Reading is fundamental. Watching movies is fundamentaler.
With the second Hunger Games
movie out in a matter of days, it seemed like a good time to talk about some of our favorite and least favorite adaptations of books on the big screen. So what are yours? It doesn't even have to be a book you love -- just one they did a garbage job of making into a movie.
Sound off, bookworms!
I must have largely stayed away from most terrible book-to-movie adaptations, because I haven't seen a lot of the ones that are considered the worst. However, one that I HAVE seen that might be in that conversation is Gulliver's Travels. Listen, I like Jack Black in the right movie, sometimes I like him a lot. However, this isn't the right movie for him, and the jokes are dumb, as are the effects. I don't know that it's the worst, but it's pretty darn bad.ReplyDelete
Oh, I didn't pick a best, but I have to go with The Shining. Truly, there are a number of King adaptations I could choose from, but The Shining stands above them all.Delete
I always thought that Patriot Games was a good example of adapting books to film and while I think Bram Stoker's Dracula is an interesting mess I don't think it's a good adaptation of a book. An easy target for worst could be any of the Harry Potter's. (except the 3rd one)ReplyDelete
This is a well-worn topic, but in terms of best book adaptations I have to give props to Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining. Kubrick and his co-writer Diane Johnson stripped the story down to the bare bones and fashioned one of the greatest horror films ever made. The film review site The Dissolve recently had several articles about both the Kubrick adaptation and the later misbegotten miniseries, and do a fantastic job of pointing out just what Kubrick did right (and King wrong) in adapting the book. To me, the most essential difference between the book and movie is that in the book we are supposed to empathize with Jack Torrence. In the film we most definitely are not, which puts the emphasis on how Wendy and Danny deal with Jack's increasing remoteness and finally madness.ReplyDelete
Thinking of worst adaptations, I'll go with that horrible sticky gumdrop of a movie called The Grinch that Stole Christmas. You know you're in trouble when even the "good" guys look like rats. And no, when reading Dr. Seuss's classic I was NOT thinking, "Yes, but just HOW did the Grinch become the Grinch? Can't we have a little pop-psych background to explain all this?"Delete
Man, just thinking about that lousy movie makes me angry. It's Seuss with a heavy does of midichlorians.Delete
Jaws and The Godfather are both spectacular adaptations of books that are good at best. Psycho also comes to mind as a good book (better than the other two mentioned here because Robert Bloch) turned into an excellent movie.ReplyDelete
As for worst, earlier this week I rewatched Jan De Bont's take on The Haunting and that is a movie that has no idea what to do with the book (or other screenplay) on which it's based. The TV movie version of Shirley Jackson's The Lottery starring Dan Cortese is a better Jackson adaptation. Let that sink in for a moment. For the record, The Lottery is a garbage movie, I'm not advocating it in any way, but at least it seems to have a vague understanding of the source material.
To hop on the Bond train for a moment, it may be fair to say there was never a true adaptation of Fleming's books until Casino Royale, but the series as a whole is so much fun I think I prefer it that way. What do you all think about that series as adaptations?
From Russia With Love is probably the most faithful adaptation of Fleming's books. It does make a key change by making the main adversary the terrorist organization SPECTRE instead of the Soviet-led SMERSH. The filmmakers make good use of this change, however, by having SPECTRE play the British and Russians against each other.Delete
Dr. No is also a reasonably faithful adaptation, as is Thunderball. Goldfinger makes quite a few changes, but I think it actually improves on the book. Starting with You Only Live Twice the films departed almost entirely from the original books.
