Book to Screen

Posted on September 13, 2009. Filed under: Ramblings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

A while ago I spent a number of unhealthy hours getting very angry about the new film adaptation of Jodi Picoult’s novel My Sister’s Keeper.  Managing to suppress my rage, I got thinking about other novel adaptations and tried to separate the hits from the misses.  Before I start, I should admit that reading has never really been my thing, much to the exasperation of my English teachers, but when I get into a book, I really get into it, meaning I get a bit protective over the adaptations.

Here’s my run down of the best and worst of the Book to Screen translations…there will be some obvious omissions, but I better not comment on things I haven’t actually read…

Oh and just in case you haven’t read the books, beware SPOILERS!

1.The Lord of the Rings- HIT!


Well, let’s get the obvious out of the way first shall we?  It’s no secret that I’m more than slightly obsessed with this trilogy.  For me, LOTR represents the best of screen adaptations, making a book which (I admit) is hard to get into, much more accessible.  Tolkein doesn’t exactly make it easy to read, and even die hard fans like me can find it tough to wade through the history and fine detail given on every page.  If you’re like me, this is the sort of thing that will put you off , but I persevered (after a short recess when I got mired in the “hoomming” of the Ents) because, like many out there, the film made me want to read the book.  Literature lovers often tear their hair out over those who read books after seeing the film, but without Peter Jackson’s incredible storytelling LOTR would never have entered my radar, and who knows how I might have turned out?! 😛  For those who did read the books first (and between the release of Fellowship and Two Towers I was pretty well versed) Jackson is rigidly true to the books, only removing parts that would make the marathon films even longer and detract from the main story arc.  As a fan of the books himself, and recruiting other Tolkeinites (stand up Christopher Lee) as well as Tolkein’s own family, Jackson made sure that the final film was as close to Tolkein’s own vision as possible.  The result is a series of films which are able to live up to the incredible imagination of the author, including all of his fine detail and still capturing the main message.

2. The DaVinci Code/Angels and Demons-MISS! (but only just)

DaVinciBefore I start, please do not berate me for actually liking these books.  I fully accept that Dan Brown is not exactly the cream of writing talent, and that the plot in these two books is basically identical with slightly different character names, but he managed to keep hold of me with the codes and the mystery and I figured it would translate to screen pretty well.

It almost did.  Apart from taking out one set of codes to make the film a bit shorter, the plot is quite true to the book, and the fact that they bothered to actually film in all the famous locations mentioned scored points.  The reason I’m forced to put it in the miss pile is for one simple reason: they completely destroyed my favourite character.

When I first heard that albino monk Silas was to be played by Paul Bettany I was really happy, since he fitted exactly with my mental picture of the character and is a good enough actor to play the part really well.  Here’s what went wrong: in the book, Silas has a turn around at the end and saves the life of another character, redeeming him for the earlier murders and showing him to be a very sympathetic character who is left impressionable and easy to manipulate after a lifetime of abuse.  In the film? He’s battered by a group of police snipers and left for dead behind a wall.  I was not impressed.

I haven’t yet seen the sequel (well actually it’s a prequel but for the sake of argument…), and the fact that I haven’t read the book in a long while will probably make it easier for me to swallow.  Since its predecessor got it so nearly right I’m willing to give it a fair shot, and the casting is still pretty good, so maybe this one’s a hit?  Something tells me it wont quite make it though.

