Book vs. Movie: Battle 1

Ella Enchanted – Gail Carson Levine

bookvmovie

You know that feeling you get when you find out a book you love is going to be turned into a movie? Of course you do! Excitement that you’ll get to see your favorite characters ‘in real life’, Curiosity about what it will be like, and Apprehension that it won’t be as good as you hoped.

Admit it. We all do it.

I definitely do.

So what’s the consensus? Books are better? Movies are better? Well, I aim to find out. This year, I will be reviewing a collection of popular books that have been adapted for film and comparing the two titles, Book vs. Movie style. Who will the winner be?

Let’s begin.

A few days ago, I posted a review on one of my favorite books of all time, Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine. Coincidentally, it is also a book that has been adapted into a film version. I thought then, it would be only fitting that it be the subject of my first Book V. Movie Battle.

Here’s the lowdown:

Movie Stats

  • Released 2004
  • Director Tommy O’Haver
  • Starring – Anne Hathaway, Hugh Dancy, Cary Else, Minnie Driver, Vivica A. Fox
  • Box Office Sales: $22,913,677
  • Runtime 1 hour 36 min

Whenever I learn there is going to be a movie released based on a novel, without fail the first thing that pops into my mind is, “The book is always better than the movie.” This may seem like an unfair bias, but hear me out:  It makes SENSE that the book is better than the movie, because in the book, the author has time to craft the story and welcome you into the world of the characters, a world that they have developed and nurtured and spend scene upon scene building.

Reading a book lets you really delve into the story and the life of the characters, giving you a fuller understanding of the story. After all, the average movie runs about 90 – 120 minutes, and the rule of thumb for screenwriting is that every page covers about a minute’s worth of screentime. Following that, if the filmmaking industry were to simply transpose the story, a standard 250 page novel would be over 4 hours! It’s just not realistic.

So there are places that Hollywood has to cut and trim. I get it. Sometimes that causes the integrity of the story to be affected. Which, again, I understand. I don’t necessarily like it, but being given the opportunity to see my favorite books reenacted trumps following the story 100%

Ella Enchanted is not one of those cases.

First off, as I have mentioned, Ella is one of my favorite books. So already, the bar for Miramax was set pretty high. I can’t even tell you how excited I was when if found out Ella was coming to the big screen (Let’s just say I did a happy dance, and rhythm is not exactly my thing)

Then it was released.

And I got very sad.

While overall, Miramax produced a pretty cute movie (love story, pretty princess, handsome prince, nasty bad guy, and a good musical score), it wasn’t Ella Enchanted.

Now, as I mentioned, I wasn’t expecting a video play by play, but in the film, significant parts of the storyline were cut or completely left out. Ella’s time in finishing school, which is a decent chunk of the book, is just breezed through, leaving gaping holes on other integral parts. Her friendship with Areida? Comes across as a side thought. Ella becoming a proper lady? Not even touched on. And as frustrating as that was, the worst was when the letter exchange between Char and Ella was removed. I mean, if Miramax wanted a love story, they had it RIGHT there. Just waiting for them, but they chopped it.

Disappointing, to say the least.

But even that I could have gotten over, I really could have, except for this:

THEY CUT ALL OF THESE AMAZING SCENES then WROTE IN garbage.

Now, garbage may be a strong word, but the fact of the matter is, the scenes they put in were worse than what they took out. Cutting scenes for the sake of time restraints is understandable. Cutting GOOD scenes to add in completely different ones? Not so much. Especially to a loyal fan. It makes the reader watching think WTF?

Ella Enchanted had quite a few of them. (listed chronologically by film play time.)

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WTF 1: Mandy is a bumbling idiot.