One addition - On Her Majesty's Secret Service is also a pretty faithful adaptation. I used to think "If only Connery had been in it!" However, now I think that if Connery were still Bond, they would have changed the story around quite a bit to ensure it was a moneymaker. With a new Bond they could take a few chances (especially the ending).Delete
As I recall (and I haven't read it in a pile of years so my memory may be playing tricks) Bond himself doesn't even show up until 50+ pages into From Russia With Love. I'm with you on Dr. No, but in Thunderball's case didn't the screenplay come before the novel? Moonraker is actually my favorite of the books, which is a shame. It's so tense and tightly written, and then the movie is just a goofball Star Wars riff. I don't hate the movie (I save that emotion for Die Another Day and Quantum of Solace) but it would've been fantastic to see that book onscreen.Delete
Thunderball is a strange case - from what I understand Fleming developed the story with 2 other guys with an eye towards making a movie. When that fell through, Fleming turned the story into a novel. Then years later the novel was re-adapted back into the 1965 film. If a script was written by the 3 before the novel, I don't know how close it ended up being to the finished product.Delete
Totally agree on Moonraker the book. The bridge sequence alone might be the best gaming sequence Fleming ever wrote.
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Somewhere I have a copy of the Octopussy novel and it includes the short story The Living Daylights. The entire Living Daylights story was the first 15 min or so of the film. (When he helped the guy defect)Delete
Wow, you could make this an entire post of best and worst King adaptations (Maximum Overdrive worst and probably Shining best, though there's things to be said for Dolores Claiborne, Shawshank and Mist in that conversation).ReplyDelete
Absolute worst book adaptation? The TV movie of Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD starring David Hasselhoff.
I see your Maximum Overdrive and I raise you The Lawnmower Man.Delete
Ooooooh, nice choice.Delete
Personally, I think The Shining is one of the worst adaptations; not worst MOVIES, but adaptations. The miniseries was, for all its problems, a much better adaptation of the novel.ReplyDelete
As a stand alone piece, Kubrick's version is great. As an adaptation of the book, it's a complete failure. I didn't care about Danny as a character, I cared about him only as a child in danger that I didn't want to get hurt. Wendy was ineffectual (which I don't blame Duvall for) and grating. DeMornay and Mead were much more sympathetic. I know Danny Lloyd was very young and most likely not up to the task of having a lot of dialogue, but in that case they could have cast an older kid, instead of having Danny function as a cipher that all of the events happen TO rather than being a character who has an actual part in creating the events of the story.
Plus, Tony talking through Danny's finger was fucking stupid and always will be.
King said the differences could be summed up in the endings: "Mine ended in fire; his ended in ice." Which is EXACTLY the problem I have with it as an adaptation: King was concerned with (and cared about) the characters. Kubrick seemed more interested in the hotel. The resulting movie was excellent as cinema, but nowhere near as emotionally involving as it should have been.
While I don't agree with your assessment of Kubrick's The Shining (I think Danny Lloyd and Shelly Duvall are both terrific), you do raise an interesting point. Kubrick's film is fundamentally different from King's book in so many respects - at what point can it be said that a movie is no longer really an "adaptation?" After all, the film of Moonraker has nothing in common with the book except the hero is named Bond and the villain is named Drax - do we still call it an adaptation?ReplyDelete
These weekend weigh-ins are sometimes used as a precursor to a podcast - if that's the case here I hope Patrick et. al. have a lively discussion about this issue.
I don't think Duvall was awful; actually I think she played the part exactly the way Kubrick wanted her to and in that regard, she nailed it. Danny, however, felt more like a typical "child in peril" part in the movie, whereas reading the book I felt so many more facets of his personality (such as knowing bad things were in store at the Overlook and keeping his concerns to himself as he understood this was really the last chance his family had to REMAIN a family, and other intuitions that made him wise beyond his years) were present that made him much more of a rich, realized character. Obviously a two hour running time creates all sorts of problems for that kind of nuance, but still.Delete
Again, as its own thing, it's fantastic and scared the piss out of me as a kid. Technically, it's pretty much flawless. For myself, I just have to see them as two separate entities. That way I get to love them both, in different ways and for different reasons.
