“The books were way better” – The trend of TV series remakes

Good literature always seems to be able to vividly and effectively paint images, weave storylines, and cast atmospheres using only clever wordcraft. Indeed, whether it’s Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, or Rowling’s Harry Potter, the reader can always readily situate themselves within the story – the prolific destitution of Tsarist Russia, the decadence of British aristocracy, or the fantastical yet segregated social hierarchy of the Wizarding World. Ultimately, reading literature is a uniquely individual experience. So, when literature is made into films, it is faced with a problem: the balance between adoption and adaptation.

Typically, films based on novels are referred to as “adaptations” – keeping the same titles, characters, and storylines as their original, textual counterparts – and they generally remain reasonably accurate. Of course, there are extremities, and perhaps the best (or worst) examples were the two Percy Jackson & the Olympians films made in the 2010s: The Lightning Thief in 2010 and Sea of Monsters in 2013.

For many, myself included, young adult novel series such as Percy Jackson and Harry Potter probably constituted much of their reading time during the early school years – after all, few wouldn’t be enthralled by the worlds of magic and fantasy lived in by characters similar to us in age. Their respective film series, however, for better or worse, irrevocably changed our perceptions of those characters. Now, you’d be hard-pressed to disassociate Harry Potter from Daniel Radcliffe or Percy Jackson from its poor film series – and that is an issue. Film, with its varied and concurrent mediums, and irrespective of how many separate projects there are, is powerful, impactful and monolithic; we, the audience, can’t forget the recurrent visual cues – something text lacks – that feature in films.

…you’d be hard-pressed to disassociate Harry Potter from Daniel Radcliffe or Percy Jackson from its poor film series – and that is an issue.

More significantly, perhaps, is “interpretation as adaptation”. The book-to-film process is inherently reliant on consultations between the producer, director, and original writer: an exclusive dialogue whose parochialism will be reflected upon its release. Inconspicuous as this may be when everyone agrees on the film script, the obstructiveness of contracts, rights, and other commercial aspects becomes apparent when they don’t. Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief again provides the perfect example, with author Rick Riordan publicly criticising and distancing himself from the film’s script for its overt commerciality, stating that he was merely “consulted at some points, about some things.”

Indeed, the lack of discussion was evident: not only was the eponymous character, Percy, a supposedly 12 year old kid, portrayed by the then 18 year old Logan Lerman, but many key plot points were either missed or felt dreadfully awkward. Equally, though much better received, the Harry Potter franchise also suffered from similar issues; with the various director changes and subsequent shifting directions being perhaps best reflected by the Golden Trio’s various wacky hairdos.

Of course, I don’t blame book fans in expressing their distaste and disappointment at the inconsistencies: the lack of poltergeist antics in Hogwarts, Annabeth actress Alexandra Daddario’s lack of blonde hair, or the fact that the big Percy-Kronos showdown arrived way too early. However, one must equally acknowledge that these films were not merely made to recreate, but to adapt.

Finally, however, it seems that we have a solution: ultra-long, multi-seasoned TV series that ardently follow the novel’s every move.

Superhero, sci-fi, and fantasy movies are often accused of being “formulaic”: a seemingly unlikely, “normal” protagonist – while still trying to figure out who they are – is revealed to be the key to unlocking an ever-expanding web of conflicts, antagonisms, and manipulations, all underpinned by an even more unlikely, definitively tropical love story. Sound familiar? Of course it does – because they, despite the archetypes, are classic, and therefore sell well. But ultimately, as with the case of the failed Percy Jackson film franchise, the over-commercialisation of a beloved story will drive its fans away.

Finally, however, it seems that we have a solution: ultra-long, multi-seasoned TV series that ardently follow the novel’s every move. When Max (formerly HBO Max) announced its upcoming decade-long Harry Potter TV series earlier this year, fans were generally, excited, with many expressing their interest in seeing how beloved scenes (which were cut from the movies) would be represented on their screens. J.K. Rowling, too, expressed her and Max’s commitment to the preservation of “the integrity of my books”. Now, with the recent premiere of the new Percy Jackson & the Olympians TV series (which, unlike its film predecessor, has gained generally positive and encouraging reviews from fans and critics alike), it seems that such generally more book-accurate renditions which are longer-running and have shorter episodes are inevitably becoming the trend, and a popular one at that.

After this sprawling ramble, what do I think? I think that this might be, in the short-term, the best way to marry commercial success of the production and the corporate side with fans’ happiness. However, its success may well be limited to the genres and age groups of young adult fiction, where the primary target audience remains susceptible to visually impactful displays of CGI and open to archetypal and predictable plot lines. Of course, while I have no doubt that one-off adaptations of literary classics such as Pride and Prejudice or Little Women will remain well-received, productions would likely be hard-pressed to dedicate millions to producing similar TV series renditions of And Quiet Flows the Don or other voluminous works. Ultimately, the principle remains: if it doesn’t make money, why do it?

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Image Description: A film camera recording an actor on a studio set.