Anyone who reads can tell you that screen adaptations are usually worse than the books that inspired them. Sometimes it seems like Hollywood will take the book title and maybe a few character names, then run off to create a totally different story. I’m one of those people that you probably don’t want to sit next to in a movie theater when you’re watching a movie for the first time because I wince and groan every time something gets changed from the book. It can be physically painful to see a beloved book get ripped apart! (I’m looking at you, Syfy’s Earthsea miniseries. That was a crime against literature!)
But not all book adaptations are terrible and maybe it’s just enough to keep holding on to hope. Sometimes, the director and the rest of the production team love the book and want to do it justice. Sometimes, when making sacrifices for time or what will play better visually, the movie or TV show will even make changes that I like. In rare instances the movie might be better than a mediocre book or stand on its own merits as a great story, even if it’s not 100% faithful to the original.
So what adaptations did I actually enjoy in 2021?
Shadow & Bone (TV series on Netflix)
I had actually never tried the Grishaverse novels before and I only read the first Shadow & Bone book before watching the series. And I have to say, I really liked the television show, maybe even better than the original trilogy. Making Alina Starkov into a POC really highlights how much she feels like an outsider in Ravka, even around other Grisha, and adds extra depth to her story. Since Alina and Mal both come from a valley that sits on the border between Ravka and Shu, changes hands often, and includes people of mixed ethnicities, it still makes sense for their story. The books maybe do a little better job of explaining Alina’s emotions but otherwise I really liked her story on the screen.
But the TV series made a great choice by also including the characters from the Six of Crows books in an original story, bringing them into the action earlier. Because these are awesome characters and they add so much more dimension to the world and let you see things outside of Ravka. The only thing I regret is that Wylan wasn’t there, but I’ve just seen that he’s been cast in the next season, so the whole gang will be together soon. I can’t wait to see what they do next.
The Expanse (TV series on Amazon)
There is an advantage to this series because the authors of the books are closely involved in the writing and production of the TV series. First they were on Syfy for three seasons, which were good, especially since they also made the choice to include some characters earlier on. (Chrisjen Avasarala!) There was an interesting to choice to make book 1 cover the first season and a half, giving them fifteen episodes to tell the story in more detail, and then did the same with book 2–but since they were ending on season three, that left five episodes to cover book 3. That really truncated that story and left me disappointed.
But then it got picked up by Amazon and for seasons 4 and 5, it was ten episodes per book, with a decent budget. Still fun to watch.
Season 6, which came out at the end of 2021, was disappointing because it was so short. Six episodes instead of ten, and since they were ending, they also tried to tease things from later books that didn’t really need to be there. There may be more Expanse to come. Still, even though it was short, it was a great science fiction show and the characters stayed entertaining and relatable.
Dune pt. 1 (movie)
The new movie really felt like it brought a lot of the scope and mythology of Dune to life. It didn’t stop to try explaining every detail, but instead delivered a sweeping narrative that carried me along. The casting was also good and most of the actors disappeared into their characters. It ended a little abruptly and left me wanting more, but since it’s been confirmed for part 2, I can look forward to seeing the rest of the story.
Overall, I feel like we are living in a golden age of TV and movie content. There is so much new stuff coming out all the time, there are great special effects available to bring fantastical ideas to life, and studios are growing more diverse with POC and LGBTQ+ characters. It’s amazing to see so much representation on the screen these days and makes me hopeful that we will get to see even more soon. Things that I never thought I’d get to see are coming to life.
There is even more to look forward to in 2022. I don’t know if it will all be successful, but I’m sure some of it will be good.