I agree with the point you made Steve. At what point can something be radically changed from the source material and still be called an adaptation? Moreover, why can't a good adaptation change significant sections of the story if it helps to get at the heart of that story? Why can't a book be a book and a movie be a movie? Why do so many fans wish each of them was completely synonymous with the other? I love a lot of the early Disney animated ventures-- Snow White, Pinocchio, The Jungle Book, and Bambi are all great movies, but Disney changed a lot from the original stories. However, would the version of Snow White where the Witch is brutally tortured in the end really make a good movie? I'd say Walt made the right calls.Delete
As far as departures from the source material. Blade runner is very different from "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" Only the general theme of the novel was carried to the film. Blade runner is one of my favorite movies but the book did not really do anything for me.Delete
... at what point can it be said that a movie is no longer really an "adaptation?" After all, the film of Moonraker has nothing in common with the book except the hero is named Bond and the villain is named Drax - do we still call it an adaptation?Delete
I kept that in mind when I did my list (below), because most movie adaptations are either so different from their written origin that calling a great movie that ditches most or all of the book and becomes a great film has more to do with the director, actors and screenwriters than the book.
Take "Jaws" for instance. Great movie, but as a big fan of the Peter Benchley novel I find the alterations to the narrative (Quinn's affair with Chief Brody's wife in particular) too much of a change. It's a case for me of a great book spawning a great movie, but one that carved it's own path to greatness totally separate from the book content (like the often-mentioned Kubrick adaptation of "The Shining" does). Call them 'great flicks inspired by movies.'
My favorite adaptation is going to be James and the Giant Peach. I enjoyed the stop-motion animation, I felt very terrified by James's two aunts and it's got a pretty good voice cast for the animated insects. It's actually one of my childhood favorites growing up.ReplyDelete
Now for the worst, I have to pick "The House of the Spirits", based on Isabel Allende's novel. It has some incredible actors (Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Jeremy Irons, Winona Ryder, Antonio Banderas, Vanessa Redgrave) and a respected foreign director in Bille August at the helm, but the problem with it is that almost all the actors were extremely miscast in the roles they were given where in the book, the characters were Latin-American, but the studio chose to go with mainly white actors in order to get a broader audience. I could even care less about their characters' problems and history about the family, so it's no wonder it didn't get good reviews and flopped hard at the box office.
Worst: Any of the Dr Seuss movies - Cat in a Hat, Grinch, Horton, Lorax... all of them are so "commercial" and "hip" at the expense of the joy and inventive spirit of the books.ReplyDelete
My Sister's Keeper takes the easy way out depriving the movie of its tragic (but ironic) ending.
However, I also think that the adaptation has to add something to the story to justify its existence - why just recreate the plot when you could read the book? (Well, other than the cynical cashing in on a known property).
So, the most pointless and pedestrian adaptations (in my view, these are the worst kind)... Eragon, City of Ember, The Da Vinci Code, The Host, Ender's Game, The Golden Compass... oh there's too many!
Previous post sounded too bitter, so to balance it out here are ones that I actually like: Cloud Atlas, Atonement, No Country For Old Men, Up in the Air, Blade Runner, Trainspotting, The Silence of the Lambs and my personal favourite, Babe.Delete
When I read your list of Seuss movies I totally forgot that those new ones were made. I always go back to the old animated versions. The Chuck Jones ones. I think they a pretty true to the books.Delete
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orgot my "best"...at theReplyDelete
think it's Cloud Atlas. I can't say enough good things about that movie, or how well they turned the structure into film narrative. Just astounding. That movie is...well, it's art, really. A work of art.
Oh, and does Sin City count? Cause that flick kicks all kinds of ass and is essentially the graphic novels shaken into glorious movement.
(had to repost this because I don't think "kicking all minds of ass" is a real thing except in certain unpleasant circles)
"My best at the moment is Cloud Atlas." My struggles with posting correctly have become comical.Delete
Im not well versed on the reading side of things because B-Dawg aint no Poindexter, nahmean?ReplyDelete
But favourite movies based on books would be Fight Club, Godfather and Jackie Brown.
(yeah, im a bit of a cliche)
Since no one has mentioned it yet, I feel compelled to mention the Bogart version of The Maltese Falcon. Easily the best adaptation of a book I've ever seen. In both tone and detail, it follows the book extraordinarily well. A lot of Film Noir are based on books or short stories, and most of them are pretyt serviceable adaptations. Murder My Sweet (adapted from Chandler's Farewell my Lovely) is pretty good, but not perfect.ReplyDelete
There are about three really great adaptations of A Christmas Carol, another three that are eh, okay, and so many bad ones. Oh I've watched them all. I have a problem, I bought the Smurf CGI special DVD last night and intend to watch it soon. Because it's Another Christmas Carol and I just can't say no.
