bluesmoke A week or two ago, while flipping channels, I delightedly discovered that I got the Lifetime Movie Network. I don’t usually watch Lifetime movies, but the particular film playing caught my attention: Nora Roberts’ Blue Smoke.

I’ve heard of the Nora Roberts Lifetime movies, but never had the opportunity to watch them. As my roommate and I — and her confused but game boyfriend — watched the movie, I got really into it. It wasn’t any cinematic masterpiece, but it was decently composed, the male lead was cute, and there were enough fires and explosions to keep us all — roommate’s boyfriend included — interested. (We’ll disregard the ill-advised shirtless carpentry on Bo’s part.)

The next day, I bought the 2009 set of Nora Roberts movies on iTunes for the low price of $9.99, which just about equaled what I had left from Christmas iTunes gift cards. Since then, I’ve watched three of the four movies: Midnight Bayou, High Noon and Tribute. (I’ve yet to watch Northern Lights.) High Noon was okay, but the woman who played Phoebe was too soft, had awkward timing with line delivery, and there was something vaguely flirty yet shy about how she spoke, neither of which fit Phoebe’s character. Duncan was quite something, though– cute, charming, and sexy. Tribute was similarly okay but not spectacular, with really bad low-budget dream sequences. Midnight Bayou was the best of the three, and the flashbacks, while occasionally cheesy, were generally well done.

I can’t help but wonder, though, if maybe Midnight Bayou and Blue Smoke’s appeal was partly because I had forgotten much of what happens in those books. There were fewer mental comparisons and more simple enjoyment or the romance and the suspense.

Tribute couldn’t escape the shadow of real life, regardless of the quality of the film. The climax of the story, which involves Cilla getting drugged, was just sad. Cilla was played by the late Brittany Murphy, who died in 2009 of a combination of things, including multiple drug intoxication. While I haven’t watched Northern Lights, there’s a story attached to that one, too: Leanne Rimes and Eddie Cibrian, the stars, left their spouses after meeting on set and having an affair.

Nora Roberts remains one of the few romance authors who have had their work adapted to film. Sure, there are romantic movies that started as novels, but they’re usually the depressing sort without happy endings– “literary” fiction, not “genre” (and thus, supposedly, “superior”). You’d think with the proliferation of bad romantic comedies out there, they could pick up a few interesting, compelling romance novels to make into movies, rather than recycle the same ideas and situations and characters. I know romance novels in general get the same criticism as rom-coms, but I think we’ll all agree that while there are some formulaic books out there, there are way more funny and unique ones with complex characters.

We all love to “cast” actors and actresses into the characters of our favorite books. If a beloved book is chosen for adaptation, we await with breathless anticipation. And, inevitably, we complain that the movie wasn’t right, didn’t get it, ruined the book. Maybe this is why producers would rather hire a second-rate screenplay writer to construct a cheesy romantic comedy (or drama, or suspense, or whatever) than get film rights for a good novel — because films simply can’t fit in an hour and a half what writers spread over 350 pages. Whatever the book, the plot and character development will be watered down to fit the film’s time frame (which is roughly equivalent to the capacity of the human bladder after eating a large popcorn and large soda).

That was certainly the case with the Nora Roberts movies I’ve seen so far: scenes cut, characters simplified, the romance rushed. In the end, though, I’m not upset, and the producers didn’t “ruin” anything. As movies, they’re not exactly brilliant, but they still carry the essence of why we love romance novels: the relationship, the growth of love, and the Happily Ever After.

– Jane Granville

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I enjoy spending as much time as I can between the covers of a book, traveling through time and around the world. When I'm not having adventures with fictional characters, I'm an attorney in Virginia and I love just hanging out with my husband, little man, and the cat who rules our house.