The Fault in Our Stars is in cinemas soon but should you wait for the movie or check out the original book?
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS
Author: John Green
Adapted as:The Fault in Our Stars (2014) Josh Boone
Despite being just 36, John Green has done many things. He’s probably best known now as the author of The Fault in Our Stars but that’s actually his fifth published book and he had already earned massive internet fame via his video blogging on YouTube as part of the VlogBrothers channel.
But before all that, he worked as a student chaplain in a children’s hospital and it was his experiences there with sick kids that inspired him to write TFIOS more than a decade later.
Green was intent on writing a different kind of sick-lit – a book that was more about presenting the humanity than the tragedy of these young lives. He got to see it first hand and worked hard to translate that into a novel which aimed to show the humour and the horrors of terminal illness.
And he very much succeeded. I avoided reading TFIOS for quite a while because I was sure I already had a good grasp of the melodrama it was going to present. But when I finally picked it up ahead of the release of the film, I realised I couldn’t have been more wrong.
TFIOS is hilarious. It’s also tough and sharp edged and contains its fair share of mawkishness but beneath it all you’ll find two vivid and deep young characters who may not have the best health prospects but make up for it by stretching the boundaries of the English language in search of new ways to be witty and also ruminate on some of the bigger questions posed by life and death.
It is a great book, not just a great young adult book, and one that you should absolutely seek out. So how does it stack up against the movie version?
In the strictest sense, the movie and book are extremely similar. So if you planning on experiencing the tribulations of Augustus and Hazel Grace for the first time on the big screen you’ll be getting a very accurate and comprehensive version of events.
In fact, the script, from Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber often takes scenes and speeches directly from Green’s work. Green’s words are excellent, so you really can’t blame them, and there are plenty of moments and little details in the background of scenes which will leap out at fans of the novel – like posters on the walls or references to characters and moments which don’t make it on screen.
But there’s something about the movie version which also feels a little watered down. While Augustus and Hazel get plenty of screen time and come across vividly, there’s a paucity to the background players which makes the whole thing less effecting.
So you’ll get much less time with Hazel’s parents, making it difficult to really feel for them and the true villainy and tragedy of Peter van Houten is never really revelled in. Even the book within the book, An Imperial Affliction, is mostly sidelined and important touchstones from their lives glossed over.
Some of these elements are no doubt a matter of running time, and TFIOS is long enough at 126 minutes already. But other issues are more a question of tone and filmmaking. Relatively inexperienced director Josh Boone often puts together scenes in a scrappy way and totally fluffs a certain moment at an historical building – one of the most triumphant scenes in the book.
And while Shailene Woodley is just about the most perfect Hazel Grace Lancaster you could imagine, right down to a perfect mix of wit and vulnerability, the rest of the casting doesn’t always work. Ansel Elgort looks the part and acquits himself well in the sweeter moments but his Augustus is a touch too smug, too often, and rarely captures the fluid eloquence of his written counterpart.
These are all familiar dangers of adaptation, especially when the original is so well loved. When we imagine Hazel and Augustus, the casting is always perfect, the lighting and direction exact and the execution flawless. On screen, it’s a much more difficult thing to pull off, especially when there are as many different versions out there as readers.
Which is not to say The Fault in Our Stars makes for a bad movie, it’s a marvellous adaptation which will captivate those not familiar with the book and will frequently delight fans. I would just recommend that after the film you should dive into Green’s novel and experience the powerfully drawn handful of infinities between Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace Lancaster again. Okay?
Read our review of the movie adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars here.