I don't like to get into the bad ones, because then we have to say bad how. Die Hard barely even glances in the direction of the original book (where it's his daughter who needed saving, and he finds out the reason the terrorists kidnap her is because she as screwing them over) so that makes it a bad adaptation... right? Well, no. It's a movie everyone loves, so it's a good movie, right?
Primary Colors follows the book really closely, but I found it to be a dull and lifeless movie. So how does that work out?
And Strange Brew is supposed to be Hamlet, but I haven't seen it in so long I can't remember if it is or not.
Three great ones were Rosemary's Baby, Jackie Brown (formerly titled Rum Punch) and The Godfather. All three took the novels and elevated them into art, practically page by page.ReplyDelete
Along with the above mentioned Disney adaptations of various fairy tales, I'm also a fan of Jaws, Apocalypse Now,The Wizard of Oz, and The Godfather. Although I've yet to read the book, I was very impressed with Life of Pi last year, and have heard it adapts the novel very well while adding many interesting interesting ideas with its visual storytelling.ReplyDelete
While I don't totally hate the movie, Beowulf (2007) is up there as far as bad adaptations in that it stretches out the source material far too thin to the point it starts adding way too much crazy stuff for the sake of keeping up with the technology. Boy did that age poorly. Though I haven't read the short story, I kind of feel the same way about The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
I read Ebert's review of Beowulf before seeing the movie and his reading is that the movie is a comedy. In that light, it is very funny and I thoroughly enjoyed it in theaters. Different from the book, to be sure, fun in an absurd way. Worth noting that I don't have an uncanny valley aversion, so it doesn't get on my nerves as it does other folks.Delete
Beowulf reminded me of O Brother Where Art Though being based on The Odyssey, supposedly. It does fit the book pretty closely but adapts it into a hilarious southern movie. The Coens have adapted other stuff, but I haven't read the source so I can't judge.
My favorite adaptation from book to movie would be Stephen King to Frank Darabont's Shawshank Redemption, a movie that I can watch anytime, hell even King likes it.ReplyDelete
As for worst book to film it is without a doubt The Cat in the Hat movie with Mike Meyers. This movie holds a rare place in my mind, its the only movie that I watched on mute that actively gave me a headache (I saw it on TV waiting for a job interview at Universal Studios), just dreadful but then again all the feature length Suess movies are a big fat F.
Since it has not been mentioned yet I will go with The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I think Peter Jackson and his crew did a fantastic job bringing the books to the screen. I know people point out things he changed or cut. (Tom Bombadil, The Scouring of the Shire, etc) But overall I think he did a great job capturing the magic and spirit of a very difficult series of books to film.ReplyDelete
For my bad adaptation I will go with "Sphere". When I read Sphere I loved it and was excited when years later I heard it was been made into a film. Needless to say the film was a let down.ReplyDelete
For best adaptations, here's a few that haven't been mentioned:ReplyDelete
L.A. Confidential, which is interesting in that many of the subplots and character details from the book have been altered or are outright missing, but the movie still captures the tone and feel of the book, the essence of the main character and keeps the unorthodox use of three main protagonists.
I'd also say Michael Radford's The Merchant of Venice, which takes a play that's really problematic to take in today and without vastly altering the dialogue and transforms it into a disturbingly Anti-Semitic comedy into a tragedy about persecution by painting the supposedly villainous Shylock as a flawed, anguished man who gains our sympathy.
For worst, The Food of the Gods comes to mind. Wells' off-beat satirical sci-fi book about a chemical that alters the size of animals, written as a vehicle for poking fun at England's class system and economic state, gets turns into a dumb movie about giant killer rats. Grrr...
And while I don't hate the film, Richard Kelly's The Box manages to take a simple Richard Matheson story and pushes it along tangents so bizarre it becomes mystifying as to why they bothered adapting the property in the first place rather than just making it something original.
--Jules and Jim ('62): Truffaut and his actors captures the joyful melancholy, swirls of emotion and flights of fancy of Henri-Pierre Roché's novel perfectly.
