Favorite book characters. We all have them, regardless of the genre.
Whether it’s a perfect image of characters like Jay Gatsby or Hermione Granger in our minds, we all know the crisis of faith that occurs when a film adaptation is announced and that perfect image is forced to go toe-to-toe with a director’s casting choice. It seems like a no brainer to just find an actor that resembles the character’s physical description, doesn’t it?
Alan Rickman’s potrayal as Severus Snape in the “Harry Potter” series is a textbook example. Snape is a sinister, crooked-nosed and frightening professor. Who better to cast than the measured-toned British actor? With his smooth dark hair and condescending eyes, Snape towers over his students with the gaze of already failing you. I’d hate to imagine him as my professor in college, let alone Wizarding School.
Edward Speleers as Eragon from “Eragon” is the exact opposite. When we first meet him in the book, Eragon is a brown-haired, dark-eyed farm boy on a quest to free his kingdom. Speleers is a blonde, blue-eyed teenager. This kind of disconnect is usually supplemented with good acting and writing. When you lack both of these, you end up with the flop that the movie was.
Perfect casting can only get you so far, though. There are certain mediums where there isn’t only one piece of source material, but there are several. Comic books are a defining example of this.
Over generations since the character’s creation, comic characters can change dozens of times, from origin to relationships. Under all of the changes, however, is a core character shining through in every performance.
Take the two Supermen of the recent age – Henry Cavill in “Man of Steel” and Tyler Hoechlin in “Supergirl.” Both actors make a fine Superman, fitting the bill of handsome and dark-haired. However, the writing between the two is drastically different. Where “Man of Steel” gave us a stoic, brooding and frankly alien character, “Supergirl” gave us a kind-hearted, friendly and loveable Superman.
Something like “Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies” works because it keeps the core tenants of those characters intact with great casting. “Man of Steel” fails because even with good casting it forgets its roots.
As often as we have our dream cast for our books, we can’t forget important things like good writing. A perfect face alone doesn’t make a good adaptation.