by Rob DiCristino
Every English teacher hears the question on the first day with a new book: “Did they make a movie of this?” Think back to high school. You asked, too, didn’t you? Conventional wisdom tells us that our students are looking for an excuse to skip the book (a two-hour investment is much more practical than a month of careful attention in class, after all), but I’ve discovered that many of them actually use the promise of a movie screening as an excuse to dig into it. They want to see how the movie measures up to their imagination, whether or not the filmmaker’s vision matched their own. I mean, yes, some of them use the movie as a last-minute study tool, but hell, we’re trying to be positive, right? Anyway. Let’s look at a few notable adaptations of literary classics:
1. The Color Purple (1985, Dir. Steven Spielberg)
2. The Great Gatsby (2013, Dir. Baz Luhrmann)
hilarious takedown of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, a movie made – and this is his line, not mine – by people who read the Spark Notes for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 masterpiece, but never cracked open the real thing. An excellent cast (including Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke, Carey Mulligan, and the finally-getting-the-respect-she-deserves-thanks-to-Widows Elizabeth Debicki) is completely wasted in a grating and obnoxious spectacle that misses the mark in nearly every way, never once successfully capturing the melancholy irony of Nick Carraway’s (Maguire, doing his best with an impossible role) brief flirtation with the fast lane in America’s Roaring Twenties. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Gatsby, Jay-Z’s pulsating soundtrack, and designer Catherine Martin’s sets and costumes are the only salvageable elements in this bloated mess. Keep an eye out for one catastrophically hilarious beat in the closing moments as Nick puts the final touches on his magnum opus. It’s like the rat in The Departed, but even douchier.
3. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951, Dir. Elia Kazan)
4. O (2001, Dir. Tim Blake Nelson)
5. Capote (2005, Dir. Bennett Miller)