--The Maltese Falcon ('41): Bogart and Huston bring Dashiell Hammett's prose to cinematic life, and B&W 'noir private dicks were never the same again.
--From Russia With Love ('63): Before "Goldfinger" permanently took the movie series into Hollywood fantasy-land (though it's still a fantastic movie), this is the last classic Bond movie that feels like it's based on Ian Fleming source material. The deliberate pace and patience with which "From Russia With Love" sets permanent Bond templates is a thing of beauty.
--The Godfather ('70): Minus the gynecological details, Coppola essentially filmed the book using his Italian-American roots to give the proceedings color and authenticity.
--The Man Who Would Be King ('75): John Huston does Rupyard Kipling's book justice with an epic film that also feels intimate.
--The Mist/Christine/Carrie/Dead Zone/Misery: The better movie versions that have come from Stephen King literary workd (YMMV, naturally).
--Dr. Strangelove... ('66): Faithfulness to the spirit of a book doesn't mean devoted translation of it (as Kubrick proved with "2001," "The Shining" and "Full Metal Jacket" improving on their source material, IMO). "Red Alert" is a page-turner, and Kubrick used his craft and personality to make his comedic take standout.
--Kramer vs. Kramer ('79): A model of unnecessary characters and "fat" (how Joanna and Ted met, their friends and the aftermath of the divorce) trimmed that boils the essence of the story down to its basics.
--Goodfellas ('90): Pileggi's "Wiseguys" is a page-turner, and Scorsese captures that spirit in cinematic form perfectly: you can't wait for the next scene/moment character because you're so enthralled by the narrative.
--Letters from Iwo Jima ('06): Maybe Clint Eastwood's last great movie (whose perfection shines even brighter when contrasted with "Flags of Our Fathers"), even more remarkable given it's an American movie giving the perspective of Japanese WWII fighters with humanity and realism. Ken Watanabe has never been better.
--Honorable Mentions: "The Bourne Identity," "Fight Club," "Casablanca," "The Poseidon Adventure/Towering Inferno" (better flicks inspired by lesser books), "Jackie Brown," "Dances With Wolves," "Lawrence of Arabia."
--The Bonfire of the Vanities ('90): All the money and stars in the world can't help when the director (DePalma) misses the tone of the book by a country mile!
--Memoirs of an Invisible Man ('92): Same as "Bonfires" (Carpenter directing an SFX-intensive "comedy"?) except add miscasting (Chevy Chase) and you have two hours where how uncomfortable one feels watching mirrors how the actors/director come across on-screen. H.F. Saint's book isn't that great (yes, I actually read it) but man, this movie pisses on it, sets it on fire and then stumps on its ashes!
--Myra Beckenridge ('70): Gore Vidal's book (neither his best or worst) could have made an interesting movie, but director Michael Sarne turns it into an insanely weird and perpetually off-putting parade of freaks. What "Staying Alive" is to the 80's and "Showgirls" is to the 90's "Myra Beckerindge" was to the 70's.
Silver Bullet/Needful Things/Graveyard Shift: The worst King movie adaptations based on decent-at-lest books. These aren't merely incompetent or bad movies, they come across as the filmmakers poe'd at themselves for being saddled with making them taking their frustration on the audience.
Wow we have both seen Myra Beckenridge, completely bizarre film that thought it was daring, yet it had no nerve; it was just a mess. Did you hear about the making of it? Raquel Welch was annoyed Mae West got dressed by Edith Head, therefore had better dresses and had star treatment. I am sorry but if you are in a film with Mae West, you should understand that she has earned that! I don't understand being in a film with her and not wanting to get advice, hear her stories or relish in the fact you get to star opposite a legend.Delete
Raquel Welch isn't exactly known for her easygoing manner on set. After co-starring with her in "The Last of Sheila," James Mason called her one of the most disrespectful actresses it had ever been his displeasure to know.Delete
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My favourite is The Wizard of Oz. This movie shows how it's done, it is so bold, imaginative and still so breathtaking, yet still allows room for you to read the book and enjoy that separately. If we ever take that film for granted we can just think, what if MGM hadn't bought it? What if it would have been Fox and it had Shirley Temple in it instead?ReplyDelete
I think Clueless has to get a mention as it is such a creative way of adapting Austen! Amy Heckerling adapted Emma because she had something to do and say with that story, it is also hilarious. I think there have been attempts to adapt a story in a similar way but Clueless just works so well. I think Pride and Prejudice is harder to approach, just simply as it has been done so many times and I have yet to see a film version I love as much, even though there are movies of it that are good (the 1940 one for instance).
