I confess. As a child, and as a teenager, I was a tv-aholic. I knew the lineup of my favorite shows. Being a sophisticated youngster, as soon as Captain Kangaroo went off, I ditched Romper Room in favor of reruns of “The Lucy Show” (the one with Desi Jr. and Luci Arnez) or “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
You can imagine my joy—nay, my absolute glee—when I found out that there was to be a television movie based on “Little House on the Prairie,” part of my all-time favorite and most-read series of books. I was doubly excited because Melissa Gilbert, tagged to play “Laura,” was almost exactly my age at the time. Twelve. I still remember the “Tiger Beat” and “TV Guide” interviews with her.
Was it a good representation? I think so. If you have read the “Little House” books, which I have, multiple times, you realize that like the Harry Potter books, the books where Laura and Mary are younger, the prose is less complicated. “Little House on the Prairie” is the second in the series, taking place when Laura is supposedly around 7 years old. I believe there is a whole chapter devoted to Laura following a frog through the waving grasses of the Kansas prairie. That didn’t make it into the movie, fortunately.
I was even more enraptured when I discovered that it was to be made into a weekly series. The first few seasons were great. Set during the “Plum Creek” period, I admit they took license with the actual books, but it still “felt” right. It wasn’t until Laura hit her teen years and they started featuring characters not in the books, and then completely ignored or changed large-scale plot points, that I lost interest. We won’t even talk about how Pa’s beard was a prominent character in the books that never even made it to Michael Landon’s face . . .
Can you overplay a book by extending it beyond its literary boundaries? Probably. The only way to combat that, in television, is to ditch the idea of a series altogether, and settle for a movie or a miniseries.
I came of reading age in the late 70’s and early 80’s when the miniseries also hit the big time. “The Winds of War” was one of my first forays into epic historical romance, and as soon as the miniseries was over, I headed to the library to check out the 1,000 page tome of the same name. Was the miniseries a good representation? I thought so. I loved them both. When “War and Remembrance” came out a few years later with a different leading lady, I was upset. It was just as well-made as the first, but trading Ali McGraw for Jane Seymour? Both ladies are wonderful actors, but somehow, it messed with the visuals in my mind.
I’m going to make another confession now, and if you’d like to put me in stocks in the town square, just let me know where and when, and I’ll show up. I recently watched the BBC miniseries “Pride and Prejudice” and absolutely fell in love with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. I loved it so much, in fact, that I decided to finally read the book. I think I got MAYBE a third of the way through?
As we were watching the miniseries, my husband commented that Elizabeth certainly did a lot of walking through gardens picking flowers. To me, that just gave me more time to think about Mr. Darcy . . . which is undoubtedly what Elizabeth Bennett was doing, as well.
I think, by far, some of the best published-works-to-film has been “The Twilight Zone.” Well-known authors Roald Dahl and Ray Bradbury were among the short-story authors whose works were dramatized on the small screen. “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” another television series from the 50’s and 60’s, also featured works by Dahl, Garson Kanin, John Cheever, and more. As producers, Rod Serling and Hitchcock realized that published short stories were preferable to stories developed exclusively for television.
Do I expect a movie to be as good as a book? Not usually. Most of what is left out of a novel is depth. Character development. Major plot lines.
I’ve noticed is that while I am drawn to movies that I know are based on a book, it doesn’t mean I will go right out and read the book. I love Sci-Fi and Action-Adventure movies, but the epic bestsellers are too technical for my romance-trained literary mind.
So I just watch.
Example. “Sahara” by Clive Cussler. Loved the movie, and everyone says it’s a great book by a great author, and I’m sure it is. I’ve watched the movie at least four times. Haven’t read the book. But I have watched other movies that star Matthew McConaughey . . . Does that count? 😉