3. The Prestige-HIT!

PrestigeThis one is actually a rare example of where I reckon the changes they made to the book are actually better than what the author originally came up with.  (The only other one of these I can think of is Wicked but that’s a musical and not (yet) a movie).  Again, I saw the film first, which is the wrong way round, but what I found surprising is that novel and film seem to be at odds when it comes to whose side we’re supposed to be on.  Watching the film, I was firmly on the side of Borden and really didn’t take to the privileged but unappreciative Danton.  The book however, is told predominantly form Danton’s viewpoint, and paints Borden as the villain.  Obviously a lot has been changed by the screenwriters, but I think this element of sympathy for Borden is necessary to build a contrast between the two magicians.  The ending is also completely different in the film, and in my opinion  much more dramatic.  For starters, the big twist is revealed at the start of the book, taking all the impact out of a turn which, in the film, had me speechless.  True, the way the opening of the novel (Borden’s diary) is written is very clever, but giving away the twist so soon means the impact of many later events is lost.  Similarly, the side plot of the descendants of the two men (removed from the film) seemed slightly unnecessary and lead to an ending which actually really irritated me when compared to the drama of the film.

I don’t know what my opinion would be of I’d read the book first, but the film is so well written and performed that it would probably be much the same.  Christopher Nolan has taken what is a brilliant premise from a novel, and re-designed it to be something more, leaving me slightly disappointed when I eagerly picked up the book.  So in this case, my love for the film is not because it falls in line with the authors first ideas, but mainly because it doesn’t!

4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. MISS!

HitchhikersIn fairness, I don’t think anyone could’ve made this work because it’s the way in which Douglas Adams writes that makes these books so brilliant.  The opening “Yellow” passage is pure comic gold which just couldn’t translate to screen, even with Martin Freeman, who basically is Arthur Dent, at the helm.  Generally the casting is good, with Bill Nighy as Slartybartfast and Stephen Fry narrating, but Mos Def is completely wrong, and although Sam Rockwell is a great actor, he just doesn’t quite work as Zaphod.  I think my main issue with that though is that in the book he has a lizard head and in the film…well he doesn’t.  Not that I can really complain about that. It js bugged me.

Some other minor plot tweaks took some of the fun out of the film,but I think the main problem was they tried to make it logical, which Hitchhiker’s jsut isn’t.  The whole point of Adams’ Trilogy in Five Parts is that it makes no sense at all and contains a series of events difficult to imagine let alone put on screen.  Like I said, it was an impossible task, and credit to them for making the generation of a blue whale (voiced by Bill Bailey) and a bowl of petunias via the Improbability Drive actually work on screen.  In the end though, the film just doesn’t do the book justice.

5. Dorian Gray-MISS?

DorianI haven’t seen this one yet, but my early fears are being confirmed by poor reviews and I’m starting to think I might give this one a miss.  Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is a tough read at times but it’s a book with a real meaning and a lot fo valid points to make.  There’s more than a suggestion that the new film does well with the vice and debauchery of Gray’s life (which is alluded to but never really described in the novel) but has slightly missed the point.  As I’ve said before, our only other incarnation of Gray on screen is in LXG which, although a great character, is just plain wrong in terms of the book, so Ben Barnes can only be closer, but I’m not holding my breath that this is the great adaptation I’ve been waiting for.  Anyone who has seen it feel free to let me know.

I could probably write more but I think I’ll leave it there for now.  Any comments on other adaptations more than welcome.  I’m hoping to read The Time Traveller’s Wife soon, so that I can do the novel/film thing the right way round for once.  I’m worried that one has gone that way of My Sister’s Keeper, so I don’t want to get the wrong impression.

PS. I’ve deliberately left out the Graphic Novels because that is a completely different list of films.  Plus, if any type of book lends itself to a big screen adaptations it’s the comics, they’re pretty much storyboards ready to go.

Make a Comment

Think I'm talking gibberish? Have your say!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

17 Responses to “Book to Screen”

RSS Feed for The Stories That Really Mattered Comments RSS Feed

that poster for the Prestige makes it look like Batman and Wolverine are taking part in a dance-off – Batman Begins: To Bust Some Moves.
great film though.

LOL now that is a film that needs making!

While we’re on the subject, have you seen Hugh Jackman’s “Wolverine does not do high kicks” Tony awards intro? Head to 1:45 and cry/laugh:

I think you have to watch Dorian Gray first before passing judgement! Or steer clear, like myself.