I have to disagree with Mike about the Harry Potter series. I am a huge fan of the Harry Potter Series, both the books and the films. They took those films as events, and they put so much love into them. Everyone is perfectly cast, the world is so rich and the stories are so well told and acted. There are little gems to be found in the effects and the sets. They respected J K Rowling's opinion and combined it with the filmmakers own vision. The first two may have been very close adaptations but that served a purpose, they were setting up that world in a way that made it accessible. So many across the world have such a huge affection for it and the films are done in a way that make sure they will be enjoyed for years to come.
Other British film adaptations I love are Animal Farm, Trainspotting and the messy yet interesting The Company of Wolves. A different mess that I happen to like is Bram Stoker's Dracula. I studied the book at one point and think the themes are echoed in an interesting way with this adaptation. Of course there is no need to mention how wonderful Dracula (1931) and Nosferatu (1922) are on this website!
I don't know where to put Wuthering Heights (1939) in this topic. It is a beautiful film. However, it is not the novel and the characters feel completely different. It is told in the book as a dark tale of obsession and I think the film is responsible for a lot of misconceptions about the novel, which is the not the film's fault. I can therefore enjoy the film on its own merits, even though I am a huge lover of the book and the wildness of both of the characters so I try and see the film as a separate story. Not a good adaptation but a great movie. I really want to get hold of the Andrea Arnold version, it looks like one I will really enjoy.
My least favourite so far is Alice and Wonderland (2010). Unfortunately I saw a lot of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp on TV being interviewed before I saw the film. This meant I saw Burton being incredibly arrogant and saying how creative and original he was being with this adaptation. He said how he was making his own story, with some of the characters we know. I couldn't help that taint my experience, but I think without it I would have still have seen it as soulless. It was all look and no substance. I also couldn't help thinking the whole way through, what is Burton talking about? He is taking a lot of this from Through the looking Glass and trying to pass it off as a new original spin on Alice and Wonderland really annoyed me, considering I love both books.
My initial reaction to the Harry Potter movies was that it was better in my head (while reading the books). As a series of movies though, I thought they were pretty good once removed from my expectations.Delete
Captain Corelli's Mandolin!ReplyDelete
I've never read the book, but the film was insufferable. I felt so strongly about it that I once advised a person against renting it when I saw them with the DVD cover at my local rental place; I felt that I was doing a public service.
I'd say an example of a good adaptation would be The Right Stuff. Kaufmann portrayed the facts from the book, but also got the tone right. And it's a great movie all on it's own. Win-win!
Wow. Hard to believe Jurassic Park hasn't been mentioned yet. An excellent adaptation that stays pretty close to the book and is still a great movie.ReplyDelete
Michael Crichton has had a bunch of books adapted to the screen actually, and I think they are mostly successful. His writing seems to translate well, although I can't justify that as I've only seen a few of the movies. But I read a lot of them and they are easy to visualize as movies.
The Princess Bride is another of my favorites, although the odd framing story from the book is removed from the movie. The movie is great and the oddities just make the book a reward to read on its own.
Perfume: The Story of a Murder also stays close to the book and is the better for it. The story is plenty odd and the actor portrays that peculiarity well on screen. The final unveiling of the Perfume is an orgasmic experience in either print or on screen.
I can't think of any terrible ones since I have a gaping hole in my classic book education and I am also a dummy. But the Jim Butcher books The Dresden Files were adapted into a woeful TV series that I was happy to see canceled. It was pretty depressing since I was into the series at that moment.
Twilight is in a weird area since the movie is terrible, but so is the book! So ... excellent adaptation?