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The Best and Worst YA Fantasy Movies (Based on Books)

January 23, 2009

One of the reasons studios love to make movies from popular young adult books is that their built-in fanbases are almost guaranteed to flood the theaters in order to see their favorite characters come to life – and drag their parents along for the ride.  The downside is that Hell hath no fury like a fangirl scorned, and walking the line between staying true to the beloved source material and making a decent movie isn’t always easy.  Like many others, Inkheart, opening January 23rd starring Brendan Fraser, is based on a widely acclaimed novel.  Here we take a look at some of the other YA texts that have been translated to the screen – for better and for worse.

HARRY POTTER (2001-present)

The one that really started it all.  The translation from page to screen, as well as the acting, improves with every Potter outing, reaching its pinnacle with the fourth film, Goblet of Fire.  Once the writer and directors freed themselves from the print and focused on capturing the spirit rather than the exact details, they succeeded at making movies.  Pace is something that the Potter films often struggle with, as the books are quite long and have a fan base so devoted that the filmmakers quake in fear.


The movie resembles the book in almost no way besides the initial premise and a few character names.  However, it makes a really fun movie.  Emphasizing satire over the original, somewhat dramatic, plot of a young girl forced to obey due to a fairy curse, the movie earns its laughs in part thanks to Anne Hathaway’s charm.  This is a case of the words ‘inspired by’ being more appropriate than ‘based on.’


As a combination of the first three books in the series, fans of the story about three orphans shuffled from ‘relative’ to ‘relative’ are undoubtedly going to miss certain things, but while it would be a better movie if it hadn’t become a ‘Jim Carrey’ movie, the film has good flow, great leads, and a wonderful, stylized look.  Kudos to the art department.  Billy Connolly, in particular, does a great job as Uncle Monty in the Reptile Room, maybe because he’s virtually unknown to the intended audience.


This book-to-movie transition succeeds so well because the book itself is practically a short story, an outline, sparse in details, which means there’s room for the writer to add instead of subtract.  The overtly Christian message is toned down for the secular market, but since kids don’t realize Aslan is supposed to be Jesus anyway, it doesn’t do any harm.  The sequel, Prince Caspian, also does a wonderful job, but loses points for the inexplicable addition of an attraction between Susan and the titular prince.  Everyone knows there’s no sex in Narnia.

ERAGON (2006)

A classic tale of a boy and his dragon on an epic quest to save the kingdom from an evil king. Reportedly failing to please both critics and fans of the book, this Lord of the Rings-wannabe earns three out of four yawns.  While not the worst of what the YA fantasy genre has to offer, the film’s only real surprise is that so many quality actors signed on for it.  On the plus side, if CBS ever needs someone to play a young Simon Baker on The Mentalist, they know where to look.


When you hear things like: the screenwriter made the lead character American, set it in present day, and essentially rewrote the battle between good and evil, it doesn’t bode well.  What results is a confusing mish-mash of cliches, wasted characters, some decent special effects, and completely melodramatic dialogue and over-the-top acting.  Fortunately, it features a villainous Christopher Eccleston – he could read the phone book and make it sound good.


One of the drawbacks to modern fantasy epics is the CGI conundrum: it makes the fantastical possible, but also makes it difficult for the actors, particularly child actors.  Fortunately the adults acquit themselves admirably, and the raw talent of Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra distracts from a few awkward green screen interactions.  The source material is handled with kid gloves in the attempt to avoid offending the religious right, diminishing its power.  Perhaps its for the best that the second and third books of the not-really-for-kids trilogy won’t make it to a theater near you.


Though the talented Freddie Highmore still needs to work on his American accent, he does a good job convincing the audience that he’s his own twin brother.  An enjoyable and essentially harmless adventure that doesn’t move far beyond the Spiderwick mansion, the only real disappointment in The Spiderwick Chronicles is that it relies on a very predictable divorce subplot, and it’s hard to root for a main character who spends the first third of the movie sulking.

TWILIGHT (2008)*
The best you can say about this movie is that it probably pleases its die-hard fans – it certainly pleased the producers who rushed the sequel into production.  For everyone else, it’s torture akin to having a stake driven through the heart.  It does deliver what it promises: a melodramatic love story featuring a sexy vampire.  The pace is glacial, the story laughable, and the dialogue is so bad it seems like the actors have a hard time getting through their lines.  Curiously enough, the best part of the story is the relationship between Bella and her father – which is shown, not told.  In all other cases Bella’s emotionless voiceover weighs down the movie like the clouds over Forks, Washington.

-written for Starpulse

*I fully expect to get a lot of crap from Twilight fans for my opinion, but that movie is so utterly awful, I don’t care.  If anyone wants to explain to me why it is in fact a cinematic masterpiece, I welcome the comments.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 23, 2009 9:30 pm

    This brought my so much happy to read. I so agree with Ella Enchanted! Once you get past the fact that it’s pretty much NOTHING like the amazing book, you can just enjoy Anne Hathaway be lovely and have great chemistry with my beloved Hugh Dancy. Dreamysigh.

    Actually, I think I agree with everything you said other than the bit about Prince Caspian which I thought was a bit disappointing over all. It never occurred to me that Eragon‘s lead actor looks so much like Simon Baker! Maybe that’s why I never gave Baker a chance…

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