Michael Crichton and Nick Hornby’s books are interesting to compare to their film counterparts. And I guess in terms of popularity, you’d look no further than the Harry Potter series.

One interesting upcoming adaptation could be ‘The Men Who Stare At Goats’, another Heslov-Clooney collab like the brilliant ‘Good Night, And Good Luck’.

I have tried to read Lord of the Rings but just can’t get into it. Dan Brown is entertaining rubbish good to read on the beach or on a long flight. The film adaptations are utter crap. I haven’t read The Prestige but loved the film. I haven’t read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or seen the film. I read The Picture of Dorian Gray years ago and enjoyed it. The old black and white film from the 50’s was good but I havent seen the new one yet, it looks terrible from the trailer.

My top three films that are better than the book are:
The Bourne trilogy
Schindler’s List
Fight Club

Saam: I know! That’s jusst my current view but I reseerve the right to change it and I still hope I#m wrong.
I deliberately avoided Harry Potter because you really don’t want to get me started on how badly written those books are…especially when I’m writing about LOTR on the same page.

Andy: That’s kind of my point, what did you think of the films? I don’t think the Brown films are terrible but they’re certainly not brilliant.
OK don’t watch Hitchhiker’s but go and read the book right now! It’lll change your life.
There’s a B&W Dorian Gray? Did not know that.

Ah good choices, all good films, haven’t read any of the books!!!

I haven’t seen it for years but remember enjoying it. The film is black and white but when we see the painting it is in colour, a really good but simple effect. This is the picture:

I thought the Da Vinci Code was terrible and Tom Hanks is completely wrong for the part. Angels and Daemons was much better but not very good.

WOW that is one scary picture!! I can see how that would be really effective in a b/w film.

I’ve only seen DaVinci once. I remember being disappointed but not completely. I sort of take your point on Tom Hanks, I think they felt the need to cast a big name to try and counterbalance the Right Wing backlash and as he says himself in the Simpsons “America has lost all its credibility so they’re borrowing some of mine” 😛
I don’t think he’s necessarily wrong for the part…I can’t actually think of anyone better, but I also don’t think he’s right.
Haven’t seen A&D but when I do it’ll probably end up on here somewhere. It was the weaker book if I remember rightly, mainly because if you’ve read the first you can guess the twist in the second, but I can see the plot transfer to screen better as it’s on a bigger scale.

Some other hits: “High Fidelity” and “About a Boy” (both great films based on Nick Hornby novels); “Thank You for Smoking” (based on Christopher Buckley’s hysterical book); “A Simple Plan” and “The Ruins” (based on Scott Smith’s books); and “Gone, Baby, Gone” and “Mystic River” (both remakes of Dennis Lehane’s thrillers). I think the key to doing book-to-film projects right is having the author involved (Lehane is an exec. producer for the upcoming “Shutter Island”) or using the book as a jumping-off point for something creative and different.

Oooh High fidelity is a great film, didn’t actually know there was a book :O
About a Boy is good too, didn’t do much for me at first but grew on me.
Unfortunately I’ve neither read nor seen any of the others so can’t comment!
Shutter Island looks brilliant I’m really looking forward to that one. Saw a great trailer before Public Enemies.

Great post! A friend of mine talked to me about MY SISTER’S KEEPER with similar frustration. At her request, I actually put together a top five of what I believe to be the best book-to-film adaptations. I mentioned a few that didn’t make your list, might be worth a look!

Thanks. My Sister’s Keeper really makes me angry so I’m trying to stop writing about it or people will get sick of me!

Will head over to your blog….

There are a lot more book to film adaptations that I thought there’d be –

‘A Single Man’ is one of the buzz films at the mo (Colin Firth won best actor for it at the Venice film festy) and that’s an adaptation. Keep an eye on it.

p.s Nick Hornby also wrote ‘Fever Pitch’, which was made into two films for some reason.

All the Nick Hornby novels (that I have read, not read them all yet) are great. As well as the ones mentioned Long Way Down and Slam are worth reading but neither is likely to made into a film.

