It's funny how books that I absolutely love can translate a couple of different ways into films. I'll never forget lining up to go in and see the movie Eragon, which for me was a long-awaited visualization of a book the entire family had enjoyed. Paolini did a great job writing it; it's got larger-than-life characters on both sides, and great dialog, and a meandering storyline that is enjoyable to get lost in.
J.K. Rowling, in turn, did a great job writing the Harry Potter series. It, also, has larger-than-life characters on both sides, and great dialog, and a meandering storyline that is enjoyable to get lost in. I watched HP 7 Part 2 last night, late at night when my old-aged body should instead have been sleeping, and I walked out thrilled. It was an incredible experience, and I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Looking over the reviews everywhere, I can tell that I'm not alone. On Yahoo! movies, in fact, it actually got an overall critics score--the critics!--of A-. I don't think I've seen that high a critics' score ever. The users' score was also good. On rottentomatoes.com, the movie also has the highest score I've seen, at 97% out of 100. People are definitely digging this movie.
Eragon was the direct opposite. I walked out of that movie actually feeling angry. It's one thing to make a bad movie, but it's even worse, to my opinion, to make one out of a good book. My family was pretty unanimous in their hatred for it, and when I got home and started looking I found that much of the rest of the moviegoing public agreed with us. That movie got smacked with a 16% rating on rottentomatoes.com, and it was harshly panned by critics and users alike.
So what was the difference? Looking at the review text, it's not really clear. On rottentomatoes.com, the Eragon bashing begins with the phrase, "Written by a teenager (and it shows)...." Now, hold on there. The book, not the movie script, was written by a teenager. The book was on the New York Times Bestseller list. The book won a couple of literary awards. "Written by a teenager" thus doesn't seem like that big of a deal.
The critics continue with, "Eragon presents nothing new to the 'hero's journey' story archetype." USA Today's reviewer called it, "naggingly derivative." In other words, it's a repeat of other similar stories. Here's the thing, though: there's nothing all that new and different from the "hero's journey story archetype" about a boy going off to a school for gifted children (Xavier had one too, remember?), gathering his followers, and defeating a big bad meanie. Neither book series won awards for being astoundingly new and different and non-archetypal. Instead, they won their awards for the way they took the story lines and brought us in as readers with the character development and the relationships that formed between those characters. In Eragon, it was the bond between the titular character and Saphira that stood central to the story line, while in HP it was the triad of young wizards whose relationship grew and morphed over the span of seven novels.
That, I think, is what the difference boils down to. In Eragon the movie, we were given a beautifully embellished visual treat that had a boy, a dragon, and a bad guy. And, um, that was unfortunately it. In HP the movie, we were given a beautifully embellished visual treat where indeed, the boy beat the bad guy, and we all cheered him on, but we also had the benefit of seven prior movies worth of watching the relationships morph and change, and the characters and their relationships weren't lost in the pyrotechnics of HP 7 Part 2.
As always, your comments on the matter are hoped for.