the success of both of these series are phenomenal, but that’s not really what I want to talk about here.

What occurred to me whilst watching Sharp Objects was that it is just one show in quite a long line-up of high profile television programmes to have been inspired by a novel. From HBO alone we have this, the also aforementioned Big Little Lies, plus Game Of Thrones that I know of. Across so many other networks there’s also the likes of The Handmaid’s Tale, Mindhunter, House Of Cards, Bosch, War And Peace, Hannibal, plus Lucifer and The Walking Dead (it was good once) if we throw graphic novels into the mix as well.

There’s definitely a trend for taking narratives from page to screens of a smaller kind of late. And personally I can’t fault that. From pretty much everything that I’ve seen up to now, books of any kind translate far better when not confined to a run time of 3 hours or less. That’s not to say books can’t be adapted for the big screen – there have definitely been some fine films harvested from books. It just seems to me that a higher proportion of TV shows are hits compared to the mountains of films that have managed to turn out just average despite having some of the finest page turners ever written. And following shows such as Sharp Objects, I can’t help but think on how much even some of the best film adaptations could’ve been improved if they’d have been made for TV instead.

A prime example of this would be Gone Girl. Another adaptation of a Gillian Flynn novel, this film was met with great critical applause back in 2014. I was a big fan of the film, and my viewing of it prompted me to read the book, which further blew me away. The hindsight that shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies have given me suggests that Gone Girl could’ve been even better as a TV series. The detail that the book boasted, but that unfortunately had to be cut from the film for the sake of the run time really would’ve been something else if made as a four or six-part TV show. You got more of a feel of how much of an evil woman Amy really was in the book, and I just know that Rosamund Pike’s performance would only have been even greater is more of this material had’ve been put to use.

Of course, it’s very easy to say this for good adaptations of good stories. If we were to be talking about some of the novels that would struggle to be defined as high art (Fifty Shades does come to mind, thanks to a friend on Twitter). I’ve not had the pleasure of experiencing any of the full versions of either forms in which this franchise was brought to audiences, however from what I’ve heard, none of it was great. Would we really want 6+ hours fo that delightful tale? Most likely not.

So, really, the question is, should we just save the good adaptations for TV? Because let’s face it, the bad books will still get made into something if enough people read them. How about we banish those to the movies where they can be limited to two hours or less, and then allow ourselves to savour the good stuff during a run on TV? They don’t have to be long series – some might only need to be four episodes in some cases. But with those stories where every minute detail adds quality, I think we should be allowed to enjoy it all.

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Kira Comerford

Film and TV lover with hopes to one day make my own projects for everyone to enjoy. Until then, I'm giving my thoughts on what I watch for inspiration.

4 thoughts on “Thursday Thoughts – Is it time novel adaptations moved solely to television?”

  1. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, Sharp Objects definitely making a good case. In film you’re really only allotted 2 hours to tell your story. That’s 2 hours to synthesize character arcs, chart exposition, conflicts, pave way for resolution. That feels really rushed compared to Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies where you really get time to breathe in the setting, the people, and watch a character unfold. I know way more about Wind Gap and Monterey than, say, the usual NY or LA settings so commonly used in film. Though I loved Gone Girl the movie, I’m kind of enticed by the possibilities of a mini-series.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I just think when it comes to well written stories it seems such a shame to restrict it to such a short time when, if approached in the right way, there is so much potential to milk them for every drop of detail they have. It would’ve been an outrage to confine the character of Camille Preaker to 2 hours – no way would we have got to see everything we saw from Amy Adams in such a short space of time either. I guess the only thing that stops me saying do away with films altogether when it comes to these adaptations is that a lot of bad books get adapted alongside the good ones, and no one would want to see a full season’s run of those.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I could only imagine what a film-version of Sharp Objects would be like. I’m more than confident Amy Adams would be spectacular, but the feel of Wind Gap and the people in it wouldn’t be the same. You are very right. Some books make for great films, others for impeccable TV shows. A series like Sharp Objects shows all kinds of narrative possibilities. Then again, it helps to have a singular voice guiding that storytelling and atmosphere the way Jean-Marc Vallee did. As much as I love great characters, I love a vivid setting. TV is really the only place to accomplish that.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Exactly. I feel as a film you would only really have gotten a feel for the bare bones of the place, which would ultimately have had a major impact on the rest of the story. TV allows writers more time to make the stories more flavourful and make things that stand out from the crowd.


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