As far as someone better in The Da Vinci Code, I think George Clooney. Harrison Ford would have been perfect if 20 years younger.

I hadn’t even heard about Dorian Gray! Where the heck have I been? I think I need to see this movie.

I was put off of the Da Vinci Code/Angels & Demons when I heard Tom Hanks was playing the “Harrison Ford in tweed” Robert Langdon. I saw them anyway, and was pleasantly surprised that, for the most part, they tended to stick to the books. Like you, I have no idea why they advertised Angels & Demons as the sequel to The Da Vinci Code. Maybe because of popularity?

Saam: I heard about that, it’s meant to be good. I think it got best director too.
I have Fever Pitch on DVD and have never watched it. Colin Firth and football seem like a mismatch to me.

I’ve not actually read any Nick Hornby novels. But like I said, I haven’t really read anything much!

Andy: Really? Clooney and Ford would both be horribley wrong!!! Clooney is too suave and Ford is too much of an action man. The whole point is Langdon is a stuffy old professor who gets dragged into a murder mystery by accident. That’s why I think Tom Hanks fit, he is the quintessential “everyman.”

Not heard about Dorian Gray? Where HAVE you been? 😛 I’m swaying back towards wanting to see it, but i reckon I’ll wait for the DVD. There’s quite a lot out at teh moment that I want to see more.

What is this about Langdon being Harrison Ford?! *finds book and starts scanning for description*

“Although Professor Langdon might not be considered hunk-handsome…this forty something academic has more than his share of scholarly allure….He knew what followed came next-some ridiculous line about Harrison Ford in Harris tweed…”

OK, so taking both your points a bit more now but I still don’t think he’s right! I guess Brown was trying to conjure up the early Indy Jones images of him in the classroom in Raiders, but I never imagined Ford in the part, and I reckon it works better that the guy caught up in all this doesn’t necessarily look equipped to take on a series of armed guards. Langdon is supposed ot be teh brains not the braun, even if he is supposed to be good looking brains! 😛

I think the sequel thing was jsut because its confusing. And also the only reason you know its a prequel in the book is the brief reference in DaVinci to Langdon being trapped in an enclosed space in the Vatican and that being a factor in his claustraphobia. As this was cut from the film, it doesn’t really matter what order they came in.

Phew long comment. Enjoying teh debates though so thanks for being interesting!

Okay let’s clear the sequel prequel thing up. Angels & Demons was published before The Da Vinci Code making The Da Vinci Code the follow-up/sequel in book terms. As for the films, as far as I can recall there is nothing in the plot to say the order they are set in therefore it seems perfectly acceptable to call the second film a sequel or follow-up. I’m sure the new book due out sometime soon will also be made into a film then they will start calling it a trilogy. All semantics! Casting: If Clooney is too suave how about Russell Crowe? Think of State of Play and The Insider he could play Langdon in his sleep! Maybe it was it wasn’t Hanks that put me off just his stupid haircut that he tamed in the SEQUEL.

Colin Firth is really good in Fever pitch, so is Mark Strong as his fellow supporter. They are both really believable. Fever Pitch isn’t actually a novel, it is none fiction about Nick Hornby growing up and his time at university and as a teacher before he started writing (I think it covers all this time but it has been a very long time since I read it) all related to football. I wouldn’t exactly call it an autobiography but it is closer to that than a novel. Worth reading. High Fidelity is my favorite of his novels.

I didnt actually know they were published that way round, I thought he wrote them backwards! shows what I know.
Oh god no not Russell Crowe!! Sorry but I think Tom Hanks is right, even if he isnt good looking enough 😛 The hair is bad….point taken

He probably is. I used to think Colin firth was good in everything untill I saw Mamma Mia but I’m trying very hard ot supress that memory.

You are such an oracle of knowledge, it’s good to have you around.

Where's The Comment Form?

Liked it here?
Why not try sites on the blogroll...

%d bloggers like this: