There is a shirt I want to get that reads, “The Book Was Better.” I find this true in most cases (except with something like Lord of the Rings that is truly epic in both mediums). I believe some books are better because there are so many details that can go into it without it seeming tedious. Some books use techniques that just don’t translate well onto the screen. For example, Twilight uses the first person perspective, meaning the entire story is told from Bella’s point of view. We know exactly what self-pitying thought she is thinking at that moment, no matter how vapid. They attempted to do this in some of the movies with voiceover, but I felt it was just awkward. The movie Beautiful Creatures suffers from some of these technique issues (along with many others), that made me conclude that in this case, the book was better.
As a quick recap, here is the summary of the book from Amazon:
Ethan Wate, a high school sophomore, plans to escape his small Southern town as soon as he can. Life has been difficult since his mother died; his father, a writer, has withdrawn into his study. Then Lena Duchannes arrives, and this strange new girl is the very one who has been occupying his dreams. She and her kin are Casters, beings who have supernatural powers. Getting to know her exposes Ethan to time travel, mortal danger, and love. The teens can hardly bear to be apart, but Lena’s 16th birthday, when she will be Claimed for dark or light, is only 6 months away. To save her, they fight supernatural powers and the prejudice of closed-minded people. Yet, good and evil are not clearly delineated, nor are they necessarily at odds.
SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT. I will be detailing both the book and movie so if you want to read/watch either, please scroll down to the next bold statement in order to see the scores I have given.
The book was pretty long for a YA novel coming in at 563 pages (for the hardcover edition). At first I thought this was going to be a reason the movie would suffer. But then I found out the movie was two hours long. Plenty of time to capture the essentials of the novel. Unfortunately, whoever converted this book to a movie completely changed, well, almost everything.
In the book, when the new girl, Lena, appears at school, Ethan realizes it’s her that he’s been dreaming about. After an incident at the school, Ethan chases after Lena, and they realize they can communicate through thought. She explains about being a Caster and how she can’t control her powers. While together, they discover a locket from the Civil War era that gives them visions of the previous owners. It just so happens to be both of their distant relatives, who were in love. In the vision, Lena’s relative, Genevieve, is losing her entire family to a fire set by Union soldiers. When her love, Ethan (yes, same name), a Confederate soldier is shot, she uses the Book of Moons to try and bring him back. It doesn’t work, and because she used dark magic, her family is cursed. We later find out that this curse means that whichever side Lena is Claimed, the others will die. Meaning, if she goes Light, every Dark Caster dies, including her Uncle Macon (who is an incubus that is Light by choice, but a dark creature). Ethan and Lena work hard to figure out a way to stop the curse, including contacting Marian, Ethan’s late mother’s friend, who just so happens to run the Caster Library. Also, Ethan’s mother appears to be helping them from the grave. While Macon and Ethan’s guardian, Amma, try to keep them apart, they realize that, though a mortal, Ethan can protect Lena from her mother, Sarafine, who is psychically attacking her. On Lena’s sixteenth birthday, her cousin, Ridley, uses her Siren powers to lure Ethan’s crazy father onto a balcony. Ethan leaves Lena just long enough for Sarafine to attack. She had been in the guise of Ethan’s friend Link’s mother, who had been emotionally attacking Lena around town. Ethan attempts to save Lena, only to be killed by her mother. Lena uses her powers to blot out the moon so she isn’t Claimed and saves Ethan by swapping him for Macon (not on purpose). In the end, Ethan and Lena are together, but she is in the middle of Light and Dark. Her mother escapes.
Phew, that was a long complicated explanation, but I think I did pretty good cramming almost 600 pages into one paragraph. The reason I gave such a long synopsis is for two reasons: there is a lot that happens in the book and the movie changes most of them. Here are some of the major differences in the movie.
- Ethan stumbles upon the Confederate locket around the time he visits his mother’s grave. He then later tries to give it to Lena as a present.
- Lena and Ethan cannot communicate through thought.
- Ethan visits Lena and her Uncle Macon casts a spell on him, forcing Ethan to blurt out some sort of alternate future about marrying one of the snobs at the school.
- When Ethan comes to visit again, he is attacked by Macon’s boundary spell, and Lena saves him using her own spell. She then explains about being a Caster.
- Lena can apparently control her powers, such as creating a vine ladder for Ethan to climb down.
- In the locket’s vision, Genevieve succeeds in bringing the other Ethan back, only to turn dark and kill him.
- The curse is that she must kill the one she loves, which just so happens to be Ethan.
- Amma runs the Caster Library, and Marian doesn’t exist. Neither does the ghost of his mother.
- Sarafine reveals herself to Macon at the disciplinary hearing. She also reveals herself to Ethan. Yet no one does anything about it.
- Macon is not an incubus, only a Dark Caster who chose to be Light for Lena. There is also no dog (Boo Radley) that acts as his eyes to watch over Lena.
- In order to protect him, Lena casts a spell on Ethan making him forget about her.
- Ridley casts a spell on Link to have him accidentally shoot Ethan with a real bullet during a Civil War reenactment. Ethan’s father isn’t even in the movie.
- Lena somehow senses this death, rushes to his side and attacks Link. She then joins her mother and Ridley in creating a storm to attack the other inhabitants of the town.
- Lena then realizes that it wasn’t Ethan, but Macon pretending to be Ethan because he had promised Ethan’s dead mother to protect him. Larkin (who is Dark in the book) was pretending to be Macon, and is apparently Light.
- Lena attacks and kills her mother by ripping her soul from Link’s host form.
- Months later, Ethan (who still doesn’t remember Lena) is about to go away to New York, but remembers her before leaving town.
I feel like I just explained a completely new story. There are some changes I can easily agree with, like having Amma be the librarian, since they make the movie more streamlined. I also enjoyed the back story they showed for Ridley. However, none of the other changes were necessary, and I was very bothered by them. There was one omission that was particularly irksome: Ethan’s father. In the book, he hasn’t left his study since his wife died with the excuse that he is writing the next Great American Novel. However, when Ethan finally enters the study alone, he finds the novel is a bunch of scribbles. I found that part very touching.
When it comes to adapting books to movies, I understand the need for changes. But there has to be a point where the screenwriter asks themselves where it ends. If I were to give a score to how well the movie was adapted, it would get a 3 out of 10. There were too many changes for no apparent reason. However, there were some changes that improved the story or would have made it easier to follow. They also did a decent job explaining some elements of the book.
The movie on its own was okay. It wasn’t terrible, but it certainly would not make me want to see a sequel. The actors who played Ethan and Lena weren’t bad, but there was no chemistry. Ethan was a smart ass who was constantly making lame jokes. They seem to fall for each other for no reason, so their love story was poorly executed. The screenwriter also slipped in unnecessary lines, almost as if he was trying to capture the youth market, but had no idea what they were into. For instance, Macon is obsessed with telling people to “Google it.” Looking at the movie on it’s own, I would give it a 4 out of 10.
I clearly enjoyed the book the most, though it wasn’t without it’s flaws. The ending was overly complicated, and sometimes a little poorly written or described. I was annoyed that they used the name Ethan for two characters for no real reason. Although the love story itself is a little cliche in this genre (they can’t be together, etc.), I did enjoy where the writers took it. There were a lot of nice surprises in the storytelling, which made for a gripping read. However, while we were left with somewhat of a cliffhanger, I am not compelled to pick up the next book. While I enjoyed it, I feel like there are better YA series out there. I would give the book 6 out of 10. It’s definitely worth reading if you enjoy the supernatural love story.