In the film, Miramax decided to make Ella’s cook (and secret fairy godmother) a complete and total moron. She is incompetent at working spells and is reduced to nothing but a joke.  In the book, Mandy is like a second mother to Ella. She can’t help Ella reverse the spell, but it has nothing with her inability to work magic, it is her understanding of not working big magic because it can cause larger problems in a sort of butterfly effect.  Miramax basically took the Dumbledore of Ella Enchanted and turned her into Professor Trelawny. Not cool.
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WTF 2: Uncle Edgar
Of all the WTFs in the world, this one is definitely up there. While I love me some Carey Elwes (Princess Bride for life!), the character of Uncle Edgar completely threw me. Mostly because HE’S NOT EVEN IN THE DANG BOOK! I’m not sure why Miramar felt the need to include Edgar, I’m assuming it has something to do with making a more tangible ‘bad guy’ – apparently the evil steps, Ella’s curse, and cannibalistic ogres were not enough, but whatever- that the audience would love to hate. While Elwes definitely accomplishes this, adding his character in added a completely new plot line to the story that wasn’t necessary.
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WTF 3: Magical Creatures Forced Occupations

One of the most fantastic things about Ella Enchanted is the world Carson Levine builds including a wide assortment of magical creatures. Elves, giants, ogres, fairies, and gnomes are completely commonplace in Frell, and it is wonderful. These same magical creatures can still be found in the film (minus the gnomes), except instead of living normal lives, they are all subjected to a specific set of ‘labor laws’ imposed on them by that pesky Uncle Edgar (see all the problems this extra character is causing?!). Elves are forced to be entertainers, the giants are basically slaves on farms, and the trolls are being hunted down and exterminated. NONE of these things happened in the book. I repeat, NONE. And while the forced labor does work in favor of making the audience dislike Uncle Edgar, it further derails the movie from the book’s original plot line.
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WTF 4: Benny the Book

Oh… Benny the book. Where to begin? Well, first, he is a product of the film’s version of ‘stupid Mandy.’ Apparently, he is actually her boyfriend, who got trapped inside the book when Mandy was trying to give him a haircut. To be fair, Ella does carry around a magical book bestowed upon her by Mandy in the original story, BUT THERE IS NOT A TRAPPED MAN INSIDE. To me, Benny is completely unnecessary, and comes off as a gimmicky way to portray the magic book. Too much, Miramax. Too much.
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WTF 5: Slannen of Pim

Last in my collection of WTFs is the character  Shannen, the elf. Who  apparently in the film goes by Slannen of Pim (there is no mention of that name in the book BTW). He acts as a kind of sidekick character to Ella, as he joins her in her travels to find Lucinda and then Char. Slannen’s goal is to talk to Char because he wants him to lift the labor laws requiring elves be entertainers, because he wants to be (wait for it,) a lawyer.  I have to say, at least Slannen’s character wasn’t completely fabricated out of thin air, it does take advantage of the director’s artistic license. In the book, Slannen is a renowned artist who makes beautiful sculptures and befriends Ella, gifting her with a few of his best pieces. Really, his character in the book is minor. But in the film, they made him much more important. Which, wouldn’t be awful had they not downgraded other big characters to do so.

Overall, my biggest complaint with the movie is that it seemed like the only thing it  actually stayed true to were the character names (mostly) and the fact that Ella has to obey every command she is given. Everything else seemed to be just a loose interpretation.

Now, I’m not saying Miramax did a terrible job. The movie really is pretty cute, and if I had never read the book, I would have enjoyed it a lot more. It just doesn’t make sense that they took this story that was SO amazing  (obviously they thought so too if they bought the movie rights!) and completely gutted it in the adaptation.

Overall, my ratings sit like this:

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Book: *****
Great plot, strong character development, fantastic world building, and unique story elements all work together to create an incredible retelling of the Cinderella story.

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Movie: **
On its own, it is decent, although slightly hokey at times, but the changes made to the storyline were too drastic – good scenes cut, bad scenes added- to maintain the integrity of the storyline.

What do you think? Have you read Ella Enchanted? Watched the movie? Or do you want a say in the next Book v. Movie Battle? Leave your suggestion and reason why I need to watch in the comment section below! I’d love your input! ‘Til net time,
